The Central Administration in a Challenging New Era: A Time For Reflection

Johan P. Olsen has published a new article in the Norwegian Journal of Political Science on the changing role of government bureaucracy in a challenging new era for European democracy.  


This article starts out with the challenges European democracies, and in particular, the central public administration faces today. Discussions of an administration’s democratic quality sometimes take place within a stable political order, where each institution has a clear-cut mission and mandate, success criteria, well-defined roles and relevant resources. Yet, at other times, such discussions take place where the legitimacy of the political order is questioned. Institutions and roles are confused and contested. There are struggles over the administration’s power and the power over the administration. Conventional truth regarding organization and organizing is challenged.

In an attempt to understand the latter situation I present four competing narratives about the tasks of public administration, how it functions and should function. I argue that none of these narratives alone captures today’s administrative complexity and dynamics. The administration is a meeting place for a variety of competing premises and a political workshop, and I illustrate the argument by the emergence of a deliberate administrative policy in Norway. A conclusion is that in order to understand public administration and administrative policy, we have to relax assumptions regarding clear, consistent and fairly stable tasks, goals, rules, authority-, power-and accountability relationships. Such assumptions are realistic in certain contexts. Yet, the normative-, knowledge-, and power bases of the administration are also affected by administrative decision-making and experiential learning and the administration has to live with unresolved conflict.

Full info

Sentraladministrasjonen i en utfordrende æra: Tid for ettertanke
Johan P. Olsen

Norsk Statsvitenskapelig Tidsskrift 35(1)


Published Mar. 18, 2019 10:46 AM - Last modified Mar. 18, 2019 10:56 AM