February 23, 2017

SOG is the IPSA Research Committee on the Structure and Organization of Government.  It has been the academic sponsor of the journal Governance  since its creation by SOG in 1988.    Learn more.
How can scholars defend the open society?
"The tenor of political rhetoric" is a key indicator of the health of a society's underlying norms, Julia Buxton argues in a new commentary for Governance.  And today that indicator shows that we are in a time of "norm regress: an unraveling of the shift in public attitudes over many decades that has made human rights a lived expectation and bigotry and hatred an anathema."  Buxton argues that it is time for academics to think more carefully about their obligations as cherished norms decay.  "How, as citizens and moral agents as well as intellectuals, shall we defend and further the ideals of an open society?"   Free access to the commentary .
Preserving transparency in Trump's America
Transparency's rise as an administrative norm over the past few decades has seemed unstoppable.  But what will happen in the era of Trump?   Mark Fenster explores this question in a new commentary for Governance.  He distinguishes between two conceptions of transparency -- technocratic and populist.  Trump seems likely to resist the first conception while embracing the second.  Transparency advocates, who have grown accustomed to thinking about openness in technocratic terms, will have to develop new ways of talking about the subject.  They should "deploy the moral and populist understanding of transparency" that is preferred by Trump himself, to defend the laws and regulations that have been put in place to assure openness.  Free access to the commentary .
New editorial team for Governance
The SOG executive is pleased to announce the selection of a new editorial team for Governance.  The new co-editors are Adam Sheingate of Johns Hopkins University and Éric Montpetit of the Université de Montréal.  The new team will take over on January 1, 2018.
How politicians survive the media cyclone .  . .
Advances in information technology have produced a "media cyclone" -- a "noisy, fragmented, pressure-filled media landscape."  In the current issue of Governance , Alex Marland, J.P. Lewis and Tom Flanagan use recent Canadian history to explain how politicians respond.  Politicians have turned to branding: "a corporate philosophy that seeks to unite every employee activity and communications touchpoint  toward a common purpose."  Branding requires tight centralization of control over communications.  It also blurs the lines between party government and public service.  Despite the dangers, branding "can be expected to last, regardless of which party or leader is in control."   Read the article .
. . . And how they survive information overload
Elite politicians live in an "information maelstrom," Stefaan Walgrave and Yves Dejaeghere observe in a new article for Governance.  How do they decide select the information they pay attention to?   Walgrave and Dejaeghere draw on interviews with top Belgian politicians, including all party leaders.  They describe three general strategies that are used by politicians to manage overload: organizational procedures designed to shield them against raw information; personal heuristics to sort out what really matters; and an attitude of self-confidence that "at least makes them feel in charge of the incoming signals."   Read the article .
Promoting democracy: Politically engaged best practice
Critics of donor-funded democracy promotion projects complain that they are naive attempts to replicate the practices of developed countries.   David Guinn and Jeffrey Straussman say that  the reality is more complicated.  They describe a more nuanced approach to democracy promotion, which they call "politically engaged best practice," and show how it can be applied to the task of legislative strengthening in developing countries.  Politically engaged programming still recognizes that there are best practices, but allows room for development agencies and implementers  to consider how practices should be adjusted to fit "social and cultural systems."   Read the article .
Semi-autonomous agencies: Useful scapegoats
Reformers in many developed countries have relied on the creation of semi-autonomous agencies as a strategy for improving citizen satisfaction with government.  Has  agencification  actually produced the expected result?   Sjors Overman draws on data from fifteen European countries and suggests that it can improve satisfaction, although for unexpected reasons.  In the domain of tax services, "semi-autonomous authorities absorb some of the blame for bad performance for the government . . . The presence of an agency worked as a scapegoat for dissatisfied services users, and resulted in less dissatisfaction with the government."   Read the article .
Research note : Budget support suspensions as a sanctioning device
"Budget support" is a form of aid whereby a donor provides direct financial support to a recipient government's budget.  It can also be used as a tool for punishing governments that fail to fight corruption, respect human rights, or meet other good governance norms.  But how often is this tool used for such purposes?    Nadia Molenaers, Anna Gagiano and Lodewijk Smets describe a new database that covers all budget support suspensions between 1999 and 2014.  A preliminary analysis shows that forty percent of suspensions fall in the "democracy and human rights" category.  The data set can be downloaded by researchers.   Read the research note .