cost logo

“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 300 senior and early stage researchers in currently 32 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 60 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

Local governments all over Europe are in a period of increased reform activity and intensity, especially since they have been the level of government most seriously affected by the still expanding global financial economic crisis in some countries. Against this background, it is a cause of concern and also criticism that the analysis of the local level is absent in the current comparative research and literature concerning public sector modernization. ‘LocRef’ is intended to:

  • 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
  • include new public management (NPM) reforms that were largely triggered by international organizations (OECD, EU) and targeted towards marketization and privatization as
  • focus on the more nationally driven territorial and functional reforms
  • focus on the more nationally driven territorial and functional reforms that have been fuelled, in part, by recent austerity measures and the hope of national policy makers that such reforms will facilitate economies of scale
  • focus on the more nationally driven territorial and functional reforms that have been fuelled, in part, by recent austerity measures and the hope of national policy makers that such reforms will facilitate economies of scale
  • concentrate on democratic reforms and new instruments of citizen participation

Network activities

Besides this effort to enhance European interdisciplinary multi=method research, other objectives are to advance evidence-based policy making and acknowledge utilization for European practitioners. 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. The following questions are three analytical steps are sought after from every WG:

a) What institutional changes can be investigated and what is the explanation of (varying) reform degrees from a comparative perspective?
b) What are the drivers/causes of reform activities, who are the promoters/stakeholders and what implementation strategies do they follow?
c) How can the intended an un-intended reform effects be evaluated?

WG I: External (Post-) NPM

WG-leader: Ivan Kopric, University of Zagreb
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

WG-leader: Riccardo Mussari, University of Siena
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

WG-Leader: Nikos Hlepas, University of Athens
European local governments have been – to varying degrees – subject both to territorial up-scaling (amalgamation) and/or trans-scaling (interlocal 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

WG-Leader: Colin Copus, University of Leicester
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).

All MC/WG members will examine interaction effects of the four core areas of reform and the overall impacts of modernization from a comparative perspective, in order to find out whether the effects of various approaches of local public sector reforms have intensified or cancelled out each other. In joint sessions, they will scrutinize to what extent the reforms analysed in their core-area have had an (intensifying/weakening) impact on the results in other reforms areas.

Funded Instruments and Activities

To answer the research questions, to achieve the Actions’ objectives and to disseminate results via joint-publications and policy papers into science and practice, several COST funded-activities are conducted:

  • Regular MC and WG meetings
  • International workshops, conferences, and high level seminars
  • PhD Training Schools
  • Short-Term-Scientific-Mission (research stays for scholars in partner institutions)
  • PhD platform (discussion and paper room and newsletter will soon be set up)

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 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’. Different meetings of the PSG during EGPA Annual Conference were also linked to the theme.

As a chair of this PSG, 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:

  • Permanent Study Group IV: Local Governance and Democracy

Permanent Study Group Contacts:

Current Projects


Hubert Heinelt, Annick Magnier and Herwig Reynaert (Eds.): The European Mayor II: Political Leaders in the Changing Context of Local Democracy

The planned book will make a contribution to the debate on political leadership at the local level by referring to a survey on mayors of cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants in 31 European countries carried out from the end of 2014 to the end of 2015. The survey is based on a partnership between the COST project ‘Local Public Sector Reforms – an International Comparison’ (LocRef) and a network of scholars organised in the standing groups on Local Government and Politics (LOGOPOL) of the European Consortium of Political Science (ECPR) and/or in the European Urban Research Association (EURA) which has carried out a number of surveys during the last 20 years.

Book Proposal:

Local Authority Index

The aim of this research project is to create a Local Autonomy Index (LAI), which can be used to analyse 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). Both are members of the Management Committee of the COST Action “Local Public Sector Reforms”.

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. Further information on the whole concluding conference se “forthcoming event” section below.

Final report:


The objective is to produce a Policy Brief on ‘Local Government in Europe for the Future’. The purpose is to communicate our research findings and to translate these research findings innrecommendations for key policy makers in Europe.

  • Geert Bouckaert, Christian Schwab, Sabine Kuhlmann (Eds.)

Matrix of Group Chairs and Theme Coordinators:

Brief Abstract:

Example 1:

Example 2:



Crisis perceptions and other factors of cutback strategies in European LGOs.  A Comparative Survey of France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Germany the UK.

Overview Presentation:



Ronny Frederickx, Geert Bouckaert, Christian Schwab (Eds.)

Observe how citizens are playing their role in local democracy in different local situations throughout the EU, to see to what extent their engagement is motivated by EU policy developments and by suggesting new ways in which local authorities can contribute to better involving citizens in the policy making processes of the EU.

Link to the organisation:




The initiative will be led by a steering group under the leadership of Professor Anders Lidström, Umeå University, Sweden and will consist of (at least) the following distinguished colleagues:

  • Professor Harald Baldersheim, University of Oslo, Norway
  • Professor Bas Denters, University of Twente, The Netherlands
  • Professor Sabine Kuhlmann, University of Potsdam, Germany
  • Professor Nikolaos-Komninos Hlepas, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
  • Professor Andreas Ladner, Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Professor Iveta Reinholde, University of Latvia, Latvia
  • Professor Pawel Swianiewicz, University of Warsaw, Poland

Although there are national data sources in several European countries, these have not been merged or coordinated in a way that would make it possible to simultaneously capture between – and within – country variations. Hence, many key features of the unit of democracy that is nearest to the people, and how this has changed and been reformed, have not been possible to map and analyze.

This initiative aims at investigating whether it is possible to set up a European Municipal Data Archive of sufficient quality and comprehensiveness to allow for new and path-breaking research on local government, local democracy and municipal reforms.





Norbert Kersting (WG IV) and Ellen Wayenberg (WG III)

During the COST Dubrovnik meeting, WG III has decided to further research Sub-Municipal Units (SMUs) across big/metropolitan cities. Our final aim is to make a special journal issue on this topic.

Next Steps:

Belgium as a case:


Reto Steiner and Andreas Ladner

The importance of local government for service provision but also for citizens’ participation and political stability is hardly questioned. It is also widely accepted that local governments have come under increasing pressure and that they have adopted an impressive range of reform activities to cope with the upcoming challenges. As of now, there is an impressive amount of literature about local government and its reform and the scientific community treating with these questions is large and rather well organized. What is lacking, however, are comparative studies applying the same methodology to a larger number of countries. The COST action IS1207 “Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison” which is chaired by Prof. Sabine Kuhlmann and Prof. Geert Bouckaert offers an excellent opportunity to start and coordinate comparative research activities in this field. The main applicant and the co‐applicant of this research proposal are both members of the management board of the COST action.

Approved Funding Amount: 500.000 CHF




CULT-COOP-11-2016/2017: Understanding the transformation of European public administrations

Overview Consortium:



Guest editors: Paweł Swianiewicz – University of Warsaw, Poland (WG III)

Filipe Teles – University of Aveiro, Portugal (WG III)

Special Issue – Approved by the International Review of Administrative Sciences (November 23, 2015). Articles were submitted in September 2016.

The aim of this special issue is to explore the dynamics, experiences and drivers of Inter-municipal cooperation in Europe, given its increasing incidence in contemporary local governance.




Bjørnå, Hilde (NO)
Casale Donatella (IT)
Hajnal Gyorgy (HU)
Christian Schwab, Thomas Danken (DE)
Tobias Polzer, Renate Meyer, Stephan Leixnering (AU)
Geraldine Robbins (IE)

Joined up government (JUG) is an element of modernization programs and has been viewed as a mechanism for increased coordination in both thinking and action. JUG style approaches have been seen as a way to leverage resources and to capitalize on synergies, and a means to enhance efficiency, effectiveness and service quality and as the modus operandi for 21th century governance. JUG is seen as a method for tackling complex or wicked problems and the term is often used synonymous with post-NPM and “whole of government” reforms.

Book Proposal:


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 Sabine Kuhlmann, Geert Bouckaert (Eds.), 2016: Local Public Sector Reforms in Times of Crisis: National Trajectories and International Comparisons. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, Series “Governance and Public Management”.

Outline and table of content:


This book compares the trajectories and effects of local public sector reform in Europe and fills a research gap that has existed so far in comparative public administration and local government studies. Based on the results of COST research entitled, ‘Local Public Sector Reforms: an International Comparison’, this volume takes a European-scale approach, examining local government in 28 countries. Local government has been the most seriously affected by the continuously expanding global financial crisis and austerity policies in some countries, and is experiencing a period of increased reform activity as a result. This book considers both those local governments which have adopted or moved away from New Public Management (NPM) modernization to ‘something different’ (what some commentators have labelled ‘post-NPM’), as well as those which have implemented ‘other-than-NPM measures’, such as territorial reforms and democratic innovations.

  • 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
  • Teles: Local Governance and Intermunicipal Cooperation. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, Series “Governance and Public Management”. Pivot, 2016 Publisher:


COST ‘LocRef’ Concluding Conference

  • Brussels (Belgium), 09/10 March 2017
    Venue: Premises of the Committee of the Regions, Brussels“European Local Government: Challenges, Reforms, and Futures”

    Theme day 1 (09-03-17): dedicated to the “Policy Brochure Project” which gives research overviews, scientific conclusions and policy advices to practitioners (target audience: practitioners, CoR members, academics).

    Theme day 2 (10-03-17): Concluding Working Group Meetings, Summary & Ending of the COST Action (target audience: academics; CoR members & practitioners welcome).

4th COST ‘LocRef’ PhD Training School

  • Potsdam (Germany), 13-16 September 2016
    “Contested Administrations – Challenged Politics: Addressing Wicked Problems at Local, National, and International Levels of Government”  

Output of WG I in Croatian Journal

January 11, 2016

  • The latest issue (3/2015) of the Croatian and Comparative Public Administration contains articles drafted in the context of the work of Working Group I of the COST Action ‘LocRef’.The main topic is on local service provision. Besides that it includes Christian Schwab’s report on the COST-conference „European Local Government at a Glance“ that took place last year in Dubrovnik.

    The journal is edited by Ivan Koprić, Vedran Đulabić, and Romea Manojlović which are also members of WG I.

11th Administration and Public Management International Conference

October 26, 2015

  • For those interested in the 11th Administration and Public Management International Conference ” STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT FOR LOCAL COMMUNITIES” in cooperation with the COST Action ‘LocRef’ on 30th-31th of October, 2015, Bucharest, Romania  

General COST-LocRef MC and WG Meeting

  • Istanbul (Turkey), 22/23 October 2015

3rd COST ‘LocRef’ PhD Training School

  • Spetses, Greece, 13-17 September 2015
    “Innovation in Local Government”

4th General COST-LocRef MC and WG Meeting

  • Dubrovnik (Croatia), 05/06 May 2015

COST-Polleader Meeting

  • Florence (Italy), 23 February 2015


In 2014, WGs have been meeting regularly in different European cities (WG I in Paris, WG II in Tromsø (Norway), WG IV in Leicester (UK), WG III Speyer (Germany)) as well as the 3rd General COST-LocRef MC and WG Meeting in Potsdam (Germany) and the 2nd COST ‘LocRef’ PhD Training School in Siena, Italy.


Further information

For further information, please visit the website of our partner the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST: and especially the website of the University of Postdam ultimately hosting the Project (

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, University of Postdam (chair, DE) and Prof. Dr. Geert Bouckaert, university of Leuven (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, Leiden University (NL)

Training School Coordinator and Young Researchers Representative: Emil Turc, University of Aix-Marseille (FR)

Financial Rapporteur: Prof. Dr. Angel Iglesias Alonso, University of Madrid (ES) and Dr. Anamarija Musa, University of Zagreb (HR)

Member Countries: 32 (AL, AU, BA, BE, CH, CY, CZ, DE, DK, EE, EL, ES, FI, FR, HR, HU, IE, IL, IS, IT, LT, LV, NL, NO, PL, PT, RO, SE, SK, SL, TR, UK)

Number of MC members: 60

Number of participating institutions: 45

Year 3 budget: 170.000 €

Estimated total budget: ~ 700.000 €

LocRef project website:

LocRef website at COST:

COST Association:

General Contact

Christian Schwab, Academic Project Coordinator
University of Postdam
Augustus-Bebel-Str. 89, 14482 Postdam
tel.: +49(0)331-977-3771

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