The project develops and applies a novel framework that will systematically map and explain these organizational changes within central government cross-nationally in four European parliamentary democracies, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The project based at Exeter will concentrate on developments in the UK and will explore themes comparatively with the cross-national team.

Structure and Organisation of Government Project

A ESRC funded project conducted by the Department of Politics, University of Exeter.

  • Approx. £320K budget
  • Three years from Sept 1 2014

Research Objectives

Effective organisation is a key part of governments’ ability successfully to engage with policy problems and for politicians to deliver on their promised policy programmes. This project asks the questions: Why are different forms of central government organization created? Why are they reorganized, merged, or terminated? What is the consequence of change for policy and political outcomes?

The project develops and applies a novel framework that will systematically map and explain these organizational changes within central government cross-nationally in four European parliamentary democracies, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The project based at Exeter will concentrate on developments in the UK and will explore themes comparatively with the cross-national team.

The questions about organisation are important to study across different European parliamentary democracies. By the end of the 1970s, when the golden era of welfare state expansion and state growth came to an end, a new generation of political leaders such as President Ronald Reagan of the United States and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom initiated a series of administrative reform trajectories privatization, deregulation, agencification, liberalization, decentralization, and New Public Management with the aim to fundamentally alter the scope and scale of central government and sparked off several reform trajectories across the developed and developing economies.

The project asks if there are fashions for particular types of organisational form (e.g. the huge growth in use of semi-detached executive agencies to deliver central government services such as passports and drivers licenses since the late 1980s). We ask: are departments and agencies immortal or instead often reorganised and/or renamed? In explaining changes occur we ask: are they driven by party politics, ministerial change, changes in the policy agenda or changes in technology and policy challenges? In terms of consequences we ask if some organisations become more competent, and even more powerful, than the elected politicians that nominally create and control them?

Research methods

Our work involves two main stages: first, we are mapping the changes in the structure and organization of central government in these four countries; second, we explain the changes within and across each country. During both steps we employ quantitative and qualitative techniques of data collection and analysis.

The project will build a database containing datasets of organizational change in each of the countries examined. The core period that we cover is that between 1980 and 2010. The datasets will cover the entire range of central government. The project builds on previous work by the research teams, in the UK, drawing on research into the ‘revolution’ to create executive agencies in UK government to deliver services that are semi-detached from conventional government departments and have management freedoms but are controlled by them using systems of performance targets and budget limits.

Publications

Publications informing the current project:

The Politics of Agency Death" British Journal of Political Science 

The Executive Agency Revolution in Whitehall (pdf)

Conclusions (pdf)

Research team

Lead investigator

Professor Oliver James

Associate Research Fellows

Dr Carolyn Peterson

Mr Rick Harmes 

Honorary Research Fellow

Dr Ayako Nakamura