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Professor Oliver James

BA (Oxon); MSc, PhD (LSE, London)

Professor of Political Science


01392 264504

Amory A236C

Oliver James is a Professor of Political Science, focusing on topics in public policy including: citizen-state relations, policy evaluation, environmental policy and politics, digital technology, and public service provision and governance (including public participation).

His research is particularly informed by behavioural theories of citizenship, pro-social motivation, information processing, political participation and cooperation with policies. Methods include survey and field experiments, especially using online tools. Current interests particularly focus on environmental governance, local government and communities, the environment (especially citizen participation in nature and biodiversity policy and programmes), citizenship and taxation. He also conducts research on governance structures for addressing policy issues and the structure of government organisations, and has previously worked on topics in public health and education. 

He teaches undergraduate and postgraduate modules at Exeter including topics in public policy, British and comparative politics, quantitative methods and on the Exeter MSc in Public Policy and MPA programmes.

PhD students supervised include on topics in public policy, public services and environmental policy and using field and survey experiments as methods. He conducts research with partners including public organisations in the UK (for example local and national government, Natural England) and internationally (for example the World Bank). He teaches and runs events about how public service organisations can better connect and communicate with citizens and service uers.

list of publications at google scholar:

Twitter @_Oliver_James_

Current projects include:

Fiscal Citizenship in Migrant Societies. I am a Co-Investigator on £1.3m project, funded jointly by the SSHRC, Canada, DFG Germany and the ESRC, UK, (from 1 March 2021) investigating the role of citizenship in attitudes and behaviour towards cooperating with tax systems.

Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach I am a Co-Investigtor in the 5 year (2022-27) NERC funded project on on biodiversity renewal through building expertise across different sectors and communities to address environmental crises. I focus in particular on community action and work with Natural England and local authority partners on research about tools to integrate health, wellbeing, nature and sustainability outcomes into communities' strategies including democratic participation in use of such tools.

Government communication with citizens to promote accountability and achieve public policy goals. This includes the way information about public services (eg for local environmental, educational, police or health services) affect citizens and service users' perceptions of services, behaviour towards services (including use of service and cooperation with service providers). Information is important for accountability and cooperation but its use is affected by factors including cognitive limitations and politically motivated reasoning. A recent book published by Cambridge University Press addresses these issues: Behavioral Public Performance.

Field and survey experiments as methods in public policy and public management, including the book Experiments in Public Management Research (eds: Oliver James, Sebastian Jilke, Gregg Van Ryzin, Cambridge University Press 2017). The bookis an overview of the relationship between experiments and public management theory, the benefits of using experimental designs, and sets out contemporary contributions to understanding key topics. Book: Experiments in Public Management Research.

Government organisation and capacity, including the effect of Brexit on the UK state. This interest builds on research about structural change within public organisations as part of the ESRC funded 'Structure and Organisation of Government' project and work on the causes and effects of public management leadership change on organisational performance, including the ESRC funded chief executive succession project.

Short Bio: Following his undergraduate BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at St Anne's College, University of Oxford he completed his MSc and PhD in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics, University of London. He has held academic posts at LSE (lecturer) and at Exeter (lecturer, senior lecturer and reader) and is a member of the ESRC Grant Assessment Panel. He has also worked in HM Treasury on an academic placement and with bodies including the World Bank, OECD, UK National Audit Office and Audit Commission.

Grant funded research: Current: ESRC Fiscal Citizenship (2021-24); NERC, RENEW Project (2022-27). Previous: ESRC ‘Structure and Organisation of Government’ in the UK (2014-17) £320K (approx.); ESRC Grant: Chief Executive Succession and the Performance of Central Government Agencies £215K 2010-2013); EU FP7 Project 'COCOPS: Co-ordinating for Cohesion in the Public Sector of the Future' (2011-14). Projects as part of the ESRC Public Services Programme, including the project 'Standards of Evidence for Assessing Public Service Performance' (Grant RES153270014).

Publications include:

James, O., Leth Olsen, A., Moynihan, D. and Van Ryzin, G.G. (2020) Behavioral Public Performance, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Edited books: James, O., Jilke, S. R., & Van Ryzin, G. G. (Eds.). (2017). Experiments in public management research: Challenges and contributions. Cambridge University Press.


James, O., & Jilke, S. (2020). Marketization reforms and co‐production: Does ownership of service delivery structures and customer language matter?. Public Administration98(4), 941-957.

Jakobsen, M., James, O., Moynihan, D., & Nabatchi, T. (2019). JPART virtual issue on citizen-state interactions in public administration research. e8-e15.

James, O., & Van Ryzin, G. G. (2019). Rates and the judgment of government performance. Journal of Behavioral Public Administration, 2(2).pp. 1-10 DOI: 10.30636/jbpa.22.41

James, O., & Petersen, C. (2018). International rankings of government performance and source credibility for citizens: Experiments about e-government rankings in the UK and the Netherlands. Public Management Review, 20(4), 469-484.

James, O., & Van Ryzin, G. G. (2017). Motivated reasoning about public performance: An experimental study of how citizens judge the affordable care act. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 27(1), 197-209.

James, O., Petrovsky, N., Moseley, A. and Boyne, G.A.. 2016. ’The Politics of Agency Death: Ministers and the Survival of Government Agencies in a Parliamentary System.’ British Journal of Political Science.46 (4) pp. 763-784

James, O., Jilke, S., Petersen, C. and Van de Walle, S., 2016. Citizens' Blame of Politicians for Public Service Failure: Experimental Evidence about Blame Reduction through Delegation and Contracting. Public Administration Review, 76(1), pp.83-93.

Fernández‐Gutiérrez, M., James, O. and Jilke, S., 2016. ‘Competition and switching in public service markets: Can they reduce inequalities?’ Regulation & Governance. Doi: 10.1111/rego.12110

James, O. and Moseley, A. 2014. ‘Does performance information about public services affect citizens' perceptions, satisfaction, and voice behaviour? Field experiments with absolute and relative performance information’, Public Administration, vol. 92, no. 2, 493-511.

Boyne, G, James, O. John, P , Petrovsky, N. 2012. ‘Party Control, Party Competition and Service Performance’ British Journal of Political Science Vol. 46, pp. 641-660. Published online first 21 Feb 2012.

James, O. 2011. 'Performance Measures and Democracy: Information Effects on Citizens in Field and Laboratory Experiments', Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21: 399-418.

Boyne, G.A., James, O., John, P. ; Petrovsky, N. 2010. ‘Does Public Service Performance Affect Top Management Turnover?’ Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 20: 261-279.

Boyne, G.A, James, O. John, P., Petrovsky, N. 2009. ‘Democracy and government performance: holding incumbents accountable in English local governments.’ Journal of Politics. Vol. 71 No. 4, pp.1273-1284 doi:10.1017/S0022381609990089

Research interests

Oliver James conducts research about the politics of citizen-state relations in the context of public policy and public services. He uses behavioural science methods to research citizens and public service users, especially communication about the performance of public services and policy outcomes, and to facilitate user cooperation to enable effective policy. He is currently investigating the role of citizenship in a range of attitudes and behaviours towards taxation (fiscal citizenship) and coproduction of policy outcomes (especially environmental policies for biodiversity renewal). Other interests include the relationship between performance of public organisations and political and managerial leadership, reform to public service provision, executive politics (particularly politician-bureaucrat relations) and regulation of the public sector. See also the publications section for the main research outputs from this work.

Research projects:

Fiscal Citizenship in Migrant Societies

I am a Co-Investigator on a new three-year, £1.3m project, funded jointly by the SSHRC, Canada, DFG Germany and the ESRC, UK, (from 1 March 2021) investigating the role of citizenship in attitudes and behaviour towards cooperating with tax systems.

Behavioural Research on Citizens and Users' Interaction with Information about Public Service Performance

My research examines the relationship between politics and public services, especially how users and citizens assess and respond to changes in the quality of services, and how elected officials and public managers respond and seek to influence these interactions. This work has included the impact of expectations on satisfaction with public services, whether expectations can or should be managed, and voice and choice based mechanisms for citizens, users and customers to interact with service providers. Recently I have focused on how government communicates information to citizens about public services to facilitate accountability and encourage cooperation with service provision. This project has led to published research including a co-authored Cambridge Elements Series book on the topic.

Organisation of Government, Executive Succession and Performance Outcomes in the Public Sector

An ongoing project examines the relationship between the organisation of public activity, political and managerial change, and the performance outcomes of public services. Within this topic, a focus has been on the effects of performance on turnover of political and managerial leadership, and subsequent changes in performance. This work has included a collaborative project supported by £320K (approx.) from the ESRC following a competition under the European Open Research Area.This work has been published in articles in the British Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, Public Administration Review, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory and Public Administration. Further information is at:

leadership change project

A paper with some simple descriptives about change in administrative leadership of local government was produced as part of an earlier phase of the project:


Previous research:

Previous research has included work on satisfaction with public services as part of an EU FP7 Programme project, coordinated by Erasmus Rotterdam and Hertie Berlin (running 2011-2014). The worpackage aims were:

  • To analyse longitudinal trends in citizen satisfaction with public services and their reported behaviour (complaining, exercising choice) in the EU member countries, using Eurobarometer data
  • To get insight into patterns of citizen satisfaction and reported behaviour for different socio-economic groups
  • To develop models to explain divergence or convergence of citizen satisfaction and reported behaviour
  • To design a vulnerability map to make locations and trends in (dis)satisfaction with public services visible

 I was a Research Fellow as part of the UK Economic and Social Research Council's 'Public Services Programme' and another recent project on this topic was 'Public Services: Expectations, Performance and Satisfaction' which explored the relationship between the performance of local public services and satisfaction with those services, and the role of expectations about performance.


expectations performance and satisfaction project: summary

Work on the relationship between performance information about public services and political attitudes and participation, including voting


Earlier research analysed the rise in use and performance of ’executive agencies' to deliver public services. These structures have increasingly been used internationally and in UK central government. The book ’The Executive Agency Revolution in Whitehall: Public Interest versus Bureau-shaping Perspectives’, (see The Executive Agency Revolution ) examines the strengths and weaknesses of executive agency model and draws lessons relevant for contemporary use of such structures. The book contrasts the official public interest perspective of the ’Next Steps’ reformers (who expected improved economy, efficiency and effectiveness from the use of agencies) with an alternative account building on the ’bureau-shaping’ model of public sector reform. The book anlayses the performance of agencies, including problems of systemic performance (a lack of ’joined-up’ government) and suggests that the UK experience is relevant to countries with similar reforms (eg Special Operating Agencies in Canada, Korean executive agencies, Independent Administrative Institutions in Japan).

The main insight of bureau-shaping theory is that public officials’ concerns about their work tasks influence organisational form through their use of bureau-shaping strategies, particularly the use of contracting and passing on work to other organisations (such as executive agencies). The use of such strategies has major consequences for public sector performance which can suffer as a result. 

Work on the theory and practice of regulation, particularly the regulation of the public sector, has included research originally carried out as part of a team led by Christopher Hood (All Souls, Oxford). The key insight of the perspective is to ’read-across’ ideas of government regulation of business to look at similar regulatory processes within the public sector. The results of the work have been published as ’Regulation inside Government’, (see Regulation inside Government) and in a number of journal articles. Edward Elgar recently published our edited book, 'Controlling Modern Government' on control/regulation of government in comparative perspective. (see Controlling Modern Government.)

Previous projects have developed the regulation framework for use by the pubic sector management division of the World Bank and the UK Audit Commission. More generally, I am involved in the activities of the Public Management Research Association, UK Political Studies Association, Joint University Council Public Administration Committee as the Research Chair, American Political Science Association and European Group for Public Administration.

See publications link here for a list of publications with downloads of some papers.

Research supervision

Research supervision is available across a range of topics relating to the politics of public service provision and delivery (especially but not exclusively in health, education and policing), public sector information and communication with citizens and service users, public administration/management, governance and public policy

Research students

Completed students in recent years: Ahmed Badran (telecoms regulation), Egyptian Govt Scholarship (3yrs): Alice Moseley (multi-agency working the public sector), Kate Getliffe (regulation of genomics), ESRC/ODPM funded (3 yrs); Ayako Nakamura (control of prison systems)

Current Students include:

Rebecca Baker (Participation Through Political Education)

Francesca Farmer (Cybercrime vs hacktivism: do we need a differentiated regulatory approach?)

Jung Gon Kim (Chane in the Senior Civil Service)

Syahmi Amri Mat Nepa (Digital Economy Policy)

Other information



External impact and engagement

I work with a range of public and private organisational partners on research and teaching. Organisations include local governments, central government departments and the National Audit Office in the UK. International collaborations include with OECD, World Bank and public organisations in several countries. Current engagement focuses particularly on citizen and user interaction with public service providers in education, health and policing as essential public services. I am a member of the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary & FRS Academic Advisory Group.


Oliver James is professor of political science and works on issues in public policy, public administration and regulation. Following his undergraduate BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at St Anne's College, University of Oxford he completed his MSc and PhD at the London School of Economics, University of London. His recent publications (some of which are available to download) are listed here. Further details of his research are available. As well as his primary interest in academic research and teaching, he works with public sector organisations in the UK and elsewhere, and has acted as a consultant to bodies including the World Bank, OECD, UK Treasury, UK National Audit Office and UK Audit Commission. Formerly, he taught and was a Research Officer at the London School of Economics.

His publications are listed on several sites

PhD Supervision is offered in a broad range of topic areas relating to public policy, public administration or regulation. Suitable topic areas include: public sector organisation, public sector reform, politics and administration, rational choice models (eg bureau-shaping , budget maximising ), New Public Management ( eg internal markets, quasi-markets, contracting out, partnership working, public/private competition), regulation, regulation inside government (including audit, inspection, oversight, Best Value, value for money studies, efficiency studies ), performance measurement in the public sector, performance targets (including Public Service Agreements, executive agency targets ), public sector evaluation, quangos, organisation and reform of international organisations, multi-level governance. Country areas include UK central and local government, European systems (including the European Commission), US Federal and state systems and other OECD country systems.

Teaching: currently undergraduate and postgraduate courses including modules as part of the MPA and MRes Politics programmes.

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