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Innovative public administration: social cohesion through local public transport

Final Report Summary - PACT (Innovative public administration: social cohesion through local public transport)

“Innovative Public Administration” (PACT) is an international research staff exchange project that was funded by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7). Project partners included the Department of Political Science at the Westphalian Wilhelms-University Münster (Germany), the Department of Sociology and Social Work at Ålborg University (Denmark), and the Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University (District of Columbia, USA). The project’s core idea was to use a comparative and case study based approach to contribute to the debate concerning the advancement of the public sector’s performance. This included an analysis of innovative public administration practices in urban areas where civil society is involved as well as the discussion of best practices and opportunities for a successful policy transfer (from a transatlantic perspective). The research period covered four years (2011-2015) in which interested and qualified research staff from Aalborg University and the Westphalian Wilhelms-University Münster had the opportunity to stay for a minimum of one month for research at Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
The project was guided by the following three objectives: In a first step (Work Package 1), participating researchers identified the country-specific traditions of public administration in selected countries which are, due to their historical legacies, distinctive with respect to public administration. Subsequently (WP 2), the PACT research team proceeded to analyze the innovative practices of public administration and governance against the background of the different cultural traditions. Finally (WP 3), the project comprised case study research centered on different examples of innovation in public administration and governance to explore whether these innovations serve the needs of the people optimally.
The contribution of the first two WPs consists of a comparison and an evaluation of the ways in which the various concepts of innovative public administration are currently discussed in Germany, Denmark, and the US. Furthermore, our research provides theoretical and methodological considerations of public administration and how these considerations relate to civil society.
Based on these theoretical-conceptual works WP 3 centered on empirical case studies examining the various urban policy fields that are currently objects of reform in the countries under study; i.e. child care, homelessness, urban development, and local housing. Various instruments of innovative public administration in the countries under study could be extracted and described, such as participatory and deliberative approaches, online-based instruments, and sister cities as a specific form of citizen involvement. The overall research aim was to explore how the existing approaches and instruments could be adapted to other countries with different traditions and path dependencies and to discuss the circumstances and opportunities of a successful implementation. Findings from WP 3 thus serve as a collection of best (and sometimes worst) practices and address policy makers and social scientists interested in democratic and administrative innovations in urban settings.
More precisely, we were able to identify the following specific framework conditions and patterns of interaction which help to make the phaenomenon of administrative and democratic innovations in a compared perspective more tangible: 1) The context matters: successful innovations usually follow path dependencies. 2) Innovations at the local level are usually incremental, not radical ones. 3) Innovations don’t disturb, they rather renew established institutions at the local level. 4) Innovations cause a restructuring of the relationship between civil society and public administration including their roles at the local level.

Based on these findings the following recommendations for policy makers concerned with the innovation of public administration and/or local democracy could be identified:
- Successful innovations depend on people and resources: e.g. the passion and energy of the involved persons; the capacity and resources in public administration and where applicable in the involved civil society organizations; strong partners in and bridgeheads to society.
- Innovations should not be misapplied as democratic fig leaves for an overall decline: hence, avoid all measures that serve more or less as a democratic window dressing.
- Innovations should be compatible to existing organizational and political cultures and should avoid alienation processes. Policy makers who aim to introduce an innovation in public administration should be aware that most innovations are a kind of “creative destruction”. Innovations often challenge long established power structures like the system of representative democracy or policy networks. It is very important that the innovation should not be played off against but complement the existing power structures.
- Finally, our recommendations address the evaluation of innovations: The PACT research team suggests a qualitative turn in innovation research which should include triangulation with quantitative investigation but should foremost be based on a sophisticated qualitative discussion of the indicators of success.

Results will be published in the anthology “Civil Society and Innovative Public Administration”, edited by Matthias Freise / Friedrich Paulsen / Andrea Walter (Nomos: Baden Baden, 2015) (see Table of Contents in Annex).