WUR - Public Administration and Policy Group (PAP)

Logo WUR - Public Administration and Policy Group (PAP)

The Public Administration and Policy group is a young and enthusiastic team of researchers, fascinated by how current sustainability issues fundamentally challenge the practices and theories of public governance.

Uncertainties, contested values, continuous changes and complex interdependencies across scales make problems such as adaptation to climate change or sustainable agri-food chains inherently ‘wicked’. Because wicked sustainability problems defy standard policies and the usual administrative boundaries, we focus on innovative governance strategies and arrangements, varying from local self-organising communities to global public–private partnerships. When innovative governance strategies and arrangements are brought into practice, however, they often run into tensions with existing institutions, making it necessary to change the governance system itself to enable them. To address this puzzle, we developed the research programme Changing Governance and Governing Change. Our research focuses on the Netherlands, the EU, developing countries, and global institutions. By leveraging our disciplinary and interdisciplinary expertise, we aim to make inspiring and innovative contributions to both science and practice.


Our mission is to develop and combine theories to analyse how actors, embedded in institutions, govern wicked problems, and to use the generated insights to co-design governance arrangements that enable more sustainable outcomes.


Our objectives are to (1) make world-leading contributions to governance theories in disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields (scientific quality); (2) contribute to critical reflection on, and improvement of, governance practices (policy impact); and (3) engage in reflexive debates worldwide with colleagues, societal actors, and students (societal debates).

Research lines

We developed the research programme Changing Governance and Governing Change along three cross-cutting research lines. Each research line elaborates a particular dimension of the governance of wicked problems. Because wicked problems and the ways we try to tackle them are dynamic, the first research line aims at understanding these patterns of change. Because wicked problems cut across established boundaries, the second research lines aims at understanding how actors and institutions create connectivity across these boundaries. Because wicked problems are characterized by conflicting value frameworks, the third research line aims at understanding the role of values and value conflicts in governing wicked problems.

1. Patterns of change

This research line conceptualises and analyses continuity and change in policies, polity and politics and in turn how these enable and constrain patterns of change. This research line aims to capture the mechanisms that (re)occur under certain conditions resulting in certain types of change. Examples of mechanisms include learning, political power play, compliance, diffusion, path dependency, and sensemaking.

Types of changes are often characterised in the literature as either transformational or incremental change, but our research contributes by distinguishing between the depth, scope and pace of change, and arguing that that change be continuous and transformational through accumulating small wins.

To track progress in governing wicked problems, this research line addresses conceptual, methodical and empirical challenges of tracking (policy) change. Tracking change is crucial to evaluate and explain change. Insights in the mechanisms of change are used to identify the levers for change in designing new governance arrangements to manage wicked problems.

Key publications

Transformational change: governance interventions for climate change adaptation from a continuous change perspective

Issue Framing in Conversations for Change: Discursive Interaction Strategies for Doing Differences.

Europe adapts to climate change: Comparing National Adaptation Strategies.

2. Interconnectivity

Wicked problems cut across the usual boundaries between temporal, spatial and jurisdictional scales, between public and private spheres, and between science, policy and society. This research line develops an understanding of (1) how actors construct and operate across these boundaries and to what effect and (2) which institutions (including norms, rules and meanings) foster interconnectivity across these boundaries (e.g. boundary objects, collaborative networks, or integration instruments).

Contributions include the development of a framework to conceptualize the institutionalization of policy integration between different sectors for cross-cutting issues, and how actors deal with the multiple scales and levels in the governance of wicked problems through the politics of scale and scale framing.

Recently, an interest in the role of information technology, big data and social media on wicked problems is gaining prominence in this research line. ICT tools are developed as tools to connect across boundaries, but they create new boundaries as well.

Key publications

Disentangling Scale Approaches in Governance Research: Comparing Monocentric , Multilevel , and Adaptive Governance

Toward a processual understanding of policy integration

Tensions between global-scale and national-scale governance: The strategic use of scale frames to promote sustainable palm oil production in Indonesia

3. Values in governance

This research line develops an understanding of the role and contestation of values in the design, process and outcome of policy making and governance. It analyses what is seen as “good” governance in terms of, for example, effectiveness, legitimacy, accountability, sovereignty, justice - both in normative theory and empirically across various institutional contexts and stakeholders.

It further strives to understand the implications of observed value conflicts for governing wicked sustainability problems. For this purpose, we take a critical perspective on the role of power in shaping how different values play out in policymaking and governance.

Studying the role and contestation of values in practice and relating these to different normative governance theories enable us to engage in a reflexive manner in debates on evaluation of existing and emerging policy making and governance arrangements and in processes of co-creating new ones.

Key publications

Food sovereignty: the debate, the deadlock, and a suggested detour

Entry Into Force and Then? The Paris Agreement and State Accountability

Legitimacy in an Era of Fragmentation: The Case of Global Climate Governance

Assessing and designing governance arrangements

Based on the different research lines, we develop an integrative approach for assessing and co-designing governance arrangements. We have structured various strands of scholarship into the framework of five governance capabilities that are crucial for coping with wicked problems: reflexivity, resilience, responsiveness, revitalisation, and rescaling.

Scientific quality

Our group makes optimal use of its unique position as a public administration group in a internationally oriented life-science university by focusing on the governance of wicked problems. We developed the following principles to guarantee scientific quality and develop a recognisable niche:

  1. Research based on strong disciplinary foundations of public administration, political science, and organisational science, combined with interdisciplinary insights on environmental governance
  2. The deliberate use of a variety of methods (multi-method) and theories (theoretical multiplicity)
  3. Strong methodological approaches for revealing comparative insights within and across various research projects

Societal impact

We intensively engage stakeholders in our research in various ways, varying from collaborative action research to multi-stakeholder workshops and consultancy. This has resulted in leading positions in large-scale action research programmes with intensive collaboration with various societal stakeholders: Next Generation Governance Arrangements for Sustainable Global Value Chains (NWO Smart Governance), Governance of Climate Adaptation (Knowledge for Climate), SUSPENSE project on Environmentally Sustainable and Equitable Palm Oil (INREF), Landslide-EVO project on Disaster Risk Resilience in Nepal (UKRC). Through long-term relationships with stakeholders, we go beyond written recommendations and make a difference in policy practices.

Source: http://www.wur.nl/en/Expertise-Services/Chair-groups/Social-Sciences/Public-Administration-and-Policy-Group/Research.htm