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Success in Public Governance: Assessing and explaining how public problems are sometimes addressed remarkably effectively

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - SuccessfulGovernance (Success in Public Governance: Assessing and explaining how public problems are sometimes addressed remarkably effectively)

Reporting period: 2021-03-01 to 2022-05-31

The Success in Public Governance project studied when and why the public sector operates really successfully. This is not a trivial matter. There is plentiful evidence about the pivotal role that the quality of public governance in making or breaking the wealth, well-being and resilience of communities and nations. Existing public governance scholarship has in recent decades built up a rich language persuading us just how difficult it is to govern well, particularly in late-modern conditions. We are now routinely told that volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are the new normal. Existing research on public governance accordingly focuses on its dilemmas, shortcomings, failures, unintended consequences, and inherent limitations. In contrast, this research project purposefully leaned the other way in how we approached the study of governments and governance today – not to replace the bodies of critical work presented above but to offer both a complement and a counterweight to them. The project focused on studying instances of successful governance, on multiple levels and in all its manifestations. We explored how instances of success become framed, perceived, assessed and reputed as such, and what it is about them that renders them successful. In engaging with these questions, we explored the academic and societal potential of building what might be called a ‘Positive Public Administration’ (analogous to, e.g. Positive Psychology).
Our program has taken as its starting point the fledgling prior efforts by a handful of individual scholars to articulate a grammar for assessing and interpreting public sector/governmental success (e.g. McConnell, 2010). Since then, it has built innovative multi-dimensional conceptual frameworks for studying policy successes and high performing public organisations; and it has 'road-tested' them in well over 100 rich evaluative and reconstructive case studies of policy successes across the world. It has furthermore delivered an innovative dataset of case studies covering instances of collaborative public policymaking, integrated delivery, and public innovation from around the world.

Throughout, the program has adopted a highly collaborative approach, binding well over 150 scholars from around the world to its work (e.g. a co-editors, book chapter and journal article authors, case study writers/coders, co-organizers/co-presenters at various academic and outreach events. The fact that so many colleagues across so many countries have participated in the production of the program's outputs means that there are many ambassadors/propagandists for the approach, its tools and methodology, and its analytical and practical implications.

Finally, the program has managed to secure an extended life beyond the grant period through a combination of follow-up funding and institutionalisation of some of its key activities. Research funding has been secured for follow-up projects in the Netherlands and Australia, teaching modules have been developed for educating a new generation of public administration scholars, and practitioners have been engaging with the insights and questions from the project since its inception.
On the whole, the program delivered several ground-breaking scholarly products:

1. Five path-breaking open access books of in-depth case studies of successful public governance - policy successes and highly successful public organisations, covering numerous countries and regions across the world and involving over 130 scholars in their making, all adopting the analytical frameworks for success analysis developed by our research team. All but one of these volumes have been published by Oxford University Press (Compton and 't Hart, 2019; Luetjens, Mintrom and 't Hart, 2019; Boin, Fahy and 't Hart, 2021; Lindquist, Howlett, Skogstad, Rellier and 't Hart, 2022; de la Porte, Eydal, Kauko, Nohrstedt, 't Hart and Tranøy, 2022). Publication of these volumes has been supported by numerous wide-circulation op-eds and summaries in The Conversation and similar high-impact outlets, as well as by online seminar for academics and policymakers (see: https://www.uu.nl/en/research/successful-public-governance/publications/other-publications).

2.The co-created construction of a dataset of 65 standardised/coded case studies of instances of collaborative governance (policy networks, place-based initiatives, integrated service delivery etc. across a wide range of countries and policy sectors) - a major resource for scholars working in this area. See: https://www.uu.nl/en/research/successful-public-governance/collaboration-database. The data-base spawned a special issue project containing cutting edge mixed methods articles about key challenge of designing, managing and leading collaborative forums/practices in public administration. Each article was produced in a collaborative manner, by tailor-made intergenerational and intercontinental teams of scholars that had contributed to the construction of the dataset that formed the basis of each of the articles. One of the SI articles went on to win best-article award of the journal in question, Policy and Society. International scholars not directly connected to project then used the database to generate a special issue in Environmentmal Management and further publications are in the pipeline.

3. After years of gestation and growing cult status on the internet, a cross-generational group of 14 scholars from three continents convened by SPG' team members Scott Douglas and Paul 't Hart published a widely read 'manifesto-essay' making a programmatic case for building a Positive Public Administration movement, entitled 'Rising to Ostrom’s challenge: an invitation to walk on the bright side of public governance and public service' (in: Policy Design and Practice, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1080/25741292.2021.1972517). The manifesto essay has spawned a handbook contract for an agenda-setting collaborative volume showcasing cutting-edge Positive Public Administration research. This 25-chapter volume has purposefully been designed as a truly diverse and inclusive global effort, involving both highly senior and emerging scholars from 5 continents.
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