Research Question And Focus
In order to analyse the “(external) reorganisation of the public/municipal sector” WGI focuses on the development of the provision of public utilities and social services in (West) European countries, ranging from the dominance of public/municipal sector-based provision (typically in the 1970s) to the advances of private sector-based provision (since the 1980s) (and its recent “reverse” developments) and following on to the system transformation after 1990 in (Central East) European countries.
Up until now, WGI has embarked on three main analytical tracks. For one, comprehensive country reports which prepare to focus on the UK, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Greece, Poland, Croatia, Turkey, Israel and Russia. Secondly, single policy/service reports, partially covering more than one country, which are directed towards water provision, waste management, public transport, hospitals, social housing and elder care. Thirdly, the cross cutting reports which focus on the institutionalization/”corporatization” of public utility provision, on the involvement of the non profit/voluntary/self-help sector in service delivery as well as on the impact of EU policies/legislation/court decisions and of environmental protection on service provision.
In addition to the strategic idea of the COST Action promoting the networking and collaboration in the European research community, WGI essentially aims at accumulating and “synergizing” already existing research findings and data bases and thus, by means of “secondary analysis”, draw on otherwise often insulated and linguistically hardly accessible knowledge. For this purpose linking up with other previous or still ongoing research networks, such as GOLD III, ESPON/SeGI, GRALE etc. is mandatory.
In view of the great variance of (comprehensive) country reports, single policy/service reports and cross cuttings reports which are currently prepared, a crucial and important next step in the WGI collaboration will be to move towards and arrive at conceptually reflected and guided cross-country and cross policy comparisons. This will be the major challenge and agenda of the upcoming WGI workshop in Potsdam (May15/16 2014). Resulting from this initial phase, a set of COST-related publications is considered.
In the second half of COST’s four-year run the (often neglected) evaluative question should be focused on within two accounts. Initially, the “classical” evaluation issue should be tackled upon as to whether different institutional variants in the delivery of utilities and services “make a difference” with regard to service quality, price etc. Secondly, the question should be addressed as whether, how and why the different service delivery regimes (public, semi-public, private, non-profit etc.) have an impact on the local government (and local “governance”), in its horizontal as well as in its vertical (intergovernmental, “multi-level”) setting.