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 ongoing and recently completed Public Governance research projects.

    Examples of ongoing projects: 

    • Authoritative regulation
      What is the basis of the reputation of inspectorates? What is the effect of reputation on compliance of organisations under inspection? And what can regulators do to cultivate a more authoritative reputation? These are the questions that are central in the Toezicht met gezag project funded by NWO and the Inspectieraad, led by Judith van Erp and Erik Hans Klijn (EUR).
    • From feared to felt accountability: Improving public accountability through an individual approach 
      In this project, funded by a VENI grant from NWO, Sjors Overman studies how accountability mechanisms can make civil servants feel accountable without eliciting negative emotions, like anxiety and frustration. These negative emotions obstruct well-considered decision making and, thus, public value. The project combines insights from psychology and public administration to study multiple types of civil servants in a mixed methods design.
    • Politicians under Radical Uncertainty: How Uncertain Phenomena Influence Political Elites’ Behaviour (RADIUNCE)
      The RADIUNCE project, led by Barbara Vis and funded by the European Commission through an ERC Consolidator grant, asks how politicians respond to different types of uncertain phenomena (radical, resolvable). RADIUNCE aims to develop a theory to answer this question. To this end, it integrates insights from multiple disciplines (e.g., political science, psychology, behavioural economics) and uses an innovative mixed-methods approach (e.g., automated text analysis, survey experiments, QCA). The empirical focus is on four developed democracies with varying opportunities and constraints of responding to uncertainty. From Public Governance, also Lisanne de Blok and Sjors Overman are involved in the project.
    • Revitalised Democracy for resilient Societies (REDRESS)
      In a broad consortium of four Dutch universities, government organizations, and stakeholders in Dutch practice of democratic innovation, the REDRESS project, funded by NWO through an NWA grant, investigates the effects of combinations of deliberative and plebiscitary forms of democratic innovations (talking and voting). Researchers from Public Governance include Krista Ettlinger and Ank Michels.
    • 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. Public Governance scholars Judith van Erp, Lauren Fahy, Thomas Schillemans, Marija Aleksovska and Femke van Esch investigate on how trust in EU Agencies can be maintained and enhanced. 

    Examples of recently completed projects:

    • Calibrating Public Accountability
      The Calibrating Public Accountability project, led by Thomas Schillemans and funded by a VIDI-grant from NWO, investigated the effects of accountability on behaviours and decisions in public administration, aiming to understand when accountability is more helpful (or less annoying). By an innovative combination of theories and methods from public administration and behavioral sciences, its main argument is that accountability mechanisms need to be calibrated – made-to-fit – to the context of organisations, its specific purposes, and to the individual’s felt accountability. Go to the website of this project for the research resources (including open data and a searchable database of hundreds of accountability studies) and the Utrecht accountability dissertation series:
    • Europeanisation of Dutch municipalities and provinces
      Nitrogen standards, Italian students, tender of youth care, an industry side that crosses national borders, Polish labour migrants — European integration influences municipalities and provinces in many ways. In a study for the Association of Netherlands Municipalities, Hans Vollaard, Marij Swinkels, Lucia Feiters, Harmen Binnema and Lisanne Blok examined how municipalities and provinces adjust to European integration, also to indicate how they can better react to it.
    • Quality of representative democracy at decentral levels
      By means of the Local Election Study and the Provincial and Water Board Election Study, Hans Vollaard, Harmen Binnema and Lisanne de Blok show what inhabitants think about, and do in, local, provincial and water authority democracy. Hans Vollaard and Harmen Binnema furthermore mapped political representation of the decentral level in the books Gemeenteraden: Ontstaan en ontwikkeling van lokale democratie (2018), Provinciale politiek: De provincies democratisch getoetst (2019) and Waterschappen: Democratie in een onbekend bestuur (2023).

    Research Staff