An organisational approach to meta-governance – structuring reforms through organisational (re-)engineering 

Jarle Trondal

Jarle Trondal

Innovation in the public sector has climbed to the top of government agendas with ambitions to make public administration flexible in the face of societal ruptures. There is a growing body of research which tries to identify how institutions and systems respond to surprises, uncertainty and errors. Studies also provide insights on how different institutional conditions enable individuals and organisations to respond to profound change. In my recent article in Policy & Politics, I argue that organisation theory may help to serve as a bridge between theory and practice linking scholarship to the realities of practice, concerned not just with how things are, but how things might be. Given certain goals, such as innovation in public organisations, organisation designers would thus be capable of recommending structural solutions.

Meta-governance makes deliberate attempts to govern societies by (re- )organising the governing structures. The study thus refers to meta-governance as ‘governance by organising, i.e., steering through organisational design’. This activity encompasses activities directed towards deliberate reforms of the infrastructure of organisations – such as organizational structures, organisational location, and so on. My study focuses on meta-governance as focused on the (re)structuring of ongoing reform processes. My illustrative case study analyses processes of policy innovation. Two arguments are made: First, public meta-governance is an available tool to facilitate policy change; Secondly, meta-governance may be systematically designed by organisational (re- )structuring.

Contemporary research lacks a theory-based analysis of the organisational dimension of meta-governance. My article offers the contours of a theory of how organisational factors may shape meta-governance processes. In his book The Tools of Government”, Hood distinguishes among four basic government ‘resources’: ‘nodality,’ ´treasure´, ‘authority,’ and ‘organization.’ My study zooms in on the organisational dimension. It is argued that the relevance of organisational theory may range from understanding organisational conditions for mundane administrative reforms towards large-scale organisational transformations. My analysis is limited to meso-level/organisational-level variables.

Two insights are offered by this study: First, it outlines the contours of an organisational approach to meta-governance – that is problem-solving through organisational engineering. Secondly, the study empirically examines how public innovation processes may be organisationally shaped by a variety of organisational characteristics.

The article concludes by suggesting how an organisational approach to meta-governance may both explain meta-governance as well as making it practically relevant for solving societal challenges.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics

Jarle Trondal (2022) An organisational approach to meta-governance: structuring reforms through organisational (re-)engineering Policy and Politics
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1332/030557321X16336164441825

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Can meso-governments use metagovernance tools to tackle complex policy problems?


The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Policy & Politics, the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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