A governance networks literature that uses social network analysis has emerged, but research tends to be more technical than conceptual. This restricts its accessibility and usefulness for non-quantitative scholars and practitioners alike. Furthermore, the literature has not adequately appreciated the importance of informal networking for the effective operation of governance networks. This can hinder inter-disciplinary analysis. Through a critical review, this article identifies four areas of challenge for the governance networks literature and offers four corresponding, complementary sets of concepts from the social network analysis field: (a) the difference between policy networks and governance networks, (b) the role and status of people in governance networks, (c) the ‘dark side’ of networks and the role of power differentials within them and (d) network evaluation and the question of ‘what works’ in network management. The article argues that a less technical, more accessible account of social network analysis offers an additional lens through which to view governance networks.