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Professor Oliver James

Research Interests

Oliver James conducts research about citizens and public services, public sector organisation -especially the relationshipo between performance and political and managerial leadership), reform to public service provision, executive politics (particularly politician-bureaucrat relations) and regulation of the public sector. See also the publications section for the main research outputs from this work.

Research topics:

Structure and Organisation of Government Project

The UK part of the collaborative project is supported by £320K (approx.) from the ESRC following a competition under the European Open Research Area. The Project will analyse the political logic of government reorganisation and response/lack of response to policy challenges including case studies of climate change/environmental disruption and financial regulation. The project will entail building a dataset of organisational change in collaboration with researchers in the Netherlands, France and Germany; the The project runs

Executive succession and consequences for policy and performance in the public sector

(with colleagues -Alice Moseley at Exeter, George Boyne at Cardiff Business School and Nicolai Petrovsky at the Martin School, Kentucky)

ESRC funded project 'Chief Executive Succession and the Performance of Central Government Agencies'.(Principal Investigator: Grant RES062232471 £215K Oct 2010 to Sept 2013). The research is an observational study using a panel dataset to estimate the consequences of leadership change for policy and performance outcomes. The project has a special interest in the moderating effects on the consequences of succesion of the match between chief executive experience and organisational 'publicness' characteristics (in terms of funding, ownership and regulation).

The interest in management succession, politics and performance is also reflected in an earlier ESRC funded project, 'Leadership Change and Public Services: Reinvigorating Performance or Reinforcing Decline?' (conducted jointly with colleagues at Cardiff and Manchester) that examined the relationships between performance and political and managerial turnover in English local government. This work has recently been published in articles in the Journal of Politics, Public Administration Review, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory and Public Administration.

leadership change project

A paper with some simple descriptives about change in administrative leadership of local government was produced as part of this project


Citizens, Users and the Performance of Public Services

My research examines the relationship between politics and public services,especially how users and citizens assess and respond to changes in the quality of services, and how elected officials and public managers respond and seek to influence these interactions. This work has included the impact of expectations on satisfaction with public services, whether expectations can or should be managed, and voice and choice based mechanisms for citizens, users and customers to interact with service providers.

I am currently the workpage lead for work on satisfaction with public services as part of an EU FP7 Programme project, coordinated by Erasmus Rotterdam and Hertie Berlin (running 2011-2014). The worpackage aims are:

  • To analyse longitudinal trends in citizen satisfaction with public services and their reported behavior (complaining, exercising choice) in the EU member countries, using Eurobarometer data
  • To get insight into patterns of citizen satisfaction and reported behavior for different socio-economic groups
  • To develop models to explain divergence or convergence of citizen satisfaction and reported behavior
  • To design a vulnerability map to make locations and trends in (dis)satisfaction with public services visible

I was a Research Fellow as part of the UK Economic and Social Research Council's 'Public Services Programme' and another recent project on this topic was 'Public Services: Expectations, Performance and Satisfaction' which explored the relationship between the performance of local public services and satisfaction with those services, and the role of expectations about performance.


expectations performance and satisfaction project: summary

Work on the relationship between performance information about public services and political attitudes and participation, including voting


Public Sector Organisation and Reform

I have analysed the rise in use and performance of ’executive agencies’ in UK central government and examined the ’New Public Management’ in comparative perspective. My book, ’The Executive Agency Revolution in Whitehall: Public Interest versus Bureau-shaping Perspectives’, (see The Executive Agency Revolution ), assesses the outcomes from the executive agency ’revolution’ in UK government. The book contrasts the official public interest perspective of the ’Next Steps’ reformers (who expected improved economy, efficiency and effectiveness from the use of agencies) with an alternative account building on the ’bureau-shaping’ model of public sector reform. The book anlayses the performance of agencies, including problems of systemic performance (a lack of ’joined-up’ government) and suggests that the UK experience is relevant to countries with similar reforms (eg Special Operating Agencies in Canada, Korean executive agencies, Independent Administrative Institutions in Japan).

The main insight of bureau-shaping theory is that public officials’ concerns about their work tasks influence organisational form through thier use of bureau-shaping strategies, particularly the use of contracting and passing on work to other organisations (such as executive agencies). The use of such strategies has major consequences for public sector performance which can suffer as a result. 

Regulation (Especially Regulation of Government)

Work on the theory and practice of regulation, particularly the regulation of the public sector, has included research as part of a team led by Christopher Hood (All Souls, Oxford). The projects examine issues of regulatory development and performance, including ’reading-across’ ideas of business regulation to look at regulation within the public sector. The results of the work have been published as ’Regulation inside Government’, (see Regulation inside Government) and in a number of journal articles. Edward Elgar recently published our edited book, 'Controlling Modern Government' on control/regulation of government in comparative perspective. (see Controlling Modern Government.)

Previous projects have developed the regulation framework for use by the pubic sector management division of the World Bank and the UK Audit Commission. More generally, I am involved in the activities of the Public Management Research Association, UK Political Studies Association, Joint University Council Public Administration Committee as the Research Chair (and co-convened the 2002 annual conference), American Political Science Association and European Group for Public Administration.

See publications link here for a list of publications with downloads of some papers.

For the public services programme see ESRC Public Services Programme website

Research Supervision

Research supervision is available on a range of topics relating to the politics of the public sector, public administration/management and public policy

Research Students

Completed students in recent years: Ahmed Badran (telecoms regulation), Egyptian Govt Scholarship (3yrs): Alice Moseley (multi-agency working the public sector), Current students approaching completion: Kate Getliffe (regulation of genomics), ESRC/ODPM funded (3 yrs); Ayako Nakamura (control of prison systems)