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'Structure and Organisation of Government' Project

1 September 2014 - 31 August 2017

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Oliver James

Funding awarded: £ 319,952

Sponsor(s): ESRC

Project webpage(s)

'Structure and Organisation of Government' Project

About the research

Why are some administrative organizations successfully created, frequently reorganized, merged, or terminated, whereas others are seemingly 'immortal' and become more powerful than the elected politicians that created and control them? This question has become pertinent, especially in the past three decades, within European parliamentary democracies. By the end of the 1970s, when the golden era of welfare state expansion and state growth came to an end, a new generation of political leaders such as President Ronald Reagan of the United States and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom initiated a series of administrative reform trajectories - privatization, deregulation, agencification, liberalization, decentralization, and New Public Management- with the aim to fundamentally alter the scope and scale of central government and sparked off several reform trajectories across the developed and developing economies. However,Western politicians who embarked on these trajectories soon found out that changing the structure and organization of their central governments was a hard nut to crack. When successful, the consequences of succeeding in reforms were often increasing fragmentation and rising coordination costs.

We ask: To what extent do changes to the structure and organization of central government within European parliamentary democracies follow the same political logic as Lewis has found for the national state in the US presidential separation-of-power system? To what extent is political insulation a driving logic of administrative design? If not, what are determinants of administrative design in parliamentary democracies and what is the role that institutions play? Can the theory of structural choice, once adapted to parliamentary democracies, explain changes - or the lack thereof- within the institutional context of parliamentary democracies? The aims are:

  • To develop and apply cross-nationally a framework for consistently mapping the changing organizational structure of the central governments of France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom between 1980 and 2010.
  • To identify pattern of change, especially establish whether change is incremental or subject to punctuations with periods of greater stability between these periods, to identify convergence or distinctiveness between countries and to identify any trends within or across countries and policy sectors.
  • To adapt and test the US-based theory of the politics of structural choice on patterns of structural and organizational change within the institutional context of European parliamentary democracies.


Professor James will work with a Research Fellow at Exeter and in collaboration with researchers in the Netherlands, France and Germany.


Economic and Social Research Council