New ERC project to study the democracy from public administration
“REPGOV: Representative Government through Democratic Governance” project starts this year aimed to illustrate how the democratic value trade-offs made by public administrators are an important missing link in contemporary discussions about the quality, and the nature, of representative government.
Funded by the European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant, the project will run from 2022 to 2026 and is led by Professor Anthony Bertelli, Sherwin-Whitmore Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Pennsylvania State University, who joins IBEI after being appointed by IBEI's Board of Patrons as Senior Research Associate in October 2021.
REPGOV is a pioneering project that links administrative policymaking to representative government in a new way. At its heart is a simple idea, but a democratic dilemma: the discretion that modern governments give to administrative officials not only captures the means for implementing policies, but also democratic values and the authority to make tradeoffs among them. How does the structure of public administration influence these value tradeoffs? What are the implications of this as the structures in use have become more complex? There have been many attempts to address these questions, but none at this scale, and what distinguishes REPGOV from extant literatures is its overarching research question: How does the structure and organization of public administration shape the democratic belief systems of officials?
While institutions matter, the behaviour of public administrators matters, too. Their democratic belief systems may well be shaped by the value tradeoffs implicit in the structure of their offices, but their beliefs can also diverge from those incentivized by their organizations, and, consequently, have an independent influence on democracy. This argument yields a value reinforcement hypothesis—democratic values in the structure and practice of public administration reflect the democratic values of a political system—that lies at the core of REPGOV. Does public administration reinforce the values of representative government? Why and how?
REPGOV project develops and presents a unified normative and positive theory of how institutions and practices both should and do reinforce democratic values. Theory building draws on democratic theory and formal models of politics. A mixed-methods empirical strategy qualitatively explores the mechanisms of value reinforcement in various administrative settings in contemporary Europe, employs machine learning techniques to explore the syntax of value reinforcement in laws and regulations, and experimentally examines structured choices about reinforcing values.