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Effective government: a matter of permanent reform


Admission requirements

Only students of the MSc Public Administration can join this course.


Governments are very often described as molochs: not responsive, bureaucratic, hierarchical, arrogant, difficult to change. A sick patient that has become resistant to any cure. The general feeling about government, politics and civil servants is very negative, bureaucracy bashing is a much loved pastime and the less government the better is a rather popular statement. Trust in government is on the same level as trust in second hand car dealers. On the other side: appreciation about specific government performances is generally much higher. People realise that in specific cases the government services are fairly good. This discrepancy is one of the elements that characterize working in government, also explaining why civil servants sometime become a little cynical. In the past problems in society easily fitted into the traditional pigeonholes of the governmental structure: every problem had it’s own department and that department was the sole responsible for that problem. Silo was not a negative word but an organisational principle. That has changed enormously. Today’s problems can only be solved through very sophisticated co-operation between government departments, on the level of central government but also regional and local or international. And also through partnerships with society and private enterprises. Government are not accustomed to the swift adaptation needed to develop this kind of new relationships. New skills are needed: more responsiveness, negotiating skills, mediating skills, skills to use social media, project- and program-management, communication etc.
The course explores this kind of new developments and the related tensions, including the tensions caused by the traditional structures and processes, the tensions between general opinions and specific cases, the tensions between various personalities involved. And especially strategies to change the working of government and to increase performance, productivity and effectiveness. Reform of government will be analysed as an ongoing process, not some kind of instant cure. We will look at the reforms in the Netherlands but also in several other countries

Course objectives

After the course students will have:

  • a global insight in the history of government reform in general

  • an idea about successful strategies to develop and to implement change, including do’s and don’ts.

  • some understanding about success and failure in government reform


The (provisional) timetable is on the first page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The start of the course will be dedicated to the general theory about government reform and especially zoom in on the reforms going on today in the Netherland, UK, Canada, Australia and other (OECD-) countries. The emphasis is very much on cases, practical examples et cetera. Students are supposed to study some examples of government reforms and to give a presentation about a specific case.

Assessment method

  • Final presentations : 60%

  • Presentations during the course (oral or written): 20 %

  • Attendance and participation: 20%


Only to be used when a volunteer-student is available as assistant


  • Michael Barber, Instruction to Deliver, London 2007

  • Christopher Foster, British Government in Crisis, Oxford and Portland, Oregon, 2005

  • Jouke de Vries, The Netherlands: ‘fragmenting pillars, fading colours’, in: The Changing World of Top Officials, Open University Press 2001, (41-71)

  • Roel Bekker, How to change a tulip into a rose? Speech Annual Conference Institute of Public Administration Canada, August 2009 ( * Roel Bekker, Civil Servants: an endangered species? Speech Conference Institute of Public Administration Australia, Brisbane, November 2009 (

  • Memorandum Program Dutch Government Reform

  • The Challenge of Being an Effective Minister (Institute for Government)

  • Countries compared on public performance (SCP, The Netherlands)
    Other literature: to be announced



Contact information

Professor Roel Bekker