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“Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison (‘LocRef’)”

 March 2013 – March 2017

General information

COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) is a long-term international network for cooperation in science and technology. Within this EU FP7 funded framework, the Action “Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison (‘LocRef’)” has started work on March 28th 2013.  ‘LocRef’ is a still expanding European research network on local public sector reforms with more than 100 senior and early stage researchers in currently 31 countries. Based on a shared European perspective, it brings together researchers and practitioners of all stages of local public sector reforms in order to jointly assess the hitherto scattered and dispersed information bases on local public sector reforms, to generate new comparative knowledge, and develop policy-relevant frameworks for the design of future modernization processes in Europe.

It is governed by the Actions’ Management Committee (MC) which consists of 58 European scholars (with up to two representatives per participating country). All MC members are renowned scholars in the field of local public sector reforms. Head of the MC is the Chair of the Action, Prof. Dr. Sabine Kuhlmann together with the Vice-Chair, Prof. Dr. Geert Bouckaert. The MC is supported by four thematic Working Groups (WG) studying various types of local-level reforms from a cross-countries comparative perspective (see below). These are open to other renowned scholars and young researchers in the field. All WGs are headed by WG-Leaders.

Presentation of the project by the Chairs (PPT)


Flyer (short overview of the action):


Aims and objectives of the Project

  • remedy the absence of analysis of the local level and assess local public sector reforms from a cross-country comparative perspective, which has so far not been done within a broader research network
  • generate coherent data bases for systematic comparison with a view to streamlining analytical approaches and synthesizing research outcomes
  • provide a platform for establishing a new set of comparative (descriptive, explanatory, and evaluative) knowledge on local public sector reforms and for integrating the fragmented research activities
  • focus on the more nationally driven territorial and functional reforms
  • concentrate on democratic reforms and new instruments of citizen participation

Network activities

Networking activities of LocRef include inter alia international workshops and conferences, PhD Training Schools, high level seminars, short term scientific missions (research stays for scholars in partner institutions), joint publications and policy papers. The Action provides an excellent platform for promoting the careers of young and early stage researchers.

Thematic Working Groups

The MC is supported by four thematic Working Groups (WG), who carry out research under the overarching research question “Which approaches and effects of local public sector reform can be identified from an international comparative perspective; how can these be explained and what lessons can be drawn for policy making? “, studying various types of local-level reforms from a cross-countries comparative perspective.

WG I: External (Post-) NPM

This WG focuses on NPM-driven externalizations of local services to private or non-profit providers (contracting-out, functional/asset privatization, corporatization, competitive tendering). It also assesses the more recent Post-NPM reforms that are targeted towards re-municipalization and re-integration of previously externalized local functions.

 WG II: Internal (Post-) NPM

Concentrating on the NPM-inspired principles of performance orientation and target steering, this WG scrutinizes various strategies of internal re-organization, process re-engineering, new budgeting and accounting systems, and Human Re-source-related modernization, e.g. performance related pay.

WG III: Territorial/Functional Re-Scaling

European local governments have been – to varying degrees – subject both to territorial up-scaling (amalgamation) and/or trans-scaling (inter-local cooperation) of sub-national jurisdictions as well as to the re-allocation of responsibilities between levels of government. This WG examines both reform segments, as there is a close relationship between territorial consolidation and functional decentralization. With regard to territorial reforms, it concentrates on amalgamations and inter-local cooperation. Functional reforms include political decentralization, administrative decentralization and de-concentration of tasks.

WG IV: Democratic Renewal

Major attempts of local modernization have been directed at the revival of ‘old’ as well as to the introduction of ‘new’, participatory instruments at the local level of government and the inclusion of civil society into local policy making. This WG studies the strengthening of direct democracy (local referenda, direct election/recall of local executives) on the one hand and new forms of participatory and cooperative democracy on the other (citizen forums, consultations, youth/ neighbourhood councils, E-democracy).

Management Committee

Chair of the Action:
Prof. Sabine Kuhlmann (DE)
Vice Chair of the Action:
Prof. Geert Bouckaert (BE)
Project Coordinator:
Christian Schwab (DE)
Science officer of the Action:
Ms. Rossella Magli
Administrative officer of the Action:
Mr. Leo Guilfoyle


Factsheet (overview of MC Members, administrative and coordinative staff)

 Linkage to Permanent Study Groups of EGPA

The COST project is connected to the Permanent Study Groups IV and V of the European Group for Public Administration. The PSGs hold different joint sessions.

  • Permanent Study Group IV: Local Governance and Democracy

Permanent Study Group Contacts:

  • Permanent Study Group V: regional and Local Government

The 2013 meeting was explicitly linked to the COST Action IS 1207 on ‘Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison’. Currently PSG V calls for papers on the assessment of sub-national reforms .

As a chair of this PG, Sabine Kuhlmann published the book “INTRODUCTION TO COMPARATIVE PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION-Administrative Systems and Reforms in Europe” in cooperation with Hellmut Wollmann.

Content of the book:

Permanent Study Group Contacts:

Current Projects


The POLLEADER-project (Political Leaders in European Cities) is a survey project coordinated by the University of Florence and carried out in 29 European Countries. It deals with the career, the interpretation of the role and on mayors’ choices in local policies. In this context, a questionnaire is being sent to all mayors in charge in municipalities over 10.000 inhabitants in European countries. The implementation of the survey started in 2014 and will continue in 2015. The survey results will be evaluated within cross-country research groups from 2015 on. The project is based on a first round of the survey ’Political Leaders in European Cities’, that was developed more than ten years ago. In cooperation with COST the survey is constructed and will be evaluated based on the division of labour.

Local Authority Index

The aim of this research project is to create a Local Authority Index (LAI), which can be used to analyze and report changes in the degree of decentralization of countries within the European Union. Variables used to construct the Local Authorities’ Self Rule Index are institutional depth, policy scope, fiscal autonomy, borrowing autonomy, organisational autonomy and self-rule. Project leader is Prof. Dr. Andreas Ladner from the IDHEAP at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) in close cooperation with Prof. Dr. Harald Baldersheim from the University of Oslo (Norway).

The observed countries in this study are all 28 EU member states together with the four EFTA countries (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). Additionally, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Georgia and Ukraine will also be included. The years to be covered are 1990 to 2014. The project is conducted in close cooperation with the COST Action IS1207 Local Public Sector Reform led by Prof. Dr. Sabine Kuhlmann (University of Potsdam) and Prof. Dr. Geert Bouckaert (KU  Leuven). The experts taking part in the Action not only guarantee the quality of the data but also a further use of the data in scientific research.

Relying on the COST Local Public Sector Reforms Network (COST Action IS1207), researchers will work with country group coordinators. The country group coordinators are responsible for the coding of the different countries assigned to their group. In most cases, they will be able to do it on their own, in some cases they may have to rely on country experts. Two experts from the COST Action serve as external inspector for the country profiles and the coding of the countries. A final meeting with a presentation of the results will be organized in the framework of a future COST meeting.


The planned LocRef-publications, which will be published with Palgrave; will contribute to enhancing the conceptual and empirical foundations as well as the methodological rigour of comparative public administration and governance research. Results will help to single out local reform policies that are potentially transferable, both in terms of content and strategies, to future reform processes. The planned LocRef-books will be coordinated by the Actions Chair (Sabine Kuhlmann) and Vice-Chair (Geert Bouckaert) in close collaboration with the Working Group Leaders who are responsible for WG-related publications. The objective of the LocRef-books is to present a broad appraisal of local public sector reforms in Europe using the expertise of high-ranking scholars and officials as well as junior researchers in the field coming from various European countries and beyond. The planned publications will provide country-specific and cross-countries comparative knowledge about local public management reforms, territorial and functional re-organization and democratic innovation that has hitherto not been synthesized or that has remained undiscovered due to problems of linguistic and institutional accessibility. The large sample size of countries will offer the possibility to search for the causes of variations in reform. The envisaged books are also intended to gather together available information about the reform effects in the different countries and from a cross-countries comparative perspective, thereby contributing to the amplification of evaluative knowledge in the research area under scrutiny.

Planned Publications:

  • Volume I “Local Public Sector Reforms in Times of Crisis: National Trajectories and International Comparisons”

Eds. Geert Bouckaert and Sabine Kuhlmann

(to be published in 2016)

  • Volume II “Reforming local service delivery in Europe: from privatization to re-municipalization?” (working title) , Eds. Hellmut Wollmann, Gérard Marcou, Ivan Kopric

(to be published in 2016)

  • Volume III “Political Leaders and Institutional Innovation in European Cities” (working title), Eds./date: tba


Upcoming Events

  • 4th General COST-LocRef MC and WG Meeting

Dubrovnik (Croatia), 05/06 May 2015

  • COST-Polleader Meeting

Florence (Italy), 23 February 2015

Former Events

  • COST-LocRef WG I Meeting

Paris (France), 15/16 January 2015

  • COST-LocRef WG II Meeting

Tromsø (Norway), 03 December 2014

  • COST-LocRef WG IV Meeting

Leicester (UK), 27 November 2014

  • 2nd COST ‘LocRef’ PhD Training School

29.09-02.10.2014, Siena, Italy

“Re-building Trust in Local Governments: Re-thinking Politics, Management and Governance in the Post-NPM Era”

  • COST-LocRef WG III Meeting

Speyer (Germany), 11 September 2014

  • 3rd General COST-LocRef MC and WG Meeting

Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison (LocRef IS 1207) Potsdam (Germany), 15-16 May 2014

“Local Public Sector Reforms in Times of Crisis: National Trajectories and International Comparisons”

  • COST-LocRef WG II and III joint Meeting

COST-LocRef WG IV Meeting

Edinburgh (UK), 12 September 2013

  • MC and WG Meeting

Edinburgh (UK), 11 September 2013

  • COST-LocRef WG I Meeting

Edinburgh (UK), 10 September 2013

  • 1st Management Committee Meeting (=Kick-off Meeting)

Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison”

Brussels, Belgium, 28 March 2013

Further information

Information about the Project:

Name:COST Action IS1207 “Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison (LocRef)”

Duration: 28.03.2013 – 27.03.2017

Chairs: Prof. Dr. Sabine Kuhlmann (chair, DE) and Prof. Dr. Geert Bouckaert (vice chair, BE)

Academic coordination and administration: Christian Schwab, M.A., Mag. rer. publ. (DE)

STSM Coordinator and Equal Opportunity Commissioner: Prof. Dr. Trui Steen (NL)

Young Researchers Representative: Dr. Daniel Klimovsky (SK)

Financial Rapporteur: Prof. Dr. Angel Iglesias Alonso (ES) and Dr. Anamarija Musa (HR)

Member Countries: 31 (AT, BE, CH, CY, CZ, DE, DK, EE, EL, ES, FI, FR, HR, HU, IE, IL, IS, IT, LT, NL, NO, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, SW, TR, UK)

Number of MC members: 58

Number of participating institutions: 48

Number of senior researchers: 166

Number of early stage researchers: 149

Year 2 budget: 183.000 €

Estimated total budget: 700.000 €

LocRef project website:

LocRef website at COST:

COST Association:

General Contact

Grant Holder contact :
Christian Schwab, Academic Project Coordinator
University of Postdam
Augustus-Bebel-Str. 89, 14482 Postdam
tel.: +49(0)331-977-3771
Mail: [email protected]

International Institute of Administrative Sciences
6th Floor C Block
Rue du Commerce 96
1040 Brussels (Belgium)
Phone : +32-(0)2-536.08.80
Fax : +32-(0)2-537.97.02
E-Mail: [email protected]