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Research Note: Do Virtual Policy Networks Matter? Tracing Network Structure Online

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2006

Kathleen McNutt*
Simon Fraser University
Kathleen McNutt, Department of Political Science, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C. V5A 1S6;


The Internet, operating as a technologically embedded laboratory of human activity, provides social scientists with a new set of analytical tools by which to test and replicate models of social and political behaviour, with data extrapolated from the regularities of online activity, organization and information exchange. This research note demonstrates that virtual policy networks, arrangements of public interaction between mutually supporting actors that form around policy activities, exist on the Web. In addition, the note considers whether or not Canadian virtual policy networks are mimicking their respective national policy communities through the application of a methodological approach referred to as link structure analysis. Four sectorally based networks, including Aboriginal policy, agriculture, banking and women-centred policy, are analyzed to assess the extent of virtual policy networks' replication of real world policy dynamics.



L'Internet, agissant comme laboratoire technologique de l'activité humaine, fournit aux chercheurs un nouvel ensemble d'outils analytiques par lesquels ils peuvent tester et recréer des modèles de comportements sociaux et politiques, à l'aide de données extrapolées à partir d'activités, d'organisations et d'échanges d'information en ligne. Cet essai montre qu'il existe sur Internet des réseaux virtuels d'action politique, à savoir des arrangements d'interaction publique entre différents acteurs sociaux se regroupant autour de certaines idées politiques. En outre, il essaie de déterminer si les réseaux virtuels canadiens imitent leurs communautés politiques nationales respectives, en utilisant une approche méthodologique désignée sous le nom d'analyse de la structure des liens. Quatre réseaux appartenant à des secteurs distincts, soit la politique autochtone, l'agriculture, les opérations bancaires et la condition féminine, sont analysés pour évaluer l'ampleur de la reproduction des dynamiques politiques et sociales du monde réel par les réseaux d'action politique virtuels.

Research Article
Copyright © 2006 Cambridge University Press

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