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Value Differentiation in Networks: a vital ingredient for addressing wicked problems

Published on: 05-03-2024

The delivery of integrated, people-centred care involves several interactive processes delivered by practitioners from a variety of different backgrounds. This often results in tension that stems from deep-rooted differences in the values that are brought to the table by the various stakeholders. While these value tensions present collaboration and network challenges, they can also lead to a broader service landscape, offering clients a wider choice and potentially more personalised and wholistic service — a creation of shared values. This is the conclusion of a recent study by Vilans researchers who argue that value differentiation at the network level doesn’t have to be viewed as an obstacle but can be an important element in solving complex challenges or wicked problems. 

Understanding Wicked problems

The study, titled ‘The Role of Values in the Interorganizational Network Response to Wicked Problems’, was published in the Journal of Public Policy & Administration (special issue on wicked problems). In it, the researchers examine the role of values in interorganizational networks dealing with wicked problems, by conducting a case study in a pregnancy and childbirth network in the Netherlands. In the case study, it was observed that actors from various organizations brought distinct values to the table, sometimes without clear consensus on what the value entails.

A lot of attention is paid to (shared) values in collaboration in networks. In this study, we look at what role values really play. Does everyone have to be on the same page (integration)? Or can you work well together if your values differ (value differentiation)? And how do you deal with that as a network leader or actor (coping strategies)?

Nick Zonneveld, senior researcher Vilans

Value tensions and value differentiation as an asset

The findings indicate that value differentiation in networks should not be only seen as a problem, but also as an important ingredient for the achievement of overarching goals. These findings challenge the traditional notion that collaboration requires fully aligned values, suggesting instead that understanding and managing value differentiation is vital in reconciling value tensions towards shared goals.


Zonneveld notes that professionals need to be aware of the potential impact of value differences within network collaborations and learn to resist the urge to reduce these differences.

First, value differentiation within a collaborative network should not only be seen as a problem, but also as a vital component of working together in networks—at least, when the appropriate coping strategies are applied. Second, it demonstrates that orchestration work in networks is all about the balance between making room for value differentiation among actors on the one hand, and connecting actors by applying integration strategies on the other hand.

Nick Zonneveld, senior researcher Vilans

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