RESq: Reform of Employment Services quorum

Projects

RESQ – Reform of Public Employment Service Quorum

1. Objective

The objective of this research network is to develop and refine the comparative and theoretical study of employment service reforms in selected OECD countries. The subject matter is to identify the type of relationship between the steering and implementation structure of (pre- and post)employment services on the one hand and the design and content of employment policies on the other hand. So far empirical and theoretical research has tended to take a one-sided view on either policy structure (governance, management, and organisation) or on policy content (policy, programs, and service delivery). The increasing interdependence between ways of “doing policy” and “policy delivery” makes this academic division of responsibilities and research interests increasingly problematic. We, therefore, apply an integrated and cross-disciplinary approach to explore the causal and empirical interfaces and linkages between the two domains, and to transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries.

2. Motivation

Across the OECD, labour markets are confronted with seemingly similar challenges. National labour markets are operating in a context of increasing international competition for goods, services and labour (Schmid 1998; Schmid & Gazier 2002). Demographics are increasingly unfavourable as the WW2-generation is approaching retirement, and youth cohorts are shrinking (OECD 2006). Full-time permanent employment prospects might be eroding as temporary, atypical contract work is gaining ground (European Commission 2006). Labour market regulation must also adapt to increasingly individualised life cycles and life patterns (Scharpf & Schmid 2000; Sarfarti & Bonoli 2002). And labour market policies are challenged to activate new and larger client groups with complex barriers to labour market integration (Carcillo & Grubb 2006).

In this context, labour market policies have become high politics, promising to deliver competitive labour markets, mobilising labour supply, and securing social cohesion and equality (Bredgaard & Larsen 2005). Until recently, labour market policy reforms have emphasised changes in policy design and content (like programs, instruments, and services). For instance, active labour market policies were pushed forward in the 1990s to motivate and qualify the unemployed to reintegrate on the labour market, thus easing the pressure on public budgets (OECD 1994, 1999; European Commission 1993; Martin 2000). As a response to this, numerous researchers made different analytical classifications of the substance of labour market policies; like active and passive; welfare and workfare; human capital and work first; social disciplining and social integration etc. (cf. Jessop 1993; Lødemel & Trickey 2001; Peck 2001; Torfing 1999, 2004; Larsen et. al 2001, Bredgaard et. al 2003; Barbier 2004).

In recent years, however, there is a growing recognition that a necessary precondition for changing the substance of employment policies is reforms of the steering and implementation structure. That is, the introduction of new ways of “doing policy” as a process of reforming the institutional arena of management, organisation, implementation and delivery of programs and services. This is evident in a number of OECD-countries that are currently undertaking major reforms of their steering- and implementation structure (e.g. Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium, the U.K., Australia, and the USA). Under the label of New Public Management and New Governance, these reforms are proposed to create more efficient service delivery, higher quality of public services, greater user choice and more responsive and less bureaucratic public organisations (Bredgaard & Larsen 2007, 2006; Sol & Westerweld 2006; Considine 2001). The primary instruments to achieve these objectives are contracting out service delivery to for-profit and non-profit providers, decentralisation of the steering structure, including single gateways (or one stop shops), public-private partnerships, empowering service users vis-à-vis service providers, and introducing new management tools (like performance targets, performance related pay, and contractualism) (OECD 2000; Thuy et. al 2001).

In our opinion, the contracting out of Public Employment Services (PES) is a test case of the linkages between the content of employment policy and the institutional set-up (Bredgaard & Larsen, 2007). In one country after the other, contracting out of employment services is debated and being introduced (Sol & Westerweld 2006; Bredgaard & Larsen 2006, 2005). The U.S. (Brodkin 2005), Australia (Considine 2001, 2005a, 2005b), the United Kingdom (Finn 2005a, 2005b) and the Netherlands (Sol & Hoogtanders 2005) were among the pioneers, but now countries like Denmark (Bredgaard & Larsen 2005, 2006, 2007), Germany (Bruttel 2005; Konle-Seidl 2005), Belgium (Struyven & Verhoest 2005), France (Barbier 2005; Simonin 2005), and Sweden (Arbetsmarknadsdepartementet 2007) are following in their footsteps. The use of private service providers in labour market policy is not in itself new; training providers and temporary work agencies have for a number of years been sub-contractors to the public authorities. What is fundamentally new is the shift towards a new ‘institutional logic’ (Struyven 2005). This logic implies a split between purchasers and providers – or between policy and implementation – and means that service delivery is carried out by independent (for- and non-profit) providers; economic incentives become the dominant medium for steering; and policy control and supervision is focusing on measurable effects and results. We contend that this new logic has important consequences for the content of policy as well, and hypothesise that it may be shifting towards work-first and stronger conditionality of unemployment benefits. Contracting out one of the cornerstones of modern welfare states, namely the PES, is, therefore, not just a technical-administrative exercise, but seems to have profound consequences for the substance of employment policies, and the delivery of services to the unemployed.

3. Research questions

The main objective of the research network is to identify the type of relationship between the steering and implementation structure of employment services on the one hand and the design and content of employment policies on the other hand. The method to do so is comparative inquiry in selected OECD-countries (including Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Australia, the U.K, and the U.S.). We intend to use an integrated and cross-disciplinary approach to identify the causal and empirical relationships between steering/implementation and employment policies. The specific research questions include:

To the best of our knowledge, such research questions have not so far been systematically scrutinised from a comparative perspective. We are building on a number country-based studies that have been undertaken in the past ten years and the small but growing literature on the comparative dimensions of the reforms and their impacts upon clients, public services and non-government agencies involved in this sector (cf. Considine 2001; Struyven & Steurs 2005; Sol & Westerweld 2005; Bredgaard & Larsen 2005, 2006).

4. Theoretical framework

Traditionally, reforms of “substantial policy” and reforms of ways of “doing policy” have been studied in relatively isolation from each other (cf. Berkel & Borghi 2007). Social policy and labour market researchers have tended to be more interested in the study and evaluation of substantial policy (like programs, instruments, and service delivery), while public management and public governance researchers have tended to study the steering and implementation structure (organisation and management). The increasing interdependence between ways of “doing policy” and “policy delivery” makes the traditional academic division of responsibilities and research interests increasingly problematic. It is, therefore, a core objective of this research network to explore the interfaces and linkages between the two domains, and to transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Existing research on reforms of public employment services have taken different theoretical and analytical starting points. Researchers interested in whether employment services are “marketable”, and whether or not markets for employment services will perform, tend to use a “quasi-market” approach (Le Grand & Bartlett 1993; Le Grand 2005; Bruttel 2005; Struyven & Steurs, 2003, 2005). It is certainly worthwhile to explore if “quasi-markets” for employment services delivers higher (cost)efficiency, service improvements, responsiveness, and equality, but this type of analysis tends to focus on “technicalities”, detracting attention from important policy changes. The design and content of employment policies (input, instruments, methods, rights and responsibilities, etc.) tends to become a black box. We assume that some of the most important – but often neglected and depoliticised – policy changes emerge from changes of the institutional set-up rather than changes of specific laws and ministerial orders (Bredgaard & Larsen 2007).

For an integrated approach it is necessary to include research questions on the implications on the content of employment policies and on the scope for political governance and regulation. An important finding in existing research is that markets for employment services generate new needs for public regulation, which, combined with political regulation to reduce the unintended effects of the market, leads to new types of public management and regulation rather than deregulation and self-regulation (Considine 2005a, 2005b; Bredgaard & Larsen 2005, 2006, 2007; Majone 1994, 1997; Jordana & Levi-Faur 2004). A fruitful point of departure is the literature on contractualism and NPM (cf. Sol & Westerweld, 2005; Hood, 1991; Barzelay, 2001; Lane, 2000; Klausen & Ståhlberg, 1998). The trend towards contractualisation is closely related to the NPM wave, which has been sweeping across most western countries since the early 1990s (cf. Hood, 1991; Barzelay, 2001; Lane, 2000; Klausen & Ståhlberg, 1998).

We do not, however, subscribe to the a-historical and de-contextualised assertions of the OECD (1995, 1997) that NPM represents a ”global paradigm change” in the means of steering and organising the public sector. The OECD tends to interpret country variations as expressions of different stages towards a contractualised market model for employment services (cf. also Lane 2000). Even if NPM is spreading across OECD-countries, there are in our opinion a number of different variations of the NPM-menu, active national adaptations, and different types of nationally embedded impact in each policy field that needs to be studied empirically and theoretically (cf. also Sol & Westerweld 2006; Røvik 1998).

The research network will encourage the use of multi-disciplinary and comparative research designs, where quantitative and qualitative methods are combined. Theoretically, one of the main ambitions of the network is to cut across existing disciplinary boundaries and divisions. No single theory, framework or approach can describe and explain the complex dynamics and interactions involved in this field of research. Instead we aim at developing a stronger cross-disciplinary and integrated analytical approach to the comparative study of employment service reforms. In constructing an analytical framework and research design, policy analysis/studies seem a promising starting point. Policy studies are an inter-disciplinary and contextualised research perspective for the study of public policy and political problems. Importantly, policy studies acknowledge the intimate linkages between policy, polity (organisation/management) and politics (processes). At a more operational level, policy studies can be applied as an analytical framework for the study of agenda-setting, decision-making, implementation and evaluation of public policies (Lerner & Lasswell 1951; Wildavsky 1979, Héritier 1987; Hogwood & Gunn 1984; Parsons 1995; Jørgensen 2002).

5. Objectives of the network

While there are strong discipline-based associations at national and international level in fields such as labour market economics, political science, public administration, social policy and sociology, there are no established organizations or networks to support this area of multidisciplinary research. Nonetheless, there is a growing interest among researchers, practitioners and international organisations in this type of research and network. As an indication, in 2007 our network will conduct “master classes” for the World Association of Public Employment Services (WAPES).

Our ambition is to bring together key researchers from several of the countries engaged in such reforms to develop an international research network. The purpose of the network is to:

While the primary purpose of the network will be to improve academic research collaboration, the network will also seek to engage in constructive knowledge transfer with the various industry associations in this sector.

6. Activities

The research network builds on an existing loosely coupled network of Danish and international researchers, who have been investigating the same type of research questions for a number of years. A number of the researchers have previously cooperated in national and international research projects. In relation to a previous collaborative publication (Sol & Westerweld 2005), and two international conferences, hosted by the Centre for Labour Market Research at Aalborg University (CARMA), on employment policy (October 2004) and flexicurity (October 2006), the ideas and intentions behind this research network have materialised. CARMA is a national stronghold in the study of labour market relations, and has conducted numerous evaluations and studies of employment services reforms. In the last number of years CARMA has achieved a growing international reputation and stronger international profile (www.carma.aau.dk). The initiators from CARMA have furthermore conducted international comparative studies on the contracting out of public employment services, which has been published internationally as well as nationally (Bredgaard & Larsen 2005, 2006, 2007).

This coincides with a growing international interest in the Danish case of labour market regulation and welfare reform. Just to mention a few examples; Danish flexicurity, the Danish model of labour market regulation, and Danish labour market policy are currently held up as best practice for labour market reform in the European Union (European Commission 2006; OECD 2004; Auer, 2000). We are convinced that there is a window of opportunity to establish a research network of Danish and international researchers interested in studying the dynamics and processes of employment service reform, and the possibilities of cross-national policy transfer. The duration of the research network is 2½ years. The activities are divided into three phases, where the first phase is organised and financed by the network members before the official project period begins (see below).

Phase 1: Preparation and Kick-off Phase (March 2007-July 2007)

As a consequence of these activities the network is already up and running before the official project period begins in august 2007.

Phase 2: Research and Networking (August 2007-December 2008)

Presentation of relevant research and current developments in national policy by all members.

- Developing and refining an analytical and theoretical framework for the study of employment service reforms

- Comparing existing data and preparing the collection of new data

- Preparation of spring conference

- Presentation of relevant research and current developments in national policy by all members.

- Discussion of final draft for analytical and theoretical framework for the study of employment service reforms

- Preparation of spring conference

Phase 3. Finalisation (January 2009-December 2009)

Theme: “New modes of governance in employment policy: What are the institutional, operational and substantial implications?” (Hosted by CARMA, Aalborg University; expected participants 75-100 researchers and practitioners).

- Output: One edited anthology by recognised international publisher, and a number of peer-reviewed international articles.

Evaluation of network and activities

- Presentation of relevant research and current developments in national policy by all members

- Finalising international publications

- Preparation for the continuation of the network

7. Organisation and input of network members

The network consists of a core group of 15 researchers (with possibilities of minor extensions if funding is available). This core group will form a small steering group made up of representatives of various key centres of excellence in different countries to develop the network and maintain the organisational infrastructure. Notwithstanding such decisions by all network members the steering group will undertake preparations for network meetings and international conferences, prepare the publication of anthologies as the output of conferences, maintain the webpage of the network, and create collaborative contacts with key institutional actors in the field so that the work of the network becomes well understood and supported. A secretariat for the network will be established at the Centre for Labour Market Research at Aalborg University.

The members of the network and their institutions will contribute with different inputs to realise the objectives of the network. CARMA will finance the first launch meeting of the network (spring 2007), and provide secretarial assistance to the network. Each member institution and researcher will contribute with free research time to the network activities. The network meetings will be held by various member institutions. The homepage and IT-support is delivered by the Hugo Sinzheimer Institute at Amsterdam University.

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