Logo Utrecht University

Accountable Governance

Mechanisms beyond accountability

Referendums: the effects of winning or losing

Lars Brummel

Referenda can be seen as one of the tools that citizens may use to hold their elected representatives accountable. In Western democracies, many citizens support the use of referendums. However, as referendums create satisfying outcomes for citizens with majority views, they could generate ambivalent feelings among voters for the minority option. This article analyzes multiple-wave survey data from five referendums in Bavaria (Germany), Finland and the Netherlands. The findings show that losers’ referendum support decreases in nearly all cases, but there is very limited evidence for an increase of winners’ referendum support. Nevertheless, the results clearly indicate a winner-loser gap, suggesting that referendums have relatively more positive effects for winners’ than for losers’ referendum support. As the legitimacy of democratic institutions depends upon losers’ consent, these findings have important implications for the democratic potential of referendums.

Reputation: a validated measurement instrument

Sjors Overman, Madalina Busuioc & Matt Wood

Reputation and accountability are closely related in public administration. Reputation is of growing interest for the study of public bureaucracies, but a measurement that can discern between the subdimensions of reputation and is validated on real‐life audiences has remained elusive. The authors deductively build, test, and cross‐validate a survey instrument through two surveys of 2,100 key stakeholders of the European Chemicals Agency, the European Union chemicals regulator. This empirical tool measures an agency’s reputation and its building blocks. This scale represents an important contribution to reputation literature, as it allows scholars to distinguish and measure which aspects of reputation public organizations are “known for” and build their claim to authority on, as well as how the profiles of public organizations differ. The authors find that direct stakeholder contact with the agency is necessary for stakeholders to be able to evaluate the separate dimensions of reputation independently.

Stewardship theory: striking a balance between trust and control 

Thomas Schillemans & Karl Hagen Bjurstrøm

Governments need effective measures for contracting, steering, and monitoring agencies delivering public services. In the literature, control-based agency theory and trust-based stewardship theory have often been portrayed as alternative and competing approaches. In empirical studies in public administration, however, these approaches often find mixed and contradictory results. Against this background, this article analyzes how a combination of trust- and control-based approaches, explicitly founded on agency and stewardship theory, can help explain when participants find a given governance regime to be most satisfactory. A survey instrument is developed which, for the first time, fully measures the rich concept of stewardship theory in conjunction with agency theory. The analysis of the governance of Dutch agencies shows that government indeed combines governance solutions from both theoretical camps and illuminates how a functional balance between trust and control may be struck.