30 May 2018

Vidi with 800.000 euro for research into "Lazy Bureaucrats" by Lars Tummers

Bureau met stapels papier en voeten erop

A Vidi of 800,000 euros was awarded to Lars Tummers, Professor of Public Management and Behaviour at the Utrecht University School of Governance for his research proposal "Lazy Bureaucrats? Stereotypes of civil servants across countries".

Tummers writes in his short summary: "There are many negative stereotypes about civil servants. They are called lazy or incompetent. But are such stereotypes universal? And what are the effects of stereotyping? This project investigates stereotypes of civil servants in three countries. It also studies how civil servants (in)effectively cope with stereotyping."

Students becoming civil servants

According to a delighted Tummers, this research perfectly suits the Utrecht University School of Governance. "We train students who will become civil servants or who will otherwise work for the public good. So it is only natural and logical for us to want to investigate what people think about civil servants. "According to him, the stereotypical way many people in the Netherlands think about civil servants can have a selection effect. For example, ambitious professionals may not opt for a job in government because they too, now think negatively about civil servants. It can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy: civil servants may work less hard, if they are often portrayed negatively. "The professor is also curious about how people think about the various types of civil servants. "Their opinion about a policeman can be differ form that of a policy maker."

It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: civil servants may work less hard, if they are often portrayed negatively.
Lars Tummers
Prof. dr. Lars Tummers
Professor of Public Management and Behaviour, Utrecht University

According to Tummers, there is only a handful of research on the subject of stereotypes of lazy bureaucrats. "These publications are often by American scholars taking a normative stance, arguing that it is unjustified that civil servants are bashed. 
The professor argues that the subject deserves further investigation for several reasons. First, because negative stereotypes can have big consequences; talented professionals may find it less attractive to become an official. Secondly, it is misleading to rely solely on American research, stereotypes can differ greatly in different countries or different groups of people in one country.

Three countries, different opinons

Lars Tummers wants to carry out a systematic, comparative study of stereotypes surrounding civil servants in three countries: the Netherlands, South Korea and Canada. Tummers chose these three countries because the population is expected to judge officials differently. South-Korea (possibly generally positive stereotypes), The Netherlands (generally negative stereotypes) and Canada (in between). It will be an interdisciplinary study using multiple methods. It will combine insights from public administration and psychology and make use of population surveys, qualitative research and experiments.

The research will take five years. Tummers will be working on it, together with the Canadian professor Charbonneau and the South Korean professor Moon. He will be able to hire 3 PhDs. "It will be a tough job to find a PhD who speaks fluent French and English and another PhD who speaks fluent Korean."