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A selection of my recent publications is included below. Please click the links to access the full articles.

Monitoring Room
Toward a Public Administration Theory of
Felt Accountability


With Thomas Schillemans

Published in Public Administration Review (open access)


The literature on public accountability is extensive but overwhelmingly focuses on accountability of organizations. Yet, accountability mechanisms can function properly only when individuals believe that they will be held accountable in the future. This article bridges that gap by translating and extending the psychological concept of “felt accountability” to the public administration scholarship. The particular context of accountability in public organizations requires us to integrate knowledge about (1) the diverse professional roles of public sector employees, (2) the saliency and authority of various and multiple account holders, and (3) the substance of the accountability demands. The current article integrates this contextual knowledge with an individual perspective on accountability. This effort represents an important contribution to public accountability literature, as it allows scholars to properly understand the consequences of psychological insights about accountability for the public sector, and to adequately translate psychological insights and recommendations to a public accountability context.

Enacting Accountability Under Populist Pressures: Theorizing the Relationship Between Anti-Elite Rhetoric and Public Accountability


With Matthew Wood, Felicity Matthews, and Thomas Schillemans

Published in Administration & Society (open access)


While populism challenges the pluralism and technocratic expertise on which public bureaucracies are based, extant scholarship has overlooked its effects on accountability processes. In particular, it neglects the impact of anti-elite rhetoric, characterized by what can be regarded as “emotionalized blame attribution,” on the thinking and behavior of accountability actors. Responding to this gap, this article examines the impact of this distinctive form of populist rhetoric on accountability relationships within the bureaucratic state. It identifies three “stages” whereby these populist pressures challenge accountability relationships, threaten the reputation of accountability actors, and result in alternative accountability practices. In doing so, the article provides a roadmap for assessing the impact of anti-elite rhetoric on accountability actions.

Tug of War
Conflictual Accountability: Behavioral Responses to Conflictual Accountability of Agencies

With Thomas Schillemans, Paul Fawcett, Matthew Flinders, Magnus Fredriksson, Per Laegreid, Martino Maggetti, Yannis Papadopoulos, Kristin Rubecksen, Lise Hellebø Rykkja, Heidi Houlberg Salomonsen, Amanda Smullen, Matthew Wood

Published in Administration & Society (open access)


In contemporary public governance, leaders of public organizations are faced with multiple, and oftentimes conflictual, accountability claims. Drawing upon a survey of CEO’s of agencies in seven countries, we explore whether and how conflictual accountability regimes relate to strategic behaviors by agency-CEO’s and their political principals. The presence of conflictual accountability is experienced as a major challenge and is associated with important behavioral responses by those CEO’s. This article demonstrates empirically how conflictual accountability is related to (a) controlling behaviors by principals, (b) constituency building behaviors by agencies, and (c) a general pattern of intensified contacts and information processing by both parties.

Image by Charles Deluvio
A Validated Measurement for Felt Relational Accountability in the Public Sector: Gauging the Account Holder’s Legitimacy and Expertise

With Thomas Schillemans and Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen

Published in Public Management Review (open access)


The effectiveness of formal public sector accountability mechanisms is largely predicated on the individual perception of accountability. In particular, the individual’s experienced relationship to account holders is key in understanding the effects of formal accountability mechanisms. This article develops a measurement instrument for felt relational accountability in public administration. We measure perceived legitimacy and expertise of the account holder, as crucial relational dimensions applicable to various accountability relations. The instrument was tested and cross validated among two samples of Dutch public employees. We discuss theoretical implications of studying accountability at the actor-level and provide practical applications of the instrument.

Image by Brooke Lark
Understanding Felt Accountability:
The institutional antecedents of the felt accountability of agency CEOs to central government

With Thomas Schillemans, Paul Fawcett, Matthew Flinders, Magnus Fredriksson, Per Laegreid, Martino Maggetti, Yannis Papadopoulos, Kristin Rubecksen, Lise Hellebø Rykkja, Heidi Houlberg Salomonsen, Amanda Smullen, Matthew Wood

Published in Governance  (open access)


The literature on autonomous public agencies often adopts a top-down approach, focusing on the means with which those agencies can be steered and controlled. This article opens up the black box of the agencies and zooms in on their CEOs and their perceptions of hierarchical accountability. The article focuses on felt accountability, denoting the manager's (a) expectation to have to explain substantive decisions to a parent department perceived to be (b) legitimate and (c) to have the expertise to evaluate those decisions. We explore felt accountability of agency-CEOs and its institutional antecedents with a survey in seven countries combining insights from public administration and psychology. Our bottom-up perspective reveals close connections between de facto control practices rather than formal institutional characteristics and felt accountability of CEOs of agencies. We contend that felt accountability is a crucial cog aligning accountability holders' expectations and behaviors by CEOs

Purple Smoke
A Multi-Dimensional Reputation Barometer
for Public Agencies: A Validated Instrument

With Madalina Busuioc and Matthew Wood

Published in Public Administration Review (open access)


Reputation is of growing interest for the study of public bureaucracies, but a measurement that is able to discern between the constituting dimensions of reputation, and that is validated on real-life audiences of a public agency has remained elusive. We deductively build, test, and cross-validate a survey instrument through two surveys with 2,100 key stakeholders of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the EU chemicals regulator. This empirical tool is able to measure an agency’s reputation and its building blocks. By discerning these separate dimensions, our scale makes an important contribution to reputation literature as it allows scholars to distinguish and measure which aspects different public organizations are “known for”, and build their claim to authority on, as well as how the profiles of different public organizations differ. We found that direct stakeholder contact with the agency is necessary for stakeholders being able to evaluate the separate dimensions of reputation independently.

People in Museum
Aligning Accountability Arrangements for Ambiguous Goals: the case of museums

Published in Public Management Review (open access)


In a simple model of accountability, the core of the interaction consists of the supply and demand of performance information. Alignment of information supply and demand is crucial for an effective accountability relationship, but alignment is difficult in a situation with ambiguous or contested goals. This study analyzes the alignment between local governments and museums. The study uses a mixed-methods approach, including survey data, formal documents, and qualitative interviews with museum directors to analyze the accountability alignment. Demand and supply are not always well-aligned, leading to accountability mismatches. The implications of accountability mismatches for museums and other public organizations are discussed.

Meeting the Staff
How Creating Semi-Autonomous Agencies
Affects Staff Satisfaction

Published in Public Performance & Management Review (open access)


Structural reforms such as the creation of autonomous agencies are a widely heralded solution for a multitude of problems in the public sector. These reforms have effects on public employees. This article shows how the structural disaggregation of ministries into autonomous agencies affects staff satisfaction with the organization. The article discusses three cases, where Dutch public organizations were either disaggregated from a ministry or reaggregated to the ministry. These structural reforms constitute a quasi-experimental setting where effects on agency staff and parent ministry staff are compared. In one case, creating the agency led to a decrease in staff satisfaction with the organization as compared to the staff that remained within the ministry. A second case showed that these negative effects linger and can last for more than eight years. An inverse organizational change—reaggregation—caused inverse effects: increasing satisfaction with the organization.

Targets for Honesty:
How Performance Indicators Shape Integrity in Dutch Higher Education

with Agnes Akkerman en René Torenvlied

Published in Public Administration


Universities across the world have recently experienced a number of serious cases of academic misconduct. In the public and academic debates, one dominant explanation exists for the fraudulent behavior of university staff. Academic misconduct is considered to be the logical behavioral consequence of output-oriented management practices, based on performance incentives. This article puts this explanation to the test. Based on our analysis of a data set of employees in Dutch higher education (N = 4,775) from 2010 and 2012, we argue that performance indicators have a positive impact on higher education professionals' perception of integrity in their work environment.

Autonomous Agencies, Happy Citizens?
Challenging the Satisfaction Claim

Published in Governance


Is the delegation of public services to semi-autonomous agencies associated with increased citizen satisfaction? This article assesses three theoretical routes that might link the two: responsiveness, credible commitment, and blame deflection. The study draws on data from the European Social Survey and an expert survey about delegation of tax and police services to semi-autonomous agencies in 15 countries. No supporting evidence was found for the responsiveness and credible commitment theories. Yet semi-autonomous agencies sometimes can absorb or deflect blame for bad performance. In the tax case, dissatisfied service users blame the agency, rather than the government. The presence of an agency worked as a scapegoat for dissatisfied service users and resulted in less dissatisfaction with the government in countries where tax services were delegated.

Great Expectations of Public Service Delegation
A Systematic Review


Published in Public Management Review (download full text)

Politicians use a variety of expectations to justify the delegation of public services to public, semi-public or private organizations. This paper reveals expectations of delegation, as well as its correlates. Empirical evidence is drawn from a systematic review of 250 peer-reviewed articles published in leading public administration journals between 2000 and 2012. This study identifies a discourse with three main categories of justifications: scientists and practitioners expect economic, political, and organizational benefits. The effects associated with delegation are not in line with these expectations. Delegation has inconsistent correlations to outcomes when governments maintain a role in service delivery. Complete privatization is associated with negative outcomes. These results have important implications for the study and practice of delegation.

Accountability after Structural Disaggregation: Comparing Agency Accountability Arrangements


With Marieke van Genugten and Sandra van Thiel


Published in Public Administration


New accountability instruments – performance indicators, audits, and financial incentives – are expected to replace traditional accountability instruments in NPM reforms. We test this expectation by looking at the accountability arrangements of semi-autonomous agencies as a typical example of NPM reforms. Our findings are based on survey data on 342 agencies in six countries. We identify four types of accountability arrangements in semi-autonomous agencies, in line with the four trajectories of public management reform identified by Pollitt and Bouckaert (2004). Accountability relations between agencies and ministries are determined by country-specific administrative regimes, types of agency, and to a lesser extent, agencies' policy fields. We identify new avenues for theory and research into the effects of reforms on accountability in the public sector, and on semi-autonomous agencies in particular.

Agencification and Public Sector Performance:
A Systematic Comparison in 20 Countries


With Sandra van Thiel


Published in Public Management Review (download full text)

The increased establishment of semi-autonomous agencies in most countries from the 1980s on has been justified by claims of expected improvement in public sector performance. Empirical research to test these claims has been scarce, based on single cases and showing mixed results. This study tests these claims at the macro level in twenty countries using a range of indicators and variables. Overall, we find a negative effect of agencification on both public sector output and efficiency. This refutes the economic claims about agencification.

Resisting Governmental Control:
How Semi-Autonomous Agencies Use Strategic Resources to Challenge State Coordination


With Sandra van Thiel and François Lafarge


Published in International Review of Administrative Sciences (download full text)

Institutional pressure caused by public sector reform leads to strategic reactions from semi-autonomous agencies. Agencies in the Netherlands and France only complied with a selection of imposed reforms. Other rules were manipulated, not complied with, or compromises were made. The degree of compliance with reforms is not only dependent on structural aspects, but also on resources and power distributions between the actors. A comparison is made between the introduction of the Dutch Kaderwet ZBO and the French Révision Générale des Politiques Publiques. These agency reforms are contested between ministries, rather than between agency and parent ministry alone. Parent ministries tend to side with their agencies in both countries. In the Netherlands, power-related issues were most debated, whereas in France money-related issues caused most disagreement.

Government 2.0: Key Challenges to Its Realization


With Albert Meijer, Bert-Jaap Koops, Willem Pieterson, and Sanne ten Tije


Published in Electronic Journal of e-Government


Government 2.0 is often presented as a means to reinforce the relation between state and citizens in an information age. The promise of Government 2.0 is impressive but its potential has not or hardly been realized yet in practice. This paper uses insights from various disciplines to understand Government 2.0 as an institutional transformation. It focuses on three key issues - leadership in government, incentives for citizens and mutual trust - and our analysis shows that Government 2.0 efforts are too often guided by overly optimistic and simplified ideas about these issues. Our discussion suggests that there are no easy, one-size-fits-all ways to address challenges of leadership, citizen incentives and trust: a contextual approach and hard work is needed to tackle these challenges. Realizing Government 2.0 means looking beyond the technology and understanding its potential in a specific situation.

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