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COST – Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison (LocRef)

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.

General Information

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

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.- €

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 

Short-Term-Scientific-Missions (STSM)

Reports Year 1:
Georgiaki, Evi
Grendźwiłł, Adam
Harbrich, Kai
Kaiser, Claire
Lackowska, Marta
Molenveld, Astrid
Sarri, Angeliki N.
Scullion, Jane
Tranfaglia, Alfredo Ettore

Reports Year 2: 
Lackowska, Marta

Reports Year 3:
Beeri, Itai
Klimovský, Daniel
Schwab, Christian
Swianiewicz, Paweł

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

  • Andreas Ladner, Nicolas Keuffer, Harald Baldersheim (2015). Local Autonomy Index for European countries (1990-2014). Release 1.0. Brussels: European Commission.
  • The aim of the study is to create a Local Authority Index (LAI) which can be used to analyse and report changes in the amount of decentralisation of countries within the European Union. The measure of decentralisation is supposed to go beyond the share of funds managed by local authorities and should captures to what extent local authorities have a say in how these funds are spent.
  • Project leader is Prof. Dr. Andreas Ladner from the IDHEAP at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) in close cooperation with Prof. Dr. Harald Baldersheim from the University of Oslo (Norway). Both are members of the Management Committee of the COST Action “Local Public Sector Reforms”.
  • Factsheet
  • Final Report

Policy Brochure Project

‘LocRef’-POLLEADER Survey

  • Hubert Heinelt, Annick Magnier and
    Herwig Reynaert (Eds.): The European Mayor II: Political Leaders in the Changing Context of
    Local Democracy
  • The planned book will make a contribution to the debate on political leadership at the local level by referring to a survey on mayors of cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants in 31 European countries carried out from the end of 2014 to the end of 2015. The survey is based on a partnership between the COST project ‘Local Public Sector Reforms – an International Comparison’ (LocRef) and a network of scholars organised in the standing groups on Local Government and Politics (LOGOPOL) of the European Consortium of Political Science (ECPR) and/or in the European Urban Research  Association (EURA) which has carried out a number of surveys during the last 20 years.
  • Book Proposal
  • Questionnaire

Cost Reduction Programs in Local Government Organizations

  • France (Turc, Guenoun)

    - Italy (Mussari, Palmieri)

    - Portugal (Rodrigues)

    - Ireland (Robbins)

    - Slovenia (Pevcin)

    - Germany (Schwab, Blank)

    - UK (Liddle)

  • Crisis perceptions and other factors of cutback strategies in European LGOs.  A Comparative Survey of France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Germany the UK.
  • Overview Presentation
  • Questionnaire
  • Questionnaire Germany

“LocRef“-UDITE Project: Municipal Gateways to EU Policy Making (MUNIWAY)

  • Ronny Frederickx, Geert Bouckaert, Christian Schwab (Eds.)
    Observe how citizens are playing their role in local democracy in different local situations throughout the EU, to see to what extent their engagement is motivated by EU policy developments and by suggesting new ways in which local authorities can contribute to better involving citizens in the policy making processes of the EU.
  • Link to the organisation
  • Description

European Municipal Data Archive (EMDA)

  • The initiative will be led by a steering group under the leadership of Professor Anders Lidström, Umeå University, Sweden and will consist of (at least) the following distinguished colleagues:
    Professor Harald Baldersheim, University of Oslo, Norway
    Professor Bas Denters, University of Twente, The Netherlands
    Professor Sabine Kuhlmann, University of Potsdam, Germany
    Professor Nikolaos-Komninos Hlepas, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
    Professor Andreas Ladner, Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration Lausanne, Switzerland
    Professor Iveta Reinholde, University of Latvia, Latvia
    Professor Pawel Swianiewicz, University of Warsaw, Poland
  • Although there are national data sources in several European countries, these have not been merged or coordinated in a way that would make it possible to simultaneously capture between – and within – country variations. Hence, many key features of the unit of democracy that is nearest to the people, and how this has changed and been reformed, have not been possible to map and analyze.
  • This initiative aims at investigating whether it is possible to set up a European Municipal Data Archive of sufficient quality and comprehensiveness to allow for new and path-breaking research on local government, local democracy and municipal reforms.
  • Questionnaire

 Sub-Municipal Units (SMUs)

  • Norbert Kersting (WG IV) and Ellen Wayenberg (WG III)
  • During the COST Dubrovnik meeting, WG III has decided to further research Sub-Municipal Units (SMUs) across big/metropolitan cities. Our final aim is to make a special journal issue on this topic.
  • Next Steps
  • Belgium as a case

Autonomy, Management Reforms and Amalgamations

  • Steiner, Reto/Ladner, Andreas
  • The importance of local government for service provision but also for citizens’ participation and political stability is hardly questioned. It is also widely accepted that local governments have come under increasing pressure and that they have adopted an impressive range of reform activities to cope with the upcoming challenges. As of now, there is an impressive amount of literature about local government and its reform and the scientific community treating with these questions is large and rather well organized. What is lacking, however, are comparative studies applying the same methodology to a larger number of countries. The COST action IS1207 “Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison” which is chaired by Prof. Sabine Kuhlmann and Prof. Geert Bouckaert offers an excellent opportunity to start and coordinate comparative research activities in this field. The main applicant and the co‐applicant of this research proposal are both members of the management board of the COST action.
  • Approved Funding Amount: 500.000 CHF
  • Abstract

Horizon2020 Project (Proposal Consortium)

  • CULT-COOP-11-2016/2017: Understanding the transformation of European public administrations
  • Overview Consortium

Inter-Municipal Cooperation in Europe

  • Guest editors:
  • Paweł Swianiewicz – University of Warsaw, Poland (WG III)
  • Filipe Teles – University of Aveiro, Portugal (WG III)
  • Special Issue – Approved by the International Review of Administrative Sciences (November 23, 2015). Articles will be submitted in September 2016.
  • The aim of this special issue is to explore the dynamics, experiences and drivers of Inter-municipal cooperation in Europe, given its increasing incidence in contemporary local governance.
  • Proposal

Joined-Up Local Governments – Restructuring and Reorganizing internal Management (WGII)

  • Bjørnå, Hilde (NO)
    Casale Donatella (IT)
    Hajnal Gyorgy (HU)
    Christian Schwab, Thomas Danken (DE)
    Tobias Polzer, Renate Meyer, Stephan Leixnering (AU)
    Geraldine Robbins (IE)
  • Joined up government (JUG) is an element of modernization programs and has been viewed as a mechanism for increased coordination in both thinking and action.  JUG style approaches have been seen as a way to leverage resources and to capitalize on synergies, and a means to enhance efficiency, effectiveness and service quality and as the modus operandi for 21th century governance. JUG is seen as a method for tackling complex or wicked problems and the term is often used synonymous with post-NPM and “whole of government” reforms.
  • Book Proposal


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).
Final Schedule

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
Draft Schedule

COST-Polleader Meeting
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”
Draft Programme

Additional Action Outputs

Action Level Book

Provision of public and social services in European countries

Evaluation studies about local service delivery

Issue (3/2015) of the Croatian and Comparative Public Administration

Linking Funds to Results? A Comparative Study of the Implementation of Performance Budgeting in Local Government

Transylvanian Review of Administrative Sciences

International Review of Administrative Sciences, Volume 82 Number 2 March 2016

Effects of Amalgamations. Evidence from Swiss Municipalities

Special Issue of the International Journal of Public Sector Management

Download Section

Download Section WGI: WG1-evaluative-call For Papers

Concluding Conference Brussels: