A Historical-Theoretical Perspective on Public Sector Reforms in Germany

Seminar Paper, 2016

11 Pages, Grade: 1,4


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. State of Research and Research Question

3. Explanation Tools: Three Schools of “Big Theory”
3.1. Neo-Institutionalism
3.2. Rational Choice / Principal Agent
3.3. Governance Network

4. Historical Reform Periods

5. Conclusion

6. List of References


In this short paper, I want to compare major reform waves in German bureaucratic history. I describe and explore if certain clusters of reform periods relate to the Big Theory schools of administrative science. The results suggest that most administrative reforms took place in an institutionalist mindset that can be related to models such as path dependency and institutional isomorphism. Attempts to reform the German administrative body are seen to have hardly reached their desired results, nevertheless, especially reforms in the early decades were attributed valuable success by administrative scholars.

1. Introduction

“Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies.” - Honoré de Balzac

As the society they are to serve, bureaucracies are steady subjects of change and adaption. Administrative science tries to understand the drivers and mechanisms behind successful change as well as the scope of political influence, while it experienced a major shift of trends and tendencies in the past decades itself. The New Public Management debate, for instance, deeply shaped scientists’ recommendations for policy-makers. It appears, that a footprint of scientific debate therefore might be found in policy outcomes. With this paper, I want to address a potential development of paradigms in the young history of German federal bureaucracy. Adopting this assumption, I will define my research question as followed: Which are the underlying assumptions of German administration reforms in the past decades?

In a first step, I will take a short glance on former research having taken a theoretical glance on German reform waves. I will then describe the three schools of “Big Theory” as the scholarly fundament to my paper. In the main part, the core waves of German administrative reforms will be reviewed and analyzed. Within my conclusion, I expect to determine differences among these reform waves and its underlying paradigms. I also hope to find assessments of reform success in the contemporary literature. This could provide a starting point for further research, which may explore the general applicability of certain schools of thought to the German administrative structure.

2. State of Research and Research Question

In order to gain an overview of the entire available literature in this field, I conducted research via the literature search engine of the university library of Potsdam as well as Google Scholar. A focal point of my research were papers with a historical perspective which applied a similar reform cluster as this paper.

The analysis of reform periods on a longitudinal span is a classical research subject in administrative science. My particular focus, a classifying approach of major “reform strikes” with impact also on the federal level, yet can’t be found in a comparable way in the literature. Some former academic work formed clusters of administrative reforms. In this regard though, a common perspective in a German context is to define and categorize reforms as functional, territorial as well as administrative reforms in its classical sense (see e.g. Blanke et al 2010).

However, three publications are worth taking a closer look since they provide a scheme and groundwork for this paper. First, Bogumil and Jann (2009) published their well-established introduction on administrative science in which they also refer to the history of administrative reforms in Germany. Their overview offers an elaborate perspective but stays on a general level at the same time. Second, Wolfgang Seibel (1997) explored in his well-cited article the success and failure of German administrative reforms from a rather historical perspective. Wollmann (2000) finally takes a glance on local government reforms, operating on a different level but within similar time and reform clusters, evaluating their outcomes from a historical institutionalist perspective. A consistent and general relation to administrative schools of theory has not been undertaken by any of those authors though.

3. Explanation Tools: Three Schools of “Big Theory”

For this paper, I decided to operate with the Big Theory schools of administrative science (see Pollitt 2016), which subsume various models explaining how administration acts in certain contexts. Even though none of those Big Theories can be sharply distinguished from one another, their classification provides a reference framework for scientific debate and allows a clustered retrospect on the topic of administrative reforms in Germany in some mile stones.

3.1. Neo-Institutionalism

As opposed to traditional institutionalism, it’s new branch evolved with a trend in the academic world towards behavioral approaches. It therefore went beyond comparing mere formal norms or legal status, but analyzed the culture and “logic of appropriateness” within an organization. It’s main authors March and Olson (1989), Meyer and Rowan (1977) or Almond and Verba (1963) therefore argue with a “logic of consequentiality” through which an organization’s standard operating procedures also shape values, beliefs and behavior. Key concepts that should be mentioned are: a)institutional isomorphismby Di Maggio and Powell (1983), which highlights the phenomenon of organizations of a similar field often adopting each other’s structures and techniques and becoming more alike b)legitimacyby Meyer and Scott (1983), emphasizing an aforementioned organizational isomorphism of treats and sanctions shaping individual rationales c)path dependenceby Collier and Collier (1991) and Pierson (2000), describing the impact of former decisions on the later set of possibilities.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


A Historical-Theoretical Perspective on Public Sector Reforms in Germany
University of Potsdam  (Chair for Political Science, Public Administration and Organization)
Foundations of Public Management
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Public Management, Administrative Science, Public Policy
Quote paper
Sven Piechottka (Author), 2016, A Historical-Theoretical Perspective on Public Sector Reforms in Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/372001


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