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The Structure and Organisation of Governments (SOG-PRO)

Project period: October 2014 – September 2017

Why are some administrative organisations successfully created, frequently reorganised, merged, or terminated, whereas others are seemingly ‘immortal’ and become more powerful than the elected politicians that created and control them? This question has become pertinent, especially in the past three decades, within 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 – privatisation, deregulation, agencification, liberalisation, decentralisation, and New Public Management (NPM) – 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. But how much did all this really change the structure and organisation of central governments in Western Europe?

The SOG-PRO research project develops and applies a novel framework that will systematically map and explain organisational changes within central government cross-nationally in four European parliamentary democracies, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, over the last three decades, the period following the initiation of NPM reforms in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in advanced economies. This project builds upon the most influential theory of the structure and organisation of central governments, which is the “theory of the politics of structural choice”. We develop a comparative quantitative dataset of organisational changes within the central governments of these four countries for the period 1980 and 2010. We also examine changes in the structure and organisation of government across four selected policy areas in these countries.

The key research aims of this project are then

  1. To develop and apply cross-nationally a framework for consistently mapping the changing organisational structure of the central governments of France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom between 1980 and 2010.
  2. To identify patterns of change, especially establish whether change is incremental and path-dependent or subject to punctuations and discontinuity, with periods of greater stability between these periods, to identify convergence or distinctiveness between countries and to identify any trends within or across countries and policy sectors.
  3. To adapt and test the US-based theory of the politics of structural choice on patterns of structural and organisational change within the institutional context of European parliamentary democracies

SOG-PRO is a collaborative research project, funded by the Open Research Area for the Social Sciences (ORA plus) and involving researchers in four European countries, led by the following principal investigators: