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  • Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SuccessfulGovernance (Success in Public Governance: Assessing and explaining how public problems are sometimes addressed remarkably effectively)

SuccessfulGovernance Report Summary

Project ID: 694266
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SuccessfulGovernance (Success in Public Governance: Assessing and explaining how public problems are sometimes addressed remarkably effectively)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-02-28

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The SPG (Success in Public Governance) program studies 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. Yet existing political and public institutions and professions are challenged by cascades of technological, economic and social change. The nation state is no longer the self-evident centre of gravity in tackling the problems of our time and representative democracy is no longer taken for granted as the only game in town in organizing collective action. There is widespread scepticism about the problem-solving capacity of governments and about the effectiveness, efficiency and fairness of public bureaucracies. 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 ‘VUCA’ (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), risk, disturbances and crises are the new normal. Existing research on public governance accordingly focuses on its dilemmas, shortcomings, failures, unintended consequences, and inherent limitations. In contrast, our research program purposefully leans the other way in how we approach 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. SPG focuses on studying instances of successful government and governance, on multiple levels and in all its manifestations. We explore how instances of success become framed, perceived, assessed and reputed as such, and what it is about them that renders them successful. In particular we focus on the following key questions:

1. What does ‘success’ in public governance look like? How is it defined and assessed by those who engage in it (policymakers), those who experience it (stakeholders, citizens), those who assess and evaluate it (professional and investigative bodies) and those who study it academically (the research community)?
2. How can we identify, explain, and learn from instances of major public policy success? This includes in-depth and comparative case studies of ambitious, impactful and widely appreciated instances of urban planning and development; innovative social, educational, public health and safety programs; and major general interest reforms in e.g. pensions and competition policy.
3. How can we identify, explain and learn from the design and practices of highly successful public organizations?
4. How can we identify, explain and learn from instances of successful collaborative (horizontal, interactive) governance?

In engaging with these questions, we want to explore the academic and societal potential of building what might be called a ‘Positive Public Administration’ (analogous to, e.g., Positive Psychology). Where the study of failure, breakdown and crisis can tell us what to avoid, the study of successful governance can teach us what to embrace and emulate when we design political and administrative institutions, make public policy decisions, orchestrate service delivery processes, craft public innovations, and develop public sector workers and leaders.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

In the first months of the program’s life we have built and consolidated our multinational and multidisciplinary team and have developed relationships and designed processes for making it work as a cohesive unit, firmly embedded within the host institution and its research infrastructures.

In Spring 2017 two pivotal events were held. Firstly, an international invitation-only research colloquium that brought together 30 leading and emerging researchers from all over the world, which resulted in the formation of two international research teams led by SPG members. One team explores the nexus between the performance and the reputation/legitimacy of public organizations. The other team builds a large-n dataset on the performance of collaborative governance arrangements, such as networks, partnerships and coordination committees.

In Summer 2017 two further collaborative projects were initiated: specially commissioned collections of in-depth case studies of ‘great policy successes’, designed not only to advance the frontiers of knowledge about the nature and correlated of public policy success, but also to produce rich narratives suitable for case-teaching in, e.g., executive education programs. Each collection comprises 15 such case studies, selected and written by national and sectoral policy experts. The first collection comprises cases from all over the world, and will be published (open access) by Oxford University Press in mid 2019; the second collection focuses on cases from Australia and New Zealand, and will be published (open access) by Australian National University Press in mid 2019. In April and June 2018 authors’ meetings were held in Utrecht and Melbourne to discuss first drafts of the case studies, identify patterns and distill practical learnings. Both collections are designed and edited by PI/SPG members.

Individual SPG members’ dissertation and postdoc projects are well underway, and are currently in the operationalisation and data collection stages.

Throughout the reporting period PI and other team members have convened workshops, held key note addresses and presented work in progress at both scientific and practitioner conferences. PI and other team members have designed and facilitated numerous executive workshops for local as well as national government in the Netherlands. In addition, SPG team members have developed and taught an advanced undergraduate module on Successful Public Governance that is now embedded within the host institution’s curriculum.

Finally the team maintains an active on-line presence comprehensively documenting its presentations, publications and past and upcoming events. See: and @theSPGprogram

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Not applicable (yet – we are only 18 months into a 5-yr program)
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