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Public organisations: changes and their effect on staff and managers

The organisations and people who implement government policy face many different types of change. Academics from Leiden University research how they deal with these and advise them on how best to meet the needs and wishes of society.

Decentralisation has a big impact on municipalities. What choices do they make? What form of organisation is the most effective?

Big changes, such as government cuts or changes in policy, can have a significant impact on public organisations. In addition, the public are becoming more involved in policy implementation. They therefore wish to identify with the organisations that are implementing policy and feel that they are represented by these organisations. The civil servant who is our point of contact should understand us, and preferably share our values too. These developments ask a lot of public organisations, the people who work there and their managers. What effect does it have on their everyday work? How do organisations deal with this kind of change?


One example of changes to government policy and the impact on the organisations that implement this policy is the decentralisation that has taken place in the Netherlands. Since 2015, municipalities have been the point of contact for health care, youth care and care for the long-term sick or elderly. The government assigns each municipality a budget for these services, and the municipality can decide for itself how it will provide these services to its citizens. This is a very tricky issue, particularly because the decentralisation was accompanied by cuts. The changes have changed how care professionals go about their work and who they work with. Researchers at Leiden University study the different approaches taken by municipalities. Municipality A may choose to assign all duties to self-managing teams, whereas municipality B may not. Why do they make these choices? How do they affect the role of manager or a self-managing team? Which organisational structure is most effective?

Changing organisations

The Public Sector Management  research group also looks at the impact of change on the structure of public organisations, for instance the hierarchy. Internationalisation (see also the section ‘Governance at the Global Level’) means that civil servants from a ministry are increasingly required to consult with international colleagues in order to reach policy agreements. Civil servants are given more responsibility, thus breaking down the hierarchy of the ministry. This demands more not only of these civil servants, but also of their managers. A manager has to entrust a civil servant with a task, but at the same time the manager is answerable to the higher echelons of his or her own organisation. The researchers in the Public Sector Management group answer questions such as: how should you structure an organisation? How should you manage this new organisation? What does this mean in terms of leadership: which leadership competences are needed, both now and in the future?

Public wants to identify with government

The public are in contact with the government through the civil servants who work for it. It is becoming more important to citizens that, through these civil servants, they identify with and feel represented by the government. This is known as representative bureaucracy. This practice makes it more important to ask who the civil servants are and what their background is. Public Administration at Leiden has a long tradition of research on civil servants. This research is extremely topical now that more is being asked of government to ensure its connection with society. Researchers from the Institute of Public Administration study which groups in the population are represented in government and how civil servants ensure that the public and government are not opposing forces but rather that they work together.
Researchers from the Institute of Public Administration are also involved in an international study that is looking at how representative government organisations are in different countries and the consequences of this for their effectiveness and legitimacy.

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