Does Democracy Matter? A Transatlantic Research Design on Democratic Performance and Special Purpose Governments
Skelcher, Chris, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory
How does the structure and intensity of democratic engagement and supervision affect public service performance? This article proposes a research design, potential data set, and initial hypotheses that can be used to generate answers to this question through comparative study of U.K. and U.S. special purpose governments. (1) It addresses a central finding of Hill and Lynn's (2005) recent meta-analysis of over eight hundred empirical studies that public management scholars know relatively little about how the democratic structure of public organizations impacts on their performance. Hill and Lynn (2005) comment on the limited attention given to "structures of formal authority" and "citizen preferences and interests" as either dependent or independent variables. In a similar vein, Feldman and Khademian (2002) point to weaknesses in understanding the relationship between governance, management, and organizational performance. They argue the need to move beyond the prevailing assumptions of principal-agent theory and propose that research conceptualize governance structures as the outcomes of dynamic and interactive processes, in which public managers play an active role and are not purely the recipients of top-down hierarchical accountability. From this perspective, managers help to enact democracy as well as deliver public services.
The lack of a systematic evidence base on the ways in which democratic structure matters to public service performance is more than just an academic issue. Governments, not-for-profits, and community actors are increasingly interested in new ways of making and delivering public policy. Debates about deliberative democracy, neighborhood governance, co-production, and active citizenship presuppose change to both public bureaucracy and service contracting and the creation of new governance forms that can accommodate interactive decision making and multiple accountabilities. This movement has global reach, stimulating a wide range of experiments with different forms of governance and potentially competing modes of democracy (Klijn and Skelcher, forthcoming).
Although the knowledge base on the impact of governance structures is limited, that on how and under what conditions management matters is considerable (e.g., Boyne et al. 2003; Heinrich and Lynn 2000; Ingraham, Joyce, and Donahue 2003; O'Toole and Meier 2004). This knowledge gap is not just a matter of the preferences of researchers. There are significant conceptual and methodological issues to overcome. Understanding whether and how democracy matters requires the ability to conceptualize governance structures in ways that make comparative analysis possible. It is necessary, also, to measure the democratic parameter in a way that will enable associations to be drawn with data on organizational performance in delivering services or implementing programs. New methodologies that meet these requirements are now emerging, and there is the potential to apply these to a large population of organizations that so far have not been subject to systematic research. This population consists of special purpose governments in the United States and United Kingdom. They exhibit considerable variety of governance structure and democratic articulation to elected officials and publics, and thus they offer a potentially valuable data set. This holds out the prospect that the discipline will be able to move beyond the question of whether management matters to consider the higher order issue of whether and in what ways democracy matters to performance. This is the big unresolved question in our field, and one that mandates serious attention.
The first part of the article discusses why scholars should now turn their attention to the question of whether and to what extent democracy matters for performance. The article then shows the value of special purpose governments as an embryonic data set. It also explores the key structural …
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Publication information: Article title: Does Democracy Matter? A Transatlantic Research Design on Democratic Performance and Special Purpose Governments. Contributors: Skelcher, Chris - Author. Journal title: Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. Volume: 17. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2007. Page number: 61+. © 1999 University of Kansas. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.