About LocRef

About the COST Action Local Public Sector reforms: An International Comparison (LocRef)

General information
Abstract, Aim and Objectives of the Action
Research Question and Working Groups
Funded Instruments and Activities
Short Notes

COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) is a long-term international network for cooperation in science and technology [for more information click here]. Within this EU FP7 funded framework, the Action “Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison (‘LocRef’)” has started work on March 28th 2013.  ‘LocRef’ is a still expanding European research network on local public sector reforms with more than 300 senior and early stage researchers in currently 32 countries. Based on a shared European perspective, it brings together researchers and practitioners of all stages of local public sector reforms in order to jointly assess the hitherto scattered and dispersed information bases on local public sector reforms, to generate new comparative knowledge, and develop policy-relevant frameworks for the design of future modernization processes in Europe.
It is governed by the Actions’ Management Committee (MC) which consists of 60 European scholars (with up to two representatives per participating country). All MC members are renowned scholars in the field of local public sector reforms [click here to see MC membership]. Head of the MC is the Chair of the Action, Prof. Dr. Sabine Kuhlmann together with the Vice-Chair, Prof. Dr. Geert Bouckaert. The MC is supported by four thematic Working Groups (WG) studying various types of local-level reforms from a cross-countries comparative perspective (see below). These are open to other renowned scholars and young researchers in the field. All WGs are headed by WG-Leaders.

Abstract, Aim and Objectives of the Action

Local governments all over Europe are in a period of increased reform activity and intensity, especially since they have been the level of government most seriously affected by the still expanding global financial and economic crisis in some countries. Against this background, it is a cause for concern and also criticism that the analysis of the local level is absent in the current comparative research and literature concerning public sector modernization. ‘LocRef’ is intended to remedy those deficits and meant to assess local public sector reforms from a cross-country comparative perspective, which has so far not been done within a broader research network. ‘LocRef’ will generate coherent data bases for systematic comparison with a view to streamlining analytical approaches and synthesizing research outcomes. The Action will provide a platform for establishing a new set of comparative (descriptive, explanatory, and evaluative) knowledge on local public sector reforms and for integrating the fragmented research activities. It includes New Public Management (NPM) reforms that were largely triggered by international organizations (OECD, EU) and targeted towards marketization and privatization as well as the more recent ‘post-NPM’ reforms, which were often aimed at correcting the shortcomings of earlier NPM measures (e.g. re-municipalization). In addition, it will focus on the more nationally driven territorial and functional reforms (municipal amalgamations, decentralization) that have been fuelled, in part, by recent austerity measures and the hopes of national policy makers that such reforms will facilitate economies of scale. Finally, the Action concentrates on democratic reforms and new instruments of citizen participation (e.g. referenda, direct election of mayors). Beside this effort to enhance European interdisciplinary multi-method research, other objectives are to advance evidence-based policy making and knowledge utilization for European practitioners as well as promoting the careers of young and early stage researchers.

Research Question and Working Groups

Even though every Working Group has its own specialized research purpose, the following three analytical steps are sought after from every WG:

(A) What institutional changes can be investigated and what is the explanation of (varying) reform degrees from a comparative perspective?

(B) What are the drivers/causes of reform activities, who are the promoters/stakeholders and what implementation strategies do they follow?

(C) How can the (intended and un-intended reform effects be evaluated?

Therefore, the overarching research question of the Action is:

Which approaches and effects of local public sector reform can be identified from an international comparative perspective; how can these be explained and what lessons can be drawn for policy making?

WGI: External (Post-) NPM (WG-Leader Ivan Kopric, University of Zagreb [mail])

This WG focuses on NPM-driven externalizations of local services to private or non-profit providers (contracting-out, functional/asset privatization, corporatization, competitive tendering). It also assesses the more recent Post-NPM reforms that are targeted towards re-municipalization and re-integration of previously externalized local functions.

WGII: Internal (Post-) NPM (WG-Leader Riccardo Mussari, University of Siena [mail])

Concentrating on the NPM-inspired principles of performance orientation and target steering, this WG scrutinizes various strategies of internal re-organization, process re-engineering, new budgeting and accounting systems, and Human Resource-related modernization, e.g. performance related pay.

WGIII: Territorial/Functional Re-Scaling (WG-Leader Nikos Hlepas, University of Athens [mail])

European local governments have been – to varying degrees – subject both to territorial up-scaling (amalgamation) and/or trans-scaling (inter-local cooperation) of sub-national jurisdictions as well as to the re-allocation of competencies between levels of government. This WG examines both reform segments as there is a close relationship between territorial consolidation and functional decentralization. With regard to territorial reforms, it concentrates on amalgamations and inter-local cooperation. Functional reforms include political decentralization, administrative decentralization and de-concentration of tasks.

WGIV: Democratic Renewal (WG-Leader Colin Copus, University of Leicester [mail])

Major attempts at of local modernization have been directed at the revival of ‘old’ as well as to the introduction of ‘new’, participatory instruments at the local level of government and the inclusion of civil society into local policy making. This WG studies the strengthening of direct democracy (local referenda, direct election/recall of local executives) on the one hand and on new forms of participatory and cooperative democracy on the other (citizen forums, consultations, youth/ neighbourhood councils, E-democracy).

All MC/WG members will examine interaction effects of the four core areas of reform and the overall impacts of modernization from a comparative perspective, in order to find out whether the effects of various approaches of local public sector reforms have intensified or cancelled out each other. In joint sessions, they will scrutinize to what extent the reforms analyzed in their core-area have had an (intensifying/weakening) impact on the results in other reform areas.

Funded Instruments and Activities:

To answer the research questions, to achieve the Actions’ objectives and to disseminate results via joint publications and policy papers into science and practice, several COST funded activities are conducted:

  • Regular MC and WG meetings
  • International workshops, conferences and high level seminars
  • PhD Training Schools
  • Short-Term-Scientific-Missions (research stays for scholars in partner institutions)
  • PhD platform (discussion and paper room + newsletter; will soon be set up)

Short Notes:

  • Name: Cost Action IS1207 „Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison (‘LocRef’)“
  • Duration: 28.03.2013 – 27.03.2017
  • Chair: Sabine Kuhlmann, University of Potsdam (DE)
  • Vice-Chair: Geert Bouckaert, University of Leuven (BE)
  • STSM Coordinator and Equal Opportunity Commissioner: Trui Steen, Leiden University (NL)
  • Training School Coordinator and Young Researchers Representative: Emil Turc, University of Aix-Marseilles (FR)
  • Financial Rapporteur: Anamarija Musa,  University of Zagreb (HR) and Angel Iglesias, University of Madrid (ES)
  • Academic Project Coordinator: Christian Schwab, University of Potsdam (DE)
  • Member countries: 32 (AL, AU, BA, BE, CH, CY, CZ, DE, DK, EE, EL, ES,  FI, FR, HR, HU, IE, IL, IS, IT, LT, LV, NL, NO, PL, PT, RO, SE, SK, SL, TR, UK)
  • MC members: 60
  • Number of participating institutions: 45
  • Year 3 budget: 170.000.- €
  • Estimated total budget: ~ 700.000.- €

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