In the current comparative research concerning public sector modernization, the local level of government is blatantly absent. Databases on local public sector reforms are fragmented, incomparable, incoherent, nationally scattered and confined in their methodological approach. This Action is intended to remedy those deficits. It will generate coherent data bases for systematic comparison with a view to streamlining analytical approaches and synthesizing research outcomes using methodological triangulation (qualitative/quantitative techniques). 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 in this neglected area of investigation. It aims to enhance the scope of the conceptual foundations as well as the methodological rigour of comparative public administration. The Action will prepare the basis for a systematic evaluation of local public sector reforms within a European scale of comparison. Action activities will yield policy relevant knowledge concerning local reform measures from a European perspective, which can then be utilized to improve policy making for future public sector modernization.
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.
Chair of the Action: Prof. Sabine Kuhlmann (DE)
Vice Chair of the Action: Prof. Geert Bouckaert (BE)
Project Coordinator: Christian Schwab (DE)
Science officer of the Action: Ms. Rossella Magli
Administrative officer of the Action: Mr. Leo Guilfoyle
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.
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.
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
Reports Year 1:
Sarri, Angeliki N.
Tranfaglia, Alfredo Ettore
Reports Year 2:
Reports Year 3:
Additions to PhD-Training-School
Presentation of Prof. Sabine Kuhlmann
About the training school:
Local governments all over Europe are in a period of intense reform activity, not least of all because in some countries they have been the level of government most seriously affected by the still expanding global financial and economic crisis. They are simultaneously faced by a variety of – partly contradictory – reform pressures, often aimed at conflicting reform objectives (e.g. efficiency vs. participation). Against this background, the PhD-Training School is meant to discuss reforms, experiments and changes in local democracy and local public sector institutions.
The course is intended to provide training in theories and methods to be applied in the study of local public sector reforms and democracy, especially in comparative perspectives. The training school will focus on democratic reforms and new instruments of citizen participation (e.g. referenda, direct election of mayors). In addition, it concentrates on New Public Management (NPM) reforms that were targeted towards marketization, privatization and ‘corporatization’ as well as the more recent ‘Post-NPM’ reforms, which were often aimed at correcting the shortcomings of earlier NPM measures. Finally it will include 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.
Local Autonomy Index
Policy Brochure Project
Cost Reduction Programs in Local Government Organizations
- Italy (Mussari, Palmieri)
- Portugal (Rodrigues)
- Ireland (Robbins)
- Slovenia (Pevcin)
- Germany (Schwab, Blank)
- UK (Liddle)
“LocRef“-UDITE Project: Municipal Gateways to EU Policy Making (MUNIWAY)
European Municipal Data Archive (EMDA)
Sub-Municipal Units (SMUs)
Autonomy, Management Reforms and Amalgamations
Horizon2020 Project (Proposal Consortium)
Inter-Municipal Cooperation in Europe
Joined-Up Local Governments – Restructuring and Reorganizing internal Management (WGII)
COST ‘LocRef’ Concluding Conference
Brussels (Belgium), 09/10 March 2017
Venue: Premises of the Committee of the Regions, Brussels
“European Local Government: Challenges, Reforms, and Futures”
Theme day 1 (09-03-17): dedicated to the “Policy Brochure Project” which gives research overviews, scientific conclusions and policy advices to practitioners (target audience: practitioners, CoR members, academics).
Theme day 2 (10-03-17): Concluding Working Group Meetings, Summary & Ending of the COST Action (target audience: academics; CoR members & practitioners welcome).
4th COST ‘LocRef’ PhD Training School
Potsdam (Germany), 13-16 September 2016
“Contested Administrations – Challenged Politics: Addressing Wicked Problems at Local, National, and International Levels of Government”
Call for Applications
5th General COST-LocRef MC and WG Meeting
Bern (Switzerland), 30-31 March 2016
General COST-LocRef MC and WG Meeting
Istanbul (Turkey), 22/23 October 2015
3rd COST ‘LocRef’ PhD Training School
Spetses, Greece, 13-17 September 2015
“Innovation in Local Government”
Call for Applications
4th General COST-LocRef MC and WG Meeting
Dubrovnik (Croatia), 05/06 May 2015
Florence (Italy), 23 February 2015
COST-LocRef WG I Meeting
Paris (France), 15/16 January 2015
COST-LocRef WG II Meeting
Tromsø (Norway), 03 December 2014
COST-LocRef WG IV Meeting
Leicester (UK), 27 November 2014
COST-LocRef WG III Meeting
Speyer (Germany), 11 September 2014
3rd General COST-LocRef MC and WG Meeting
Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison (LocRef IS 1207) Potsdam (Germany), 15-16 May 2014
“Local Public Sector Reforms in Times of Crisis: National Trajectories and International Comparisons”
2nd COST ‘LocRef’ PhD Training School
29.09-02.10.2014, Siena, Italy
“Re-building Trust in Local Governments: Re-thinking Politics, Management and Governance in the Post-NPM Era”
Download Section WGI: WG1-evaluative-call For Papers
Concluding Conference Brussels: