Public Governance

    The chair of Public Governance studies politics and governance in democratic societies. Bringing together public administration scholars and political scientists, the group is uniquely placed to contribute to key scholarly debates and to help answer pressing societal questions. Its main foci can be summarised under two headings: (1) Political-administrative behaviour at different levels of government; (2) Accountability and governance.

    The chairs of Public Governance are prof. Barbara Vis and prof. Thomas Schillemans.


    • Political-administrative behaviour at different levels of government
    • Accountability and governance
    • Cross-cutting themes and variety of methodological approaches
    • Teaching
    • Collaboration
    • Research projects
    • Research staff

    Political-administrative behaviour at different levels of government

    Research under this first heading focuses on the behaviour of political-administrative elites, such as heads of state, members of parliaments, high-placed bureaucrats and local politicians; the behaviour of such institutions, such as the European Commission or political parties, and the behaviour of citizens. More specifically, our researchers study:

    • Governance, decision making and leadership in the EU;
    • Decisionmaking by elected representatives at the national, regional and local level;
    • The behaviour of political parties, including right-wing populist parties and parties in Central and Eastern Europe;
    • New types of representation at the local level, such as G1000 and local democratic innovation;
    • New forms of participation and citizenship within the (global and local) network society;
    • Political pressure on traditional values of public administration and policy processes, such as populism and globalisation.

    Accountability and governance

    Public tasks are increasingly in the hands of quasi-autonomous agencies, hybrid organisations, independent governing bodies and private organisations, which makes accountability and regulation key topics for public administration researchers. For many years, accountability has been a core theme at USG. Regulatory governance – an interdisciplinary area in which researchers study regulation of markets – is an upcoming theme. More specifically, our researchers study:

    • The effects of systems of accountability on behaviour in public and private organisations
    • The interactions between organisational autonomy, regulation, accountability and reputation
    • The development of new modes of governance and accountability in more horizontal, connected and open societies
    • The dynamics between public administration and policy processes and media and digital information processes

    Cross-cutting themes variety of methodological approaches

    The public governance chair works on the nexus between political science and public administration research. Within that broad area, our research aims to understand how political institutions and conditions influence the disparate set of organisations implementing policies. Much of the research takes the changing relationships between governments, markets, and citizens as point of departure, and studies new challenges to democracy, legitimacy and participation. To understand the effects of changing forms of public governance, researchers aim to integrate behavioural research and knowledge in more traditional public administration research. This opens up new perspectives on decision-making, accountability and regulatory governance.

    Public Governance researchers use a wide variety of methodological approaches in their work, such as case studies, interviews, ethnography, experiments, surveys, text analysis (automated or manual), historical and political-theoretical analyses. They also contribute to the further development of methods, especially of cognitive mapping and Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA).


    The Public Governance chair provides education, in Bachelor's, Master's, Research Master's and Executive Master's Programmes; conducts research, targeting a wide variety of public administration and political science journals as well as professional outlets; and does consultancy via USG Consultancy. We not only educate, but also conduct educational research on higher education as a civic institution.

    Like the other USG chairs, we aim to generate educational value and societal impact on the basis of high-quality academic research.


    Public governance researchers collaborate widely, within and beyond Utrecht University. Within Utrecht University, they participate actively in the strategic research theme Institutions for Open Societies, the Behaviour and Institutions stream and the Hub Security in Open Societies; the EU Platform and the Platform Markets & Corporations in Open Societies, as well as in the research focus area Governance in the Digital Society.

    Beyond Utrecht University, Public Governance researchers participate in national and international collaborations, for instance related to the Dutch Science Agenda or Horizon 2020. Some examples of research projects can be found here. There are also fruitful institutional links with the scientific council for government policy (WRR); the University of Humanistic Studies and the Netherlands School of Public Administration (NSOB). 

    Research projects

    Some examples of Public Governance research:

    • Successful Public Governance
      The Successful Public Governance programme led by Paul ‘t Hart studies when and why the public sector operates really successfully. SPG focuses on studying instances of successful government and governance, on multiple levels and in all its manifestations. Working closely with dozens of colleagues worldwide, the team explores how instances of success become framed, perceived, assessed and reputed as such, and what it is about them that renders them successful. 
    • Calibrating Public Accountability
      How can public accountability more effectively influence decisions and practices in public sector organizations? When does accountability help public organizations to realize their public missions and to improve their policies? The Calibrating Public Accountability project led by Thomas Schillemans builds on the well-established tradition of accountability research at Utrecht University to which insights, methods and theories from behavioural science have been added. 
    • Democratic Legitimacy in the EU
      Around 90% of new European laws are fast-tracked, with political compromises mostly found behind closed doors in so-called ‘trilogue meetings’ between representatives of the European Parliament (EP), Council, and Commission. The secluded trilogues offer a provocative contrast to the logic of ‘public control’ touted in the EU treaties. This research project of, among others, Gijs Jan Brandsma, fills the significant knowledge gaps with respect to the institutions, actors and processes of trilogues.
    • Welcoming spaces
      The Horizon 2020 consortium ‘Welcoming Spaces’ follows local, bottom-up initiatives that stimulate integration of migrants, while revitalizing rural regions that currently face severe population and economic decline. Among others, Karin Geuijen takes part in this project.
    • Trust in Regulatory Governance (TiGRe)
      The Trust in Regulatory Governance (TiGRe) project is a European collaboration with among others the universities of Lausanne, Antwerp and Barcelona. Judith van Erp and the other researchers investigate on how trust in EU Agencies can be maintained and enhanced. 
    • ‘Montessori democracy’
      Democratic innovation fosters new forms of citizen participation in local government. Margo Trappenburg researched, together with Eveline Tonkens, Menno Hurenkamp en Jante Schmidt, how the ‘Montessori democracy’ enables active, high-educated citizens. The political voice of ‘ordinary’ citizens and the public interest, risks to become background. But the ‘do-it-yourself-democracy’ demands an equally strong representative democracy.
    • Experiences with G1000 and other citizens' summits
      G1000. Ervaringen met burgertoppen contains the reflection on research on the experiences with citizens' summits (initiatives to give citizens a voice and to refresh local democracy). The authors highlight possible tensions and pitfalls for these summits and also propose how the impact of them can be increased. Editors were Ank Michels and Harmen Binnema.
    • Provincial Politics
      Harmen Binnema and Hans Vollaard edited Provinciale politiek: de provincies democratisch getoetst. A clear and critical overview of provincial politics in The Netherlands - for voters, journalists, civil servants, education and the politicians themselves. They describe how provincial politics works and also judge the democratic quality of the province. 

    Research Staff