What are the effects of delegating government tasks on public service performance?

Panel 12: What are the effects of delegating government task on public service performance

Chaired by: Sjors Overman, MSc. (RU), Sebastian Jilke, MA (EUR), prof. dr. Kutsal Yesilkagit (UL-CDH)


1 Outline of the Topic

This workshop aims to bring together a team of scholars to discuss papers that evaluate and compare the empirical effects of public service delegation on performance. Delegation of public services includes the structural disaggregation of public services to semi-autonomous agencies, decentralization of tasks, contracting-out, and privatization. As a result of these structural changes in the provision of governmental services, public service performance – in a very broad sense – is expected to be altered. Examples of performance include, but are not limited to, the quantity and quality of outputs (e.g. the number of cleaned streets, and the speed of the service), efficiency (the ratio of outputs to financial inputs), equity (e.g. the fairness of the distribution of services to different groups), outcomes (e.g. the number of successfully treated patients), value for money (the per unit costs of an outcome), and also includes consumer satisfaction with services (Boyne, 2003, for example), and staff satisfaction and motivation at work (Pollitt et al., 2004; Wright and Pandey, 2008).

It is expected that increasing the (legal) distance between political decision making and service delivery, as a core element in the New Public Management doctrine, increases organizational performance (Erakovic and Powell, 2006; Papenfuss and Schaefer, 2010). In particular, policy-makers expected that delegation of service delivery would lead to higher quality at lower costs, and subsequently higher user satisfaction (Van Thiel, 2001; Witesman and Wise, 2009). Moreover, employees were expected to increase their motivation and well-being at work when provided with greater managerial autonomy in this regard (Peckham et al., 2008). Other hypothesized effects include an increasing use of accountability mechanisms, or an enhanced political control and central steering over policy implementation (Mattei et al., 2013; Flinders, 2001). However, empirical evidence for many of these claims is mixed. Moreover, most of the evidence for or against these expected outcomes is fragmented and case specific. Therefore, this panel aims to systematize evidence for the intended and unintended, positive and negative effects of delegation on public service performance.

A discussion on the empirical consequences of delegation on public service performance is important at this time. First, in the realm of fiscal austerity there is more explicit attention to improving institutional design for delivering high quality services to citizens at low costs. Second, past decades have seen massive reform undertakings in the advent of the New Public Management that were aimed at moving away service provision from the state to more market and private sector oriented governance systems. The outcomes of these reforms remain highly contested. Third, delegating tasks to agencies gives room for discretion on the executive side of policy. This discretion facilitates more interaction with citizens, as more possibilities for locally tailored service delivery are present (Van Thiel, 2001).

2 Linkage between Panel and NIG Subtheme

The proposed panel is strongly embedded within the NIG Public Management subtheme. Public management reform is a well-recognized theme within Dutch and Flemish public administration research. Core elements of this subtheme include evaluation of impacts of public management reform, agencification, decentralization and joined-up government, and the international comparative analysis of state and administrative reform. The panel touches upon all of these elements. Public sector reforms have changed government structures and ideas about the role of public service delivery in modern society. Large waves and different varieties of public sector reforms were already witnessed in the 1980s and 90s (Pollitt et al., 2007). Strikingly, new waves of government delegation of public services have occurred since, while evidence for the effects of these reforms on public service performance is hardly available. A discussion of the whether delegation has delivered is highly relevant in both the academic and the practical debate.