The interaction of administrative tradition and organisational characteristics: the case of agency personnel management autonomy

By Tobias Bach, Koen Verhoest, Jan Wynen

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Published in International Review of Administrative Sciences, online 29 January 2020


Comparative scholars emphasise that public administration should be understood in terms of context-bound patterns of organising and decision-making. Agencies in the same context will display more commonalities than those in another. At the same time, there is good empirical evidence for organisational-level variation in decision-making. For instance, not all agencies in one country are delegated similar levels of personnel management autonomy. This article develops a theoretical argument about how administrative tradition moderates the effect of organisational drivers of personnel management autonomy. We identify the degree of uniformity embedded in administrative tradition as a key explanatory factor for this relationship. In empirical terms, the article compares the perceived personnel management autonomy of agencies in 10 European countries nested in three country clusters (Scandinavian, Latin-Napoleonic and Continental). The analysis confirms theoretical expectations about the context-specific effects of organisational characteristics on personnel management autonomy in agencies.

Points for practitioners

This article explains why agency managers’ perceived degree of personnel management autonomy varies between different administrative traditions. It shows that some contexts display a greater heterogeneity of delegating personnel management autonomy to agency managers, whereas other contexts are characterised by homogeneous practices of delegation to agencies of the same legal type. This finding suggests that changes in agencies’ legal type are important instruments of effective reform in high-uniformity contexts, whereas they will have only a limited effect in low-uniformity contexts.


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Published Jan. 31, 2020 10:28 AM - Last modified Jan. 31, 2020 10:28 AM