This paper explores the literature theorizing institutional crises by examining the policy problems faced by the UK's Child Support Agency and Prison Service Agency in the mid 1990s. In both these cases the 'hardware' (delivery through agencies), and the 'software' (policy saliency) were linked to their difficulties. However, these policy areas can be contrasted with the Benefits Agency, another highly salient policy area where no crisis occurred. This paper argues that it was neither the 'hardware' nor the 'software' but the way in which the bureaucratic networks surrounding these agencies operated that explains why the policy process was difficult. In concluding, the relevance of the network concept to the crisis literature is examined, illuminating the role that networks play in promoting or preventing institutional crisis as well as the research questions that arise if network relations are considered alongside a broader understanding of the dynamics of institutional crisis. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004.