In February, the Uni Research Rokkan Centre hosted an international conference in Bergen, finalizing the project Reforming the Welfare State: Accountability, Democracy and Management. The conference gathered around 40 researchers from around the world, in cooperation with Structure and Organization of Government (SOG), a research committee under the International Political Science Organization (IPSA). Competition for available seats was fierce, indicating the project has been central to accountability research in the political sciences.
The project was organized as a consortium between the Rokkan Centre, the University of Potsdam, Copenhagen University and the University of Oxford. The project was closely associated with the Department of Administration and Organization Theory at the University of Bergen, and facilitated cooperation with researchers, fellows and students from a range of other institutions. The project?s approach to cooperation is reflected in the publications list.
What happens with accountability as welfare states face reforms? The project compared Norwegian reforms within the hospital, immigration and welfare administration areas with corresponding areas in Denmark, Germany and partly Great Britain. An argument for such comparisons is that the sectors comprise large parts of the welfare services, and are important to a range of stakeholders. The countries under investigation are all well-developed welfare states with political-administrative systems different enough for fruitful comparison. In Germany, e.g. the Hartz reforms has features comparable to the Norwegian NAV reform, whereas the Danish structural reform has led to changes in hospital governance that differ markedly from the health enterprise solution in Norway.
Reforms aim to clarify accountability. Where managerial accountability is refined through reform initiatives, the development of political accountability is somewhat neglected. As public administration becomes more transparent, the substance of accountability changes for managers, professionals and politicians alike. Demands for transparency lead welfare institutions and their environment to become more active in accountability processes, e.g. through the media. Coordination also changes, and actors behave in new and unpredictable ways, not least where accountability is difficult to resolve.
Although reforms aim to tidy up, the researchers find that reforms also contribute to sustain tensions internal to public administration, as well as between politics and bureaucracy: When new arrangements are added, organizational coordination becomes more complex.
Traditions of public administration are important to understand how accountability is organized and takes place in specific fields and countries. The project has contributed to show how politics of public administration are connected to tensions between governance capacities and governance representativeness. New forms of accountability emphasize the balance between trust and distrust in governance: When institutional structures and functions are changed, the citizens´ ability to hold politicians accountable is affected, as is administration´s accountability to politicians.
Different accountability types are often combined. The foundations for accountability are plentiful: Formal rules and regulations, professional standards, administrative positions or affinity to politics amongst them. Interestingly, quite a few languages lack the linguistic distinction between accountability and responsibility that English has, which also contributes to confusion in public discourse.
Three challenges are a) to decide on who is accountable, b) to whom, and c) for what. Accountability entails political-administrative processes that contribute to ambiguity as much as resolve. Reforms have unintended effects that makes accountability complex and. In addition to political, administrative, legal, professional and social forms of accountability, new managerial types of accountability are introduced. Welfare reforms have thus contributed to making accountability ambiguous, challenging the traditional hierarchical accountability relations between political and administrative leadership.
The project displays how accountability developments contribute to sustaining the dilemmas found in public services and administration. The project also shows how important administrative policy is for political, professional and administrative legitimacy, and that some developments are as international as they are national.
Project members: Per Lægreid, Simon Neby, Tom Christensen, Haldor Byrkjeflot, Tord Skogedal Linden, Kristin Rubecksen, Werner Jann, Bastian Jantz, Tanja Klenk, Ina Radtke, Karsten Vrangbæk and Paola Mattei.
Affiliates: Peter Lango, Kristin Reichborn Kjennerud, Flemming Larsen and Ingo Bode, as well as a number of students from the University of Bergen, Copenhagen University and the University of Oxford
Political legitimacy is a precondition for the sustainability of the welfare state, and it is for this reason that the project aims to address how recent welfare state reforms have affected political governance and the relationship between the state and i ts citizens. Such reforms have often focused on the establishment of managerial accountability, neglecting the critical issue of how to maintain and develop mechanisms for political accountability. Converging trends towards New Public Management have affe cted the balance between managerial autonomy and political accountability across welfare sectors and countries. To what extent has it been possible to combine the various modes of accountability? In what way, for what and to whom are public managers in th e various welfare services held accountable? Our main focus will be on administrative reforms and to what extent they have affected accountability relations in specific sectors; hospitals, welfare administration and immigration; and in specific countries; Norway, Denmark and Germany.
A main argument for comparing reforms in these welfare state sectors is that they cover major areas of welfare provision. The sectors display important variations in bureaucratic capacity, specialization and representation of users and citizens. It is of interest to establish whether differences among sectors are more important than among countries. There has been a discussion about the Scandinavian model of welfare state administration, specifically about whether it still exists or whether it is breaking up. By comparing two Scandinavian countries with Germany we are able to address this question. The analysis will provide policy-makers as well as scholars studying welfare reforms with important insights into how reforms m ay be designed and introduced in a way that does not undermine the political sustainability of welfare state institutions.