How the new UK Government will have to rely on networks for stability

For those that were not watching the UK last week, we now have a coalition government made up of two parties - the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats - who previously loathed each other. How can they progress, both as a single coherent entity - the government - and separately, as two parties who, one day, will need to face the electorate again.

Here Ali Fisher, Director of Mappa Mundi, offers some clues:

The architecture of a new UK politics -- Ali Fisher

As David Cameron and Nick Clegg leap into the unknown the underlying architecture of the human networks involved in coalition will influence the length of their relationship.

The opportunity – even impetus - for a change in the way politics is conducted is now upon us. This will require, a ‘deep cultural change’ to one based on cooperation and co-creation. However, to make this reality at the party level, two previously competing political networks will have to blend into one coherent governing structure. At the individual level MPs will have to find a way to work toward personal success and subsequent re-election, while
also acting a co-operative manner, acknowledging the imperative for co-creation of policy between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.

Similar to a commercial merger, the success of the endeavour will rely on careful navigation of factors which influence how networks perform:


A sense of autonomy is considered one of the key factors in successful behaviour change. Nick Clegg demonstrated his ability to 'walk away' when they switched to negotiating with Labour. The challenge will be
to maintain this feeling of autonomy; the difference between working with the Conservatives and being treated as if Lib Dems work for the Tories. The emphasis will be on David Cameron to set the tone. The payoff is higher and longer term rates of adherence when drawing on autonomous motivation rather than using external pressure to think and act in a particular way.


The negotiations since the election have in part been a process of inclusion; particularly ensuring the each group in a network (or coalition) believes their goals have been heard. When groups do not feel part of the network, they are more likely to focus on individually rational goals rather than collective benefit.

As Prime Minister David Cameron will have to manage this carefully. The payoff comes from the greater generosity humans tend to show toward those they recognise as part of the same group, in comparison to their treatment of 'outsiders'.


Involvement is not of saying 'do you wanna be in my gang'? Groups must feel they are involved and are genuinely heard; they must feel they have a recognized stake in the process. The benefits of a genuinely felt involvement entails genuine and direct input into a collective process rather than having a pre-defined role within a pre-existing structure foisted upon an individual or group in the name of cooperation.

Both Party leaders will need to carefully manage the involvement of different groups within their own party and work to overcome the tendency to form cliques along party lines that will inevitably undermine the coalition. If successful the coalition will be able to draw on the more powerful autonomous motivation and resulting
stronger adherence.


Involvement in a decision has the potential to create a more effective outcome and draw on local knowledge, as shown by Elinor Ostrom's Nobel Prize winning work in economics. In addition the ability to know what others are doing provides a means to monitor if others are acting in the agreed manner. Frey and Bohnet have shown the benefit of communication in significantly increasing
cooperation within 'in groups'.

Holders of senior positions in the coalition will need to recognise the importance of genuinely sharing knowledge and consciously avoiding the reliance on party lines of communication if this is to be an
effective coalition. Isolating individuals will undermine the coalition, where as the sense of relatedness to others, and their subsequent recognition of competence have been shown to be key parts of sustainable behaviour change.


Fairness and trust have been buzz words for the election campaign. However, scientists including Fehr
and Gintis
have shown these are understood differently in different communities as they are culturally contingent terms. How the coalition manages the divergent interpretations of fairness around the cabinet table,
let alone within a multicultural electorate, will influence the likelihood of success.

This is not just a problem to overcome, there is a payoff for taking the extra time needed to navigate these divergent understandings of fairness. Individuals are likely to be more trusting and more
forgiving of those believed to have acted fairly - even if the outcome was not what those individuals would have hoped for.


Simply put, those who believe someone has transgressed against them are often willing to inflict punishment,
even if that punishment also comes at a cost to themselves. The onus will be on
Nick Clegg and David Cameron
to find ways of avoiding groups entering a downward spiral of trying to punish each other as this would inevitably damage the coalition as
a whole.


However well intentioned, some actions will have a negative impact on those who were intended to benefit from a particular outcome. This might be in the form of crowding out other initiatives, it may be through poor planning and failure to include or involvement particular groups. Whatever the cause, for the coalition to function as an effective network it will need to recognise that sometimes these things happen and work toward an effective response rather than engage in a round of recrimination.


This is a moment of great opportunity for a government to redefine the relationship with the electorate. To do so Nick Clegg and David Cameron will need to ensure the coalition functions as a cohesive network

redefining the relationship between previously competing parties; only through this architecture can they build a new form of politics in the UK.

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