Welfare Reforms, Accountability and Performance

Authored by: Per Lægreid , Kristin Rubecksen

The Routledge Handbook to Accountability and Welfare State Reforms in Europe

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472470591
eBook ISBN: 9781315612713
Adobe ISBN: 9781317044208

10.4324/9781315612713.ch11

 

Abstract

The main theme of this chapter is the dynamics between administrative reforms in welfare states and accountability, as well as the relationships between accountability and performance. Both relationships are ambiguous and contested (Lægreid 2014). First, we address the relationship between administrative reforms and accountability. Better accountability has been a main driver of the reforms in the welfare state, but in practice the reforms have tended to make accountability relations more complex (Thomas 1998; Christensen and Lægreid 2015). An important question is what kind of accountability the executives perceive as appropriate (Romzek 2000). We want to examine how comprehensive reforms have affected the relationship between political, administrative, professional and social accountability. Second, we ask to what extent different accountability types affect perceived performance. Is there a clear relationship between accountability and better performance or is it loose and contested (Dubnick 2011)?

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Welfare Reforms, Accountability and Performance

Introduction

The main theme of this chapter is the dynamics between administrative reforms in welfare states and accountability, as well as the relationships between accountability and performance. Both relationships are ambiguous and contested (Lægreid 2014). First, we address the relationship between administrative reforms and accountability. Better accountability has been a main driver of the reforms in the welfare state, but in practice the reforms have tended to make accountability relations more complex (Thomas 1998; Christensen and Lægreid 2015). An important question is what kind of accountability the executives perceive as appropriate (Romzek 2000). We want to examine how comprehensive reforms have affected the relationship between political, administrative, professional and social accountability. Second, we ask to what extent different accountability types affect perceived performance. Is there a clear relationship between accountability and better performance or is it loose and contested (Dubnick 2011)?

The chapter addresses these relationships in the area of administrative reforms in the welfare administration and hospitals in Norway, Denmark and Germany. All three countries have recently been subject to large-scale transboundary administrative reforms within these policy areas. In Norway, there were major reforms in the hospital administration (2002) and in the welfare administration (2005). In Denmark, the structural reform (2006) implied major reorganization of the hospital and welfare administration and Hertz reform (2004) reorganized the labor and employment services in Germany. We ask how different accountability relations and performance relations are perceived as seen from the top administrative executives in central government and how different accountability types affect different types of performance. The focus is on accountability to whom and the problem of many eyes and on a broad set of accountability indicators.

More specifically, the following research questions will be addressed:

  1. What is the prevalence of different accountability types?
  2. How do accountability types vary with country, policy areas and structural features?
  3. What are the effects of different accountability relations on public sector performance?

Theoretically, we will apply a structural perspective, a task-specific perspective and a cultural perspective, drawing on a broad range of explanatory factors in order to shed light on the observed patterns of accountability relations in and between the three countries. Such factors include, first, historical traditions and national political-institutional legacies. The countries have both similarities and differences that are likely to promote some types of accountability over others. They are all well-established Western parliamentary democracies, but diverge in political-administrative systems and administrative traditions.

Second, task-specificity related to the reform areas (political salience of tasks, degree of professionalization and complexity in service delivery, acceptance of local variation in task execution) might matter. The reforms have had a major impact on the respective institutional frameworks in both sectors in all three countries. Furthermore, the welfare and hospital sectors in these countries display important differences in bureaucratic capacity, specialization and representation of users and citizens (Lægreid and Mattei 2013). Third, structural affiliations of the executives might matter, such as their positions or if the executives are in a ministry or a central agency.

Regarding the effects of accountability on performance, we distinguish between an instrumental hypothesis on a tight and positive relationship between accountability and performance and a cultural-based hypothesis underlining the loose connection between accountability and performance. When studying the impacts of accountability on performance, we control for the effects of country, tasks and structural features.

The empirical data are based on a comprehensive survey to top civil servants in different European countries conducted in 2012–2013 by the COCOPS project (Coordinating for Cohesion in the Public Sector). 1 Core questions are, first, to what extent the executives refer issues upwards in the hierarchy, to political actors or bodies, and to what extent they consult civil society/interest groups or experts; and, second, their perceived effects on performance along the following dimensions: cost and efficiency, service quality, policy effectiveness, policy coherence and coordination, citizen participation, social cohesion, equal access to services, fair treatment, and citizens’ trust in government.

First, we will give an introduction to core concepts, as well as theoretical approaches, and derive some expectations regarding empirical findings. Second, we give a brief outline of the relevant reform context in the three countries that we compare. Third, we outline the data basis. Fourth, we present the empirical findings, and finally we discuss the findings and draw some conclusions.

Concepts and theoretical approaches

Accountability

After three decades of reforms in the welfare state, it is rather evident that we have to operate with a multidimensional accountability concept going beyond hierarchical principal-agent accountability (Christensen and Lægreid 2015). This is especially clear in the ambiguous and unsettled situations that often characterize reform periods (Olsen 2013). Bovens (2007) distinguishes between an information phase, a discussion phase and a consequence regarding accountability relations. Our proxy mainly focuses on the information and discussion phase. Many different processes of accountability are taking place at the same time, involving a vast array of actors. In each process, different kinds of information will be demanded and different kinds of discussions will occur. Governments are continuously being called to account by several account-holders for their actions and decisions, within different forums at the same time (Willems 2014).

Public organizations face the problem of many eyes, and their leaders are accountable to a number of different forums and ways of categorizing who is accountable to whom (Romzek and Dubnick 1987; Bovens 2007; Willems and Van Dooren 2011). Political accountability is mainly a vertical one in which hierarchical relationships give the forum formal power over the actor. Administrative executives are expected to refer issues upwards to political actors and bodies. Administrative accountability is related to a person’s position in a hierarchy whereby a superior calls a subordinate to account for his or her performance of delegated duties (Sinclair 1995). We examine internal administrative accountability relations focusing on bureaucratic accountability issues that are referred upwards in the administrative hierarchy. Professional accountability denotes the importance of professional peers or peer review. Particularly in typical public organizations concerned with professional service delivery, the executives tend to rely on the technical knowledge of experts (Romzek and Dubnick 1987). We address this by examining to what extent the administrative executives consult relevant experts (e.g. scientists and consultants). Social accountability arises out of the existence of social stakeholders in the environment. This produces pressure on public organizations whereby they feel obliged to consult civil society organizations and interest groups. Giving account to various stakeholders in society occurs normally on a voluntary basis and has been labeled horizontal accountability (Schillemans 2008).

All four types of accountability will be included in our analysis, and our particular interest is in the prevalence of accountability types and their effect on public sector performance.

Theoretical perspectives

Tasks or policy area matter: political salience, professionalism and standardization

The requirements and constraints inherent in the primary tasks of different public organizations influence the decision-making of these units (Pollitt et al. 2004; Byrkjeflot et al. 2014). The main idea is that tasks matter and that we cannot discuss accountability structures and processes without taking into account the particular activities to which they apply (Pollitt 2008; Verhoest et al. 2010). Task-specificity and the nature of the actual work are important to understand variations in accountability (Wilson 1989). Important considerations are to what degree the tasks can be standardized, whether their consequentiality is high or low, whether they are politically sensitive or not, whether they involve major financial resources and whether they are subject to market competition (Pollitt 2003).

The two reforms studied are dealing with different types of tasks and service deliveries, and there are both similarities and variations among them in political salience, level of professionalization and complexity, as well as the degree of acceptance of local variation. It is then necessary to ask if tasks matter for the accountability relations we see. First, both reforms aim at strengthening administrative accountability and constraining political accountability. At the same time, both policy areas are of high political salience, which makes us expect that political accountability is still central. The welfare services are continuously brought into the limelight of the media and politics, and are thus ‘politicized’. In the hospital reform, professional accountability is critical and potentially challenging to political accountability. High political salience may also make social accountability challenging.

Second, we expect that the degree of professionalism and complexity in service delivery matters. Day and Klein (1987) argue that services with high levels of professionalism and specialization are likely to be more complex. The complexity of a given service area relates to how many kinds of skills it has to coordinate in order to deliver, as well as to how many services it has to provide. We would thus expect that professional accountability would be associated with complexity in areas with diversity in service delivery, such as in hospitals, whereas social services will be more standardized and less professionalized.

Third, we expect that the acceptance of local variation in service delivery would make a difference (Byrkjeflot et al. 2014). If there are strong norms of impartiality and equal services for the same kind of users or clients all over the territory, we would expect that standardization of services and administrative accountability will be strong, such as in health cases. For service deliveries that accept more local variations, such as the employment area, we would expect that social accountability would be more addressed:

  • Overall, we expect that the major tension in both fields will be between political accountability, on the one hand, and administrative and social accountability, on the other hand.
  • We expect that professional accountability will be more up front within the health area than within the welfare administration area.

Culture matters: the importance of administrative culture in different countries

Different national political-institutional legacies may thus be important with respect to explaining variations in accountability (Painter and Peters 2010). The three countries differ along important political-institutional background variables but nonetheless share some key characteristics, the most important one being that all countries are mature Western European parliamentary democracies with a bureaucratic state infrastructure that have faced big administrative reforms in the selected policy areas over the past decade. All of them have undertaken administrative reforms that have had a major impact on the respective institutional frameworks for welfare services, but the scope and depth varies between countries, administrative levels and welfare state sectors.

The countries also differ in administrative tradition (Painter and Peters 2010; Pierre 2011). Norway and Denmark are both small unitary states, belonging to a West-Nordic Scandinavian collaborative tradition with big professional welfare states and ministerial responsibility with strong line ministries and semiautonomous subordinate agencies. A citizen-oriented, participatory approach is stronger in these countries than in Germany (Pollitt and Bouckaert 2011). Germany is a large federal state, and represents a tradition with special interlocking coordination problems as a result of the federalist system (Scharpf 1988). Germany’s welfare state regime is based on the continental corporatist Bismarck model. Reforms in federal Germany have a stronger focus on flexibility and professionalism, and Germany has often been viewed as a ‘laggard’ with regard to welfare reforms (Jann 2003). The Scandinavian countries have, in recent decades, been more active and receptive.

The Rechtstaat orientation of the German administrative system may render vertical accountability types easier, but will at the same time produce significant horizontal accountability problems. The German relationship between political and administrative executives is also fairly politicized (Pollitt and Bouckaert 2011), which might result in increased use of political accountability mechanisms. The strong consensus orientation and collaborative decision-making style of the Nordic countries might further horizontal coordination and also accountability with stakeholders outside government. The same might be the case with Germany, which also has a strong corporative tradition. Both the Scandinavian countries and Germany also have strong professional bureaucracy that will enhance professional accountability. It is therefore interesting to investigate whether there is still a Scandinavian model of welfare state administration or whether that model is breaking up (Byrkjeflot and Neby 2008).

Historical tradition in the state and in the public administration constrains and enables the reform trajectory and matters for the reform path chosen. National administrative tradition is important, but it does not determine reform choices and it needs to be understood as one of several factors affecting the way administrative reforms develop (Painter and Peters 2010). Based on country-specific and cultural features, we will expect that:

  • The differences in the use of different accountability tools will be greater between Norway and Denmark, on the one hand, and Germany, on the other.
  • Political accountability will be stronger in the Scandinavian countries, whereas administrative accountability will be more up front in Germany.

Structure matters: the importance of positions and administrative level

Political accountability plays out according to a structural perspective. The formal structure of public organizations will channel and influence the models of thought and the actual decision-making behavior of the civil servants (Egeberg 2012). A major precondition for such effects is that the leaders must have relatively clear intentions and goals, choose structures that correspond with these goals and have insight into the potential effects of the structures chosen. Luther Gulick (1937) stressed the importance of vertical specialization. The argument is that public sector units’ external organizational ties to other public sector organizations, the form of affiliation, will make a difference.

As one such type of affiliation, state agencies are an important part of central government in all three countries. Each state agency sorts politically under one parent ministry, and the principle of ministerial responsibility is strong. Delegating autonomy to agencies can have advantages for the ministry in charge. Delegation frees up capacity to focus on political and strategic tasks and may enable ministries to blame agencies for undesirable policy effects (Dunleavy 1992; Hood and Lodge 2006: 182). ‘Agencification’ potentially reduces ministerial control and may allow state agencies to develop interests that diverge from those of their principal ministries (Binderkrantz and Christensen 2009: 290). To ensure that agencies behave in the ministries’ interest, ministries use various control instruments.

A core hypothesis from this perspective is that organizational forms affect the accountability mechanisms. Our expectations are that political accountabilities are weaker and administrative, professional and social accountability are stronger in semiautonomous agencies than in ministerial departments (Egeberg and Trondal 2009). We will also expect that political accountability is stronger for top civil servants than for other administrative executives, which will pay more attention to administrative accountability. Hence, we expect:

  • Social accountability will be stronger in semiautonomous agencies than in ministerial departments, and for political accountability it will be the other way around.
  • Top civil servants will prioritize political accountability while administrative executives will prioritize administrative accountability.

Accountability and performance

Both accountability and performance have been central aspects of administrative reforms in the public sector during the last decades. Despite this, their relationship is yet understudied and public managers increasingly complain about negative effects of accountability (Ossege 2012). The causal linkages between accountability and performance have yet to be proved and the relationship between them is contested. Thus, the question of what the mechanisms are, if any, that link account-giving to individual leaders and organizational performance is still disputed. The reforms in the two welfare state areas have to a large part been based on arguments of an instrumental relationship; that ‘greater accountability will mean improved performance’ (Dubnick 2005). The assumed linkage between accountability and performance is so powerful that the two are often used as indicators of each other: to be accountable is to live up to expected performance, and to be performing up to standards is a clear sign of being accountable (Dubnick and Frederickson 2011).

However, another strongly held position is that there are tensions between accountability and performance due to incompatibility with each other (Ossege 2012). The accountability dilemma (Behn 2001) and the accountability paradox (Dubnick 2005) have been mentioned in the literature. The former signifies a trade-off between accountability and efficiency as expenses of time and resources devoted to account-giving are resources that could have been used to improve performance. In the accountability paradox, organizations are held to account for how well they implement formal accountability processes and procedures rather than for how well they actually perform their primary tasks and duties (Dubnick and Frederickson 2011). Another variant of this argument is what Dubnick (2011) labels the ‘reformist paradox’, in which efforts to improve accountability through reforms generates consequences that might alter, complicate or undermine existing forms of accountability. Public organizations typically face multiple sources of legitimate authority and competing expectations for performance. The existence of multiple and often competing accountability relationships may thus result in negative organizational outcomes (Romzek and Dubnick 1987; Romzek and Ingraham 2000). Even though the relationship between accountability and performance may not be as clear as we want it to be, it is not any less important to reconsider the effect of accountability on performance, because accountability can be understood as ‘answerability for performance’ (Romzek 2000), and that more accountable government will perform better as it responds to pressures for improved service. Hence, the following hypotheses:

  • The paradox/dilemma hypothesis: there will be a loose coupling between accountability types and performance (culture matters).
  • The instrumental hypothesis: use of different accountability types will tend to enhance performance (structure matters).

Reform context

Since 2002, all three countries have had administrative reforms in the areas of labor/employment and hospital administration that might affect different accountability relations (Table 11.1). All these reforms have a whole-of-governance flavor aimed at reducing fragmentation and increasing integration and coherence between administrative levels, and also between policy areas, by enhancing both horizontal and vertical coordination. But they also have NPM components focusing on efficiency and performance management. The content of the reforms varies, however, between policy areas and between countries producing different trade-offs and tensions between accountability types, both formally and in practice.

Table 11.1   Administrative reforms in labor/employment and hospital administration in Norway, Denmark and Germany

Norway

Denmark

Germany

Labor/employment

Big administrative reform 2005–2011. Merging employment and pensions and partnerships with municipalities regarding social services. Local one-stop shops but also regional specialized units.

The structural reform in 2006 resulted in shared job centers between municipalities and central government. In 2009, municipalities got full responsibility on this policy area, but under central government regulation and supervision.

The Hertz reform of 2004 was a mixed policy and administrative reform. A combined model of local customer centers organized by the Federal Employment Service provided insurance- based unemployment benefits and ‘joint facilities’ with municipalities regarding means-end tested unemployment benefits and active labor market services.

Hospital

Big administrative reform in 2002 transferring the ownership of hospitals to central government and reorganizing the hospitals into health enterprises. Administrative decentralization.

The structural reform in 2007 transferred the responsibility of hospitals to the regions governed by directly elected politicians. Political decentralization.

No big reform but a corporatist system with third- party payers (sickness funds) and also an increasing privatization of hospitals. A dual system of federal and state responsibility.

Norway

Welfare

In 2001, the parliament asked the government to come up with a unified solution for the welfare administration. In 2004, this resulted in a partial merger, in order to get more people off benefits and into the workforce, offer more user-friendly and coordinated service, and be more efficient. The reform entailed, first, a merger of the agencies for employment and the national pensions system, creating a big new welfare agency. Second, it established local partnership agreements between this new agency and the municipalities responsible for locally based social services. In 2008, the reformed system underwent a significant reorganization. Six regional pension offices were established together with county-based administrative back offices.

Hospitals

In 2001, the parliament decided to change the status of hospitals from public administration agencies to health enterprises and to transfer the ownership for the hospitals to the central government. New management principles were introduced for the hospitals based on a decentralized enterprise model. The Minister of Health assumed full responsibility for conditions in the health sector, but the enterprises were given enhanced local autonomy with their own executive boards and general managers with powers of authority to set priorities and manage the health enterprises. This was a big reform that tried to centralize the ownership and decentralize the management of hospitals through administrative decentralization.

Denmark

Welfare

The structural reform in Denmark in 2007 introduced a multilevel one-stop shop called a shared job center. The tasks and clients were divided between municipalities and the state. The unions lost the strong influence that they traditionally held. In 2009, the government decided that municipalities should take over responsibility for all services, and all job centers are now run by the municipalities but are subject to central regulation. Four regions monitor the work of the job centers and coordinate regional needs. Since responsibility for most of the services in question has now been gathered in one polity, there has been a movement towards more distinct political accountability in this reform area in Denmark.

Hospitals

The hospital reform in Denmark in 2007 gave the new regional level responsibility for hospitals.

The Danish reform was more ‘balanced’ than the Norwegian, in the sense that there is now an overlap between administrative and political accountability at the regional level. The regional bodies are still governed by directly elected politicians, unlike in Norway. In order to ensure coordination between the administrative levels, binding partnerships between municipalities and regions have been created through health coordination committees.

Germany

Welfare

A comprehensive reform was launched in 2003. The reform aimed to reorganize the central level and promote strong central steering of local welfare administrations. It produced a complex system with ambiguous accountability relations. It has not been possible to introduce a one-stop agency solution in Germany for all unemployed persons. Thus, there are numerous lines of ambiguous political and managerial accountability relations between the major central government actors and the local level (Jantz and Jann 2013).

Hospital

In contrast to the Norwegian and Danish systems, with national health services that are owned, run and funded by the public sector, the German system is of a more diverse, corporatist nature. German hospitals have historically been more autonomous, and a large-scale privatization of hospitals has taken place. The hospital sector is managed in a dual system of federal and state responsibilities where considerable financial decision-making power is devolved to individual states. But corporatist actors may exert considerable pressures on the relevant decision-making processes.

Data basis

The survey was conducted in 2012–2013 as part of the comparative COCOPS project. The overall response rate was 23 percent in Germany, 19 percent in Denmark and 28 percent in Norway. Here, we employ data from top civil servants who work in the policy area of ‘employment services’ and ‘health’, which can be considered to be the most relevant policy areas to survey for our purposes: trying to tie the countries’ accountability types in the two policy areas closer to top administrative executives’ perceptions of performance in the fields. All in all, 219 top administrative executives in these policy areas answered the questionnaire in the three selected countries: 119 from Germany, 28 from Denmark and 72 from Norway. Overall, 13 percent of respondents were from ministries, 76 percent from central agencies and 11 percent from other governmental levels. Our quantitative analysis employs indices that depict the typical use of different accountability types when their organization’s responsibility or interests conflict or overlap with that of other organizations. Based on their experience, the respondents were asked to rank the following accountability forums on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) (various forums are not mutually exclusive):

  • Refer the issue upwards in the hierarchy (proxy for administrative accountability).
  • Refer the issue to political actors and bodies (proxy for political accountability).
  • Consult civil society organizations or interest groups (proxy for societal accountability).
  • Consult relevant experts (e.g. scientists or consultants) (proxy for professional accountability).

Regarding performance, we use the answer on the following question as a proxy: ‘Thinking about your policy area over the last five years, how would you rate the way public administration has performed on the following dimensions?’ on a scale from 1 (deteriorated significantly) to 7 (improved significantly) (various dimensions are not exclusive). The following dimensions are included: ‘cost and efficiency’, ‘service quality’, ‘policy effectiveness’, ‘policy coherence and coordination’, ‘citizens’ participation and involvement’, ‘social cohesion’, ‘equal access to services’, ‘fair treatment of citizens’ and ‘citizen trust in government’.

The strength of this analysis is that we have comparative data from three countries. But there are also some obvious limitations to this analysis. First, we see accountability from the top administrative executives’ point of view, which might not be in line with those working in lower positions and in local service-providing units. Second, the response rate is low, making it somewhat disputable about the representativeness of the answers. This is especially the case regarding Denmark. Third, we mainly have data on perceptions that might be different from actual accountability and performance. Fourth, there is not a total overlap between the area covered by the reforms and the policy areas that we examine. The welfare and employment reform has a bigger scope than the ‘employment’ field and the hospital reform has a more narrow scope than the ‘health’ area. Fifth, our proxy for accountability is rather rough. It focuses on organizational accountability and it is about relations between actors and different forums, and it might include information, discussion and answerability, but it focuses mainly on the initial phases of accountability and does not directly include the retrospective ex post and consequential features of accountability (Bovens et al. 2014). It is important to keep this in mind when interpreting empirical findings and drawing conclusions. In spite of these limitations, we argue that the data sources employed in this chapter provide a rich empirical backdrop against which the theoretical arguments outlined above can be assessed.

Accountability types: culture, tasks and structure

Table 11.2 reveals that administrative accountability is considered by far the most common accountability type by top civil servants. This shows that the administrative hierarchy is still very much alive and kicking, even in these policy fields that have been the aim of comprehensive ‘whole-of-government’ reforms over the past decade. This pattern confirms a general finding that hierarchical governance remains dominant (Hill and Lynn 2005). Also, professional accountability is rather common, reflecting the importance of professionals such as medical doctors and nurses, but also professional social workers. One out of four points to political accountability, while social accountability is the least common among the four accountability types, somewhat surprising since increasing user, client and patient participation were part of the reforms. Overall, we see a multidimensional and complex accountability pattern (Christensen and Lægreid 2015).

Table 11.2   Types of accountability (percent)

Disagree

Indifferent

Agree

N = 100%

Administrative accountability – refer issues up the hierarchy

27

20

53

204

Political accountability – refer issues to political actors/bodies

55

19

26

203

Social accountability – consult civil society/interest groups

65

19

16

198

Professional accountability – consult relevant experts

46

18

36

200

Note: Accountability types are based on a seven-point scale: 1—3 =disagree, 4 = neutral/indifferent, 5—7 = agree.

There is positive and significant bivariate correlation between political and administrative accountability (Pearson’s R .39**), reflecting that both accountability types are hierarchical and partly overlapping. There is also a significant correlation between professional and social accountability (Pearson’s R .53**), indicating that these accountability relations are more voluntary and horizontal. So, what we see is more a divide between the vertical hierarchical mandatory accountability relation, on the one hand, and the horizontal and voluntary accountability relations, on the other hand.

There are no significant correlations between the independent variables and political and administrative accountability. In unsettled, transformative periods when there are major reforms going on, such vertical accountability relations come under pressure and the relationships become more blurred, ambiguous and uncertain (Olsen 2014). Social accountability varies with policy area. It is stronger in the area of employment than in health. When controlling for other variables (Table 11.3), we see that professional accountability varies with country and policy area. It is weaker in Germany than in the Scandinavian countries, and stronger in welfare administration than in health.

Table 11.3   Summary of multivariate regression analysis (beta coefficients, linear regression)

Professional accountability

Germany

-.17 *

Policy area

.23 **

Administrative level

.07

N

191

R2

.08

Adjusted R

.066

F statistics

5.095

Significance of F

.002

Accountability and performance

The top civil servants have generally a very positive attitude towards the perceived impacts of the reforms in their own policy area (Table 11.4). Regarding cost and efficiency and service quality, two of the main goals of the reforms, three out of four report that they have seen improvement over the last five years and only a very little minority observe deterioration. Also, when it comes to equal access to services and fair treatment of citizens, the perceptions of top civil servants are rather positive. The picture is, however, more mixed with regard to policy coherence and coordination, and citizens’ participation and involvement. For social cohesion and citizens’ trust in government, we see deterioration more than improvement.

Table 11.4   ‘Thinking about your policy area over the last five years, how would you rate the way public administration has performed on the following dimensions?’ (percent)

Deteriorate

Indifferent

Improve

N = 10

Cost and efficiency

7

17

76

197

Service quality

9

15

76

197

Policy effectiveness

18

44

38

191

Policy coherence and coorodination

25

39

36

188

Citizen participation and involvement

25

41

34

192

Social cohesion

28

48

23

192

Equal access to services

9

37

54

192

Fair treatment of citizens

8

37

55

194

Citizen trust in government

34

34

32

191

Note: Performance dimensions are based on a seven-point scale: 1–3 = deteriorated, 4 = neutral/indifferent, 5–7 = improved.

We will, in the following regression analysis (Table 11.5), only include those independent variables that showed significant bivariate correlations with our selected dimensions for performance.

Table 11.5   Summary of multivariate regression analysis (beta coefficients, linear regression)

Cost and efficiency

Service quality

Policy effectiveness

Policy coherence and coordination

Citizen participation

Special cohesion

Equal access to services

Fair treatment of citizens

Citizen trust in government

Germany

-

-

-.16*

-.19*

-.11

-

-

-

-.25*

Norway

-.29**

-

-

-

.12

.23**

-

-

.10

Denmark

-

-.19**

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Administrative level

.26**

.25**

.10*

.05

-

-

-

-

-.12

Policy area

.04

-

-

-

-

-

.14*

.16*

-

Position

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

.16*

-

Administrative accountability

-

-

-

-

-.21**

-.18*

-

-

-

Political accountability

-

-

-

-

-

-

.08

-

-

Social accountability

-

-

.15

.18*

.24**

.24**

-

-

.12

Professional accountability

-

.15*

.09

.00

.08

.15*

.25**

.26**

.20*

N

188

188

181

178

181

182

174

173

182

R2

.3

.12

.09

.07

.16

.19

.11

.13

.20

Adjusted R2

.11

.10

.07

.05

.14

.17

.09

.12

.18

F statistics

8.794

8.157

4.242

3.365

6.781

10.415

6.809

8.565

8.717

Significance of F

.000

.000

.003

.011

.000

.000

.001

.000

.000

When controlling for the cultural, task-specific and structural features, a main pattern is that horizontal accountability relations such as social and professional accountability have greater impact on performance than vertical accountability relations.

From the regression analysis, we see some country-specific differences with reference to our performance dimensions. In the case of Norway, top civil servants perceive social cohesion to have significantly improved in the past five years, but they also report a significant deterioration in cost-efficiency in the same period. In Germany, top civil servants perceive both policy effectiveness and policy coherence and coordination to have significantly worsened. There is no significant improvement found for our performance dimensions in the Danish case, but service quality is reported to have significantly deteriorated during the last five years. Also, policy areas have an impact. In the area of employment, there are more positive perceived effects on equal access to services and fair treatment of citizens in the last five years, compared to top civil servants in the health area.

We find several significant and positive relations between the administrative level and our performance measures, especially for cost-efficiency and service quality, but also for policy effectiveness – meaning that governmental units closer to the state core perceive these items to have improved more than those further away. In addition, position in the organization matters – the higher up in the organizational hierarchy you are, the more perceptions of improvement in fair treatment increase.

Discussion

This analysis shows, first, that there are multiple accountability types in action in the policy areas of health and employment, but their importance varies. Administrative accountability is up front, but also professional accountability is much used. Political accountability is not that important, which might reflect that many of the reforms have aimed at reducing the political accountability by stronger delegation to semi-independent agencies and enterprises. Social accountability is present, but is normally used by a minority of the administrative executives.

Second, the task-specific perspective is only partly supported. As we expected, administrative accountability would be more up front than political accountability in both policy areas. But it does not seem to be a strong tension between political and administrative accountability seen from the top of the administrative hierarchy. In contrast to our expectations, professional accountability is not more important in health than in labor. Also, policy area has an impact on fair treatment of citizens and equal access to services.

Third, the cultural perspective gets little support. Except for professional accountability, there seems to be little variation between the three countries. Here, Germany is scoring less than the Scandinavian countries. In contrast to our expectations, political accountability is not more up front in the Scandinavian countries than in Germany. Administrative accountability is more important in Germany than in Denmark but less important than in Norway. Country makes a stronger difference when it comes to performance. Germany seems to do more poorly than the Scandinavian countries on policy effectiveness, policy coherence and citizens’ trust in government. Norway is scoring high on social cohesion but low on cost-efficiency, and Denmark is doing relatively poorly on service quality.

Fourth, the structural perspective also gets very weak support. There is no variation according to positions and administrative level. This has probably to do with the fact that there are little variations in positions and administrative levels since the majority of respondents are from top positions in ministries and central agencies. But top civil servants in the ministries generally perceive more improvement in cost-efficiency, service quality and policy effectiveness than those working in central agencies. And those in the very top positions have also a more positive assessment of fair treatment of citizens than managers that are not at the very top.

Fifth, we have revealed that the administrative executives generally have positive perceptions regarding the performance along several dimensions in their own policy area some years after compressive reforms have been implemented. The relationship between accountability types and performance is, however, rather uncertain and varies between accountability types. The relationship between accountability and performance is rather complex. Performance is not only related to accountability, but also to country differences, structural features and policy areas. Overall, the findings support the findings that the relationship between accountability and performance is ambiguous and contested (Pollitt 2011). There is no effect of any accountability type on cost-efficiency. Especially, there is a loose coupling between vertical administrative and political accountability and different performance indicators. This reveals that in unsettled transitional periods, the accountability relations become blurred and the relations between accountability and performance are more ambiguous and uncertain (Dubnick 2011; Olsen 2014). For administrative accountability, there even seems to be a negative impact on citizens’ participation and social cohesion. Horizontal accountability relations such as professional and social accountability seem to enhance social cohesion, and there is also a positive effect of professional accountability on social cohesion and equal access to services, as well as fair treatment of citizens and citizens’ trust in government. Thus, the paradox/dilemma hypothesis gets more support than the instrumental hypothesis. The support of the dilemma and the instrumental hypothesis varies with different accountability types, and the instrumental hypothesis gets little support regarding vertical administrative and political accountability. But this is seen from the top civil servants’ point of view. If we had asked the service providers in the two reform areas, the picture might have been different.

Summing up, we have revealed that uncovering the linkages between administrative reforms, accountability and performance is more complex than it appears at first sight (Jann and Lægreid 2015). The accountability obligations faced by public bureaucrats are multiple and varied and often represent tensions (Mulgan 2014). Administrative reforms create new institutional and accountability structures, which influence service delivery, but not necessarily in the direction expected by the reform agents. This implies that reforms may affect accountability relations but also that different accountability relations may influence the performance of reforms. There seems to be a loose coupling between administrative reforms and accountability types and also between accountability and performance. This supports the reformist paradox (Dubnick 2011), which states that efforts to improve accountability through reforms might alter, undermine or complicate existing forms of accountability (Flinders 2014). Public accountability is about management of expectations in settings when there are multiple expectations, and in unsettled situations the accountability tends to become ambiguous (Olsen 2014).

Conclusion

To conclude, we have, first, shown that different complex, dynamic and layered accountability forms are emerging in the two policy areas that have been through comprehensive reforms. Vertical accountability relations are supplemented by other accountability types and accountability relations are blurred and ambiguous. Our database is, however, cross-sectional and only covers assessments at one point some years after the reforms, which makes it difficult to examine changes over time.

Second, we have revealed that the relationship between performance and accountability is rather ambiguous, contested and loosely coupled. The reforms have affected accountability relations and the relationships between performance and accountability, but not in a straightforward way. There are attribution problems, meaning also that other factors than the reform are important to understand how accountability relations play out and how performance is perceived. Our argument that different reform patterns and different country features matter for both performance and accountability, and for the relationship between performance and accountability, is only partly supported and has to be modified.

There is little evidence of a particular Scandinavian style, and in some respects there are more similarities between Germany and Norway, or between Denmark and Germany, than between Norway and Denmark. It is important to acknowledge, however, that there are both similarities and differences in concrete reform steps chosen between these three countries that might be of importance. For example, within the policy area of health, all three national governments have asserted influence through recent reforms, but the reforms have been more comprehensive in Norway and Denmark than in Germany and have been more centralized in Norway. Long-term factors associated with country-specific tradition, culture and history also have to be taken into account, along with intermediating factors. Rather than a straightforward replacement of the old welfare state administration in the different countries, we see a combination of old welfare administration, New Public Management features, and joined-up or post-NPM government measures coexisting and adding up to rather complex and hybrid systems that have implication for accountability relations, as well as relations between accountability types and perceived performance. Blurred reforms might also result in blurred relations between reforms and accountability, and between accountability and performance. Accountability design has not been up front in the administrative reforms studied in this chapter. One lesson is that there might be a need for a stronger focus on meaningful accountability design and on when to choose what type of accountability (Bovens and Schillemans 2014).

Note

The research leading to these results received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme under grant agreement No. 266887 (Project COCOPS) (www.cocops.eu/), Socio-Economic Sciences & Humanities.

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