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date: 21 February 2019

Fundamentals of Government Structure: Alignments of Organizations at and Beyond the Center of Power

Summary and Keywords

The structure of government is fundamentally a matter of multiple alignments of organizations and power involving politics, policy, administration, management, governance, and law. The alignments vary significantly, with numerous conflations of form and function. At the center of power, under immediate executive control and legislative oversight, policy and administration occurs in ministries and departments for which members of the executive are directly responsible. Beyond the center of power, with varying degrees of distance from executive control and legislative oversight, the interplay of policy, administration and management happens in an array of organizations as executive agencies and corporate entities with diffuse executive responsibility. In all alignments, the synthesis of networks and undertaking of reviews are essential, encompassing politics, policy, administration, management, governance, law, and judicial intervention of varying nature and consequence. The situation overall is one of complexity and diversity, requiring acute understanding and strategic action in response to the demands of continuity and change in the conduct of public affairs.

Keywords: government structure, organizations, power, departments, executive agencies, corporate entities, inter-organizational networks, organizational reviews


The structure of government is fundamentally a matter of multiple alignments of organizations and power involving politics, policy, administration, management, and governance. The alignments vary considerably, with numerous conflations of form and function. As a whole, they are complex and diverse in dynamic response to the demands of continuity and change in the conduct of public affairs in all governmental systems.

The alignments are significant bases on which different types of organizations can be distinguished for the purposes of design, application, research, and analysis (Seidman, 1998, chs 10 and 11; Wettenhall, 2003; van Thiel, 2012; Thynne, 2003a). They affect the decisions of governments in the choice and use of organizations in practice, while also having theoretical value in guiding and informing organizational inquiries and assessments. They assume particular importance in the processes of organizational change and reform, as appreciated in comprehensive comparative studies (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2011, 2017; Pierre & Ingraham, 2010).

Four interrelated alignments are especially pertinent at the national level of government. First, at the center of power, organizations as departments, or ministries as an alternative name in some systems, fuse politics, policy, and administration. Second, beyond the center of power, organizations as executive agencies and corporate entities, varyingly within the jurisdictions of departments, blend policy, administration, and management. Third, both at and beyond the center of power, inter-organizational networks variously involving departments, executive agencies, and corporate entities, along with market and civil society organizations, synthesize policy, administration, and management, as governance. Fourth, again both at and beyond the center of power, organizational reviews concerning departments, executive agencies, corporate entities, and their inter-organizational networks monitor and assess policy, administration, management, and governance.

The four alignments are broadly founded in distinguishable but overlapping developments in government and public affairs over time. The first is “old public administration” (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2003, pp. 5–12, 28–29), otherwise depicted as “progressive-era public administration” (Hood, 1994, ch. 7); the second, “new public management” (Hood, 1991, 1994, ch. 7) or “managerialism” (Pollitt, 1990); the third, “new governance” (Rhodes, 1996; Salamon, 2002) or “new public governance” (Osborne, 2010); and the fourth, a composite of the other three embracing the significance of reviews. Their corresponding bases in “governance” terminology are “interventionist governance,” “regulated self-governance,” and “cooperative governance” (Knill & Tosun, 2012, pp. 209–215), again with reviews throughout. Together, they encompass the administration of policies in legislative and non-legislative form; the management of people, programs, and projects; and the governance of organizational structures and interactions—all within arenas of politics and policy at and beyond the center of power in government (Thynne, 2014; Thynne & Peters, 2015).

Alignments of Organizations and Power in Government: Couplets as Lens of Research and Analysis

The use of couplets as lens to explore and assess the main features of the four alignments of organizations and power in government accords with the view that much of organized action is in the form of dichotomies (Simon, 1946), but with the components of couplets often being complementary rather than opposites (Thynne & Peters, 2015). A series of interlocking couplets valuably assists in describing and making sense of the fundamentals of government structure. They are all pertinent to organizations and power as the focus of the discussion.

Organizations, most significantly, comprise people who come together, or are brought together, in pursuit of common goals, as conditioned by their values, commitments, communication, and cooperation (Barnard, 1938). These elements of organizations concern how people, formally and informally, are interconnected and interact as they seek to fulfil their shared goals. There is a “shifting mix of deliberate design and adaptive behavior,” with organizations being, concomitantly, “deliberately created and reformed in order to achieve substantive ends” and “social organisms that evolve over time as an unplanned result of historical processes” (Olsen, 2010, pp. 18–19). Accordingly, the first couplet—constructed and natural—concerns the created and evolutionary bases of organizations as collectivities of people, as broadly manifest in the distinction between “mechanistic” and “organic” arrangements (Burns & Stalker, 1961, ch. 8).

Organizations as people are complemented by power which they need and which they are close to, or away from, in government. As the “lifeblood of administration” (Long, 1949), power comprises a combination of constitutional-legal authority and resource-dependent ability, with the legitimacy of its existence, distribution , and use requiring a “conformity to rules,” the “justifiability of rules in terms of shared beliefs,” and “legitimation through expressed consent” (Beetham, 2013, p. 20). The importance of power and its legitimacy is manifest in authority and ability as the second couplet. Thus, organizations need authority and ability just as governments do. In doing so, they are located at, or away from, the center of power where authority and ability are most concentrated in government.

Organizations and power have common characteristics as instruments of government (Thynne, 2015, pp. 265–267). As instruments, they are both means of action and ends of action. As means, they are bases of action aimed at achieving the policy goals of governments. As ends, they are results of action to put them in place or provide for them to become means, whose adoption and application have significant consequences for goal achievement. This relationship of means and ends in all of the alignments constitutes the third couplet. It focuses on issues of organizational design, operation, and efficacy, with performance management and measurement being of particular interest (Thynne, 2015, 2016; Bouckaert & Halligan, 2008; van Dooren, Bouckaert & Halligan, 2015).

The existence of organizations with power being close to, or away from, the center of power in government highlights the significance of the fourth couplet: integration and autonomy. This couplet recognizes that organizations can be integrated into government quite directly through their top positions being occupied by members of a government in whom most of their authority is vested; or, alternatively, given varying degrees of legal and operational autonomy, including having other than members of a government at their apexes with authority (Thynne, 2010). The couplet appreciates that there are significant principal-agent relationships (Lane, 2005) and other forces at play involving “cooperative interaction” or “subjugation,” and “dynamic self-governance” or “isolation,” as respective positives and negatives of the alternative arrangements (Thynne, 2000; Thynne & Wettenhall, 2004).

The forces as pulls and pushes of organizational integration and autonomy are intertwined with the fifth couplet: verticalism and horizontalism. The basis of this couplet is that authority in organizations can be configured broadly as command and control in superior-subordinate relationships, or as association and exchange in coordinate relationships. Depictions of these configurations include a “pyramid” or “triangle” and a “circle” or “cluster” (Berkley, 1971, ch. 2), which coincide generally with “mechanistic” and “organic” arrangements (Burns & Stalker, 1961, ch. 8) and also, more broadly, with “hierarchies” and “networks” as modes of governance (Pierre & Peters, 2000, pp. 15–20; Knill & Tosun, 2012, pp. 202–209; Thynne, 2015).

The sixth couplet comprises coordination and specialization, which are embedded in “purpose,” “process,” “clientele or materiel,” and “place” as interrelated bases on which organizations can be specialized and, correspondingly, require coordination (Gulick, 1937; cf. Simon, 1946; Peters, 2010, pp. 139–154). The unitary concerns of specialization are countered by the unifying aims of coordination. At the same time, coordination and specialization can be similarly subject to the forces of integration and autonomy, as well as of verticalism and horizontalism. They are relevant irrespective of whether an organization is integrated into the center of power in government or given a degree of autonomy; and also of whether the authority of organizations is vertically or horizontally configured.

The essential financing of organizations constitutes the seventh couplet: taxes and charges. Taxes comprise finance derived from legislative appropriations of state-imposed taxes and other fees, while charges include user-charges levied for the consumption or use of goods and services delivered (Peters, 2010, ch. 7; GFOA, 2016). Often mixes of taxes and charges are provided for, which can complicate the auditing and reporting requirements that need to be met and acted on concerning both taxes and charges.

The eighth and final couplet—accountability and control—concerns all of the other seven. Accountability accompanied by control encompasses duties, ethics, causality, and liability involving organizations and power in “establishing facts and assigning causality and responsibility, formulating and applying normative standards for assessing conduct and reasons given, and building and applying capabilities for sanctioning inappropriate conduct” (Olsen, 2015, p. 425). Such matters, supported by a mix of formal, informal, internal, and external mechanisms of review and assessment, confirm the scope and significance of accountability and control in ensuring responsible and legitimate government (Mulgan, 2003; Bovens, Schillemans, & ’t Hart, 2008; Lindberg, 2013; Thynne & Goldring, 1987).

The eight couplets can be clustered as presented in Figure 1, with varying application to all alignments of organizations and power in government. Integration and autonomy, along with verticalism and horizontalism, provide the cross-cutting shape and cohesion of the clustering, with accountability and control as essential parameters and glue. Within the parameters, constructed and natural, authority and ability, means and ends, coordination and specialization, and taxes and charges focus on specific elements of structural form and operational dynamics. Together, the couplets constitute a holistic lens through which to research and analyze organizations and power in government.

Fundamentals of Government Structure: Alignments of Organizations at and Beyond the Center of PowerClick to view larger

Figure 1. Organizations and power: Couplets as lens of research and analysis.

Source: Adapted from Thynne and Peters (2015, p. 78).

The couplets and their clustering have considerable exploratory value and explanatory potential. They are used to guide and inform the following analysis of the four identified alignments of organizations and power. Their present application is necessarily limited and selective, with a focus on just a few examples of research and analysis that highlight some significant features of the alignments and inherent issues and trends. A more comprehensive discussion would consider the array of organizational forms, functions, and dynamics within, and overlapping, the types of organizations referred to here as departments, executive agencies, and corporate entities involving inter-organizational networks and organizational reviews.

Alignment I: Departments—Politics, Policy, and Administration

Departments, which are normally established by executive decisions in accordance with legislation on organizational arrangements in government, serve to fuse politics, policy, and administration. As consciously constructed instruments of government, they are ends-oriented means of policy and administrative action in politically charged arenas. Integration and verticalism are of particular significance in their being directly locked into government through members of a government at their apexes. They have constitutional-legal authority and associated ability to perform their functions using funds allocated out of taxes. They are configured in accordance with requirements of specialization and coordination, and underpinned by demands of accountability and control.

The processes of “departmentalism” and “departmentalization” by which departments are constructed and naturally embedded in government are shaped by whether the system of government is a parliamentary-executive or a presidential-executive (Wettenhall, 1986; Lane, 2011, chs 1 and 2). Key features of the systems are outlined in Table 1. As indicated, there are significant differences in the constitutional-legal lines of accountability and control, which affect how departments account to, otherwise interact with, and are controlled by the government, the legislature, and the public, particularly through the members of government at their apexes. Thus, in a parliamentary-executive there is an unbroken line of accountability from the base of a department right up to and through its ministerial head(s) to the legislature and the public via legislative election, with a corresponding unbroken line of control from the public back down to the base. By contrast, in a presidential-executive, the lines of accountability and control are unbroken from and to the base of a department through the secretary as head to the president, but with the president being the only one linked to the public via an election which is quite separate from that for the legislature.

Table 1. A Parliamentary Executive System and Presidential Executive System.

Fundamentals of Government Structure: Alignments of Organizations at and Beyond the Center of Power

A study of the relationships between departments (and regulatory bodies), the president, and Congress in the United States has concluded “that when more committees [of Congress] are involved in monitoring and potentially directing agency policymaking, Congress is less influential than the president for determining agency policy”—so that, while “increasing the number of involved committees may maximize the electoral benefits for members and provide a platform for making public proclamations on issues of importance . . . , it appears that an increase in the number of committees also undercuts the ability of Congress to respond collectively to the actions of the presidency or the bureaucracy” (Clinton, Lewis, & Selin, 2012, pp. 2–3). This highlights at least two significant control and ability tensions in the system. One is between the president and Congress in terms of the relative strength of their control over the policy work of departments. The other is between the individual ability of members of Congress to further their own political interests and concerns and the collective ability of Congress to exercise appropriate control over the policy and administrative activities of departments through the work of its many committees. An ongoing likely consequence of these tensions, along with extensive presidential use of executive orders in favor of legislation, is an increased ability of departments to operate beyond comprehensive congressional control.

The department-based interplay of politics, policy, and administration is manifest especially in the political-administrative relationships at and around the apexes of departments. Comparative research on this in the United States and some European democracies has addressed the separate, overlapping, and converging roles and contributions of politicians and senior administrators in the policy process (Aberbach, Putnam, & Rockman, 1981). The identified patterns have ranged from the separation of “policy” and “administration” through the combining of “interests” and “facts” and of “energy” and “equilibrium” to “the pure hybrid” which represents a blurring of the political and the administrative in government (Aberbach, Putnam, & Rockman, 1981, pp. 4–23). The variations and their effects have been distinctive in terms of systems and arenas, with important influencing factors being political and administrative responsibilities, competencies, appointment practices, electoral politics involving a few or multiple parties, and the extent to which governments have been able to influence or dominate legislatures (Thynne, 2003b, pp. 452–454).

An analysis of the structuring and restructuring of departments in the United Kingdom, with general comparisons being made with other OECD countries, stresses the centrality of departments as organizational means of government (White & Dunleavy, 2010). Accordingly, with reference to the United Kingdom (White & Dunleavy, 2010, p. 10):

The main Whitehall departments are critically important to how the UK state is organised. Their top ministers are secretaries of state with guaranteed seats in the Cabinet and its subcabinets and committees. The main departments also organise and give top-level purpose and direction to the wider public sector, directly controlling an apparatus of executive agencies, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) and main quasi-governmental agencies . . . Beyond these executive bodies, the central state embraces regulatory, advisory and consultative organisations, again organised into departmental fiefdoms. Outside central government, many Whitehall departments have further extended groups of ‘client’ bodies or stakeholders, whose inputs they organise into government decision-making and whose activities they fund and link to targets. In all, there are at least 950 such arms-length bodies (ALBs) reporting to Whitehall and at least 11 distinct ‘types’ of ALB operating at different degrees of remove from Whitehall control.

The analysis continues: “Thus departments are the key bridge between the core executive of Cabinet, Prime Minister, Treasury and other core departments and committees on the one hand and the ‘front-line,’ delivery-level public sector agencies on the other: local authorities, NHS bodies, police forces and so on.” An important implication of this essential bridging role of departments is that how they “are structured and restructured matters a great deal, both at the top political level, in terms of the Prime Minister’s ability to get the best possible performance from her or his government and at the administrative level” (White & Dunleavy, 2010, p. 10).

Several significant issues and trends are identified in the analysis, with three of them being especially pertinent concerning the political, policy, and administrative dynamics of departments (White & Dunleavy, 2010, pp. 25, 26, and 34). The first is “that the overall trend within the OECD countries moves away from single-focus siloed departments with a specialist set of skills and approaches (such as defence, foreign affairs, justice and interior) towards non-siloed approaches, combining connected functions (as with agriculture, environment and business)—again an area where UK patterns seem broadly consistent with the overall OECD trend.” The second is that “across the OECD . . . policy areas that are emerging or growing in salience often require new structures (such as business, the environment and most recently climate change) and countries are experimenting with an array of configurations for tackling established areas of activity whose scale and external context has changed.” The third is that, in the United Kingdom, “Top officials strongly take the view that the vast majority of departmental reorganisations occur primarily as a response to political pressures at Cabinet level, including both the need to create jobs to satisfy a particularly valuable member of Cabinet as well as the need to contain the size of Cabinet—with policy and delivery requirements taking second priority.”

Coordination and specialization are central to the first of these issues and trends, with departments structured to facilitate the intra-organizational coordination of interrelated areas of specialization becoming more common than departments largely having single, specialist-based functions which need to be coordinated inter-organizationally. This development accords with earlier research which identified four distinct “modes of ministerialization” during and after the emergence of new states in unitary and federal systems alike with parliamentary-executives (Wettenhall, 1976a, 1976b). Thus (Wettenhall, 1976b, p. 425):

The first . . . mode is represented by systems which have retained an older apparatus of administrative departments and made little serious effort to adjust them to the fact of ministerial government, so that the number of departments is likely to be considerably in excess of the number of ministers, the departmental titles are unlikely to correspond fully to portfolio titles, and the ministers will lack portfolio-wide co-ordinating and secretariat services to aid them in their work. In the second mode there is some limited effort to integrate the area of administration forming a minister’s jurisdiction, through the establishment of a general secretariat to serve the minister; nevertheless the departments and their permanent heads are not greatly disturbed, and therefore remain in a strong position vis-à-vis the secretariat. The third mode goes considerably further in the direction of consolidation, in that, although the departments continue to exist as distinct and recognizable entities, they become clearly subordinate to the co-ordinating secretariat; and the permanent secretary, as the minister’s principal advisor, will be found at secretariat level only. In the fourth and final . . . mode, the whole area of jurisdiction of the minister (excepting only the corporations and other clearly non-departmental agencies) is formed into a single department: the words ‘department’ and ‘ministry’ thus become interchangeable, and the units regarded as separate departments in the other modes appear only as bureaux, branches, divisions or sections of the department.

A logic of multi-functional coordination within departments is that interrelated functions are bound to be easier to coordinate intra-organizationally than across organizational boundaries. This logic is sound in itself, but in practice could well be offset by some losses in specialization and by a diffusion of accountability and control that is less likely regarding departments with more limited and precise responsibilities. Such offsetting is an inevitable feature of organizational structuring and transformation, which often have to be countered by the establishment of other means of fostering specialization, coordination, accountability, and control. The deliberations and debates over the form and consequences of the various means involved are matters of considerable political significance at, and beyond, the center of power in government.

The politics of coordination and specialization, politically and organizationally, are heightened by various arrangements department by department. Significant are the politically appointed ministerial cabinets assisting ministers within departments in France and Belgium; the politically appointed officials between secretaries of departments and career departmental staff in the United States; and the politically appointed advisers supporting ministers in their departmental roles in, for example, Australia and Canada (Peters, 2010, p. 146; Holland, 2002; Smith, 2012). These department-based arrangements shape and condition political-administrative relationships quite directly and forcefully.

Such arrangements of immediate departmental significance are complemented and reinforced by system-wide arrangements comprising central coordination and control bodies. Particularly influential are prime ministers’ departments, treasuries and offices of the budget, and civil service-public service commissions, which, respectively, address policy, finance, and personnel matters within and across departments (Peters, 2010, p. 144; World Bank, 2002; Smith, 2009).

Alignment II: Executive Agencies and Corporate Entities—Policy, Administration, and Management

Executive agencies and corporate entities exist beyond departments, but varyingly within their purview as affected by political, legal, responsibility, and resource considerations. They are consciously constructed, ends-oriented means of administrative and managerial action in accordance with government policy. They have legal authority and varying ability to perform their functions, with their funding out of taxes, charges, or a mix thereof being determined by whether or not they are expected to operate commercially. They have varying degrees of legal and operational autonomy, both vertically and horizontally configured, with differing arrangements for their apexes as occupied by other than members of a government, for their specialization and coordination, and for their accountability and control.

The widespread and diverse existence of executive agencies is often captured by the term “agencification” or “agentification” (Pollitt & Talbot, 2004; OECD, 2002; Peters & Bouckaert, 2004; Caulfield, Peters, & Bouckaert, 2006; Verhoest, Van Thiel, Bouckaert, & Laegreid, 2012). They are normally established either by executive decisions prescribed by legislation or directly by legislation, with their authority being acquired either by delegation from a member of government or by devolution under legislation. Accordingly, they can be referred to as “statutory” or “non-statutory,” with the former being subject to legislative action along with government action, and the latter to government action without necessarily any reference to the legislature. The latter, in particular, raises significant questions about the substance more than the form of their individual and relative autonomy from a government, including their protection from easy disestablishment.

The similarly widespread and diverse array of corporate entities are now usually described as “state-owned enterprises” (SOEs) and as forms of “corporatization” (OECD, 2011, 2014; Farazmand, 1996; Thynne, 1995; Thynne & Wettenhall, 2010; Wettenhall & Thynne, 2011). They are established either directly by legislation or by agreements as organizational constitutions which are registered pursuant to a Companies Act or Corporations Act. By legislation or by certificate of registration, they acquire, separately from a government, a distinct legal personality which gives them authority to enter into contracts, to buy and sell property, and to sue and be sued in their own corporate names. Thus, as “statutory corporations” or “registered companies,” they have considerable legal autonomy from a government. But whether this is complemented by other forms of autonomy depends on various political, strategic, and resource commitments and concerns in government.

Comprehensive research on the autonomy of executive agencies and corporate entities in several countries has addressed, among other important matters, a significant tension between authority and ability, with organizations often being granted considerable authority to discharge their allocated responsibilities, but having their ability to exercise that authority limited by a government or, more specifically, by relevant departments and other bodies at the center of power (Pollitt & Talbot, 2004; OECD, 2002; Peters & Bouckaert, 2004; Caulfield, Peters, & Bouckaert, 2006; Christensen & Lægreid, 2006; Verhoest, Roness, Verschuere, Rubecksen, & MacCarthaigh, 2010; Verhoest, van Thiel, Bouckaert, & Laegreid, 2012; De Somer, 2017). This tension is characterized as comprising two interrelated conceptions of autonomy: “autonomy as the level of decision-making competencies . . . (concerning management on the one hand and concerning policy on the other hand); and . . . autonomy as the exemption of constraints on the actual use of decision-making competencies . . . (referring to structural, financial, legal and interventional constraints on . . . decision-making competencies)” (Verhoest, Peters, Bouckaert, & Verschuere, 2004, p. 104). The result, as shown by the research, is that many executive agencies and corporate entities, while having high levels of authority-autonomy, have low levels of ability-autonomy. This renders them relatively autonomous from a government in one way, but largely integrated into it in another, so that it is possible to describe them as “this and that” or “this but that” in the sense of their being structured as one type of organization but treated operationally as though they were of some other type (Thynne, 2010, p. 74).

Some of the research on executive agencies and corporate entities has explored the performance effects of their having differing levels of autonomy (Peters & Bouckaert, 2004; Caulfield, Peters, & Bouckaert, 2006; Verhoest, Roness, Verschuere, Rubecksen, & MacCarthaigh, 2010; Verhoest, Peters, Bouckaert, & Verschuere, 2004; Verhoest, van Thiel, Bouckaert, & Laegreid, 2012). Not surprisingly, various high-low and low-high autonomy-performance relationships have been identified. These have been attributable, at least partly, to the different bases of autonomy involved in the mismatches of authority and ability, while also being partly research-dependent. Thus, differing performance measures have been adopted, such as “financial ratios (like return on investment), technical efficiency and productivity” or “effectiveness, quality, accountability and system coherence,” as well as differing methodology, “with some studies using documentary analysis and others focusing on perceptual data from interviews and surveys” (Verhoest, Peters, Bouckaert, & Verschuere, 2004, p. 102).

An assessment of the performance experience and significance of selected executive agencies and corporate entities in 20 countries similarly acknowledges the variety of pertinent performance measures and methodologies (Overman & van Thiel, 2016). The assessment, which draws on data from an array of sources on “output, outcome, efficiency, and value for money,” has the “working hypothesis . . . that in countries where many services are provided through agencies rather than through traditional government bureaucracy public sector performance will be higher than in countries with a low number of agencies.” An overall conclusion, as supported by specific findings, is that “More resources for the government, less perceived regulation, and more market positively influence public sector performance,” with “agencification . . . hardly related to output and outcome, and negatively related to efficiency and value for money.” Accordingly, “the economic claims underlying agencification programs are . . . refuted” (Overman & van Thiel, 2016, pp. 617, 628).

A study of corporate entities in OECD and associated countries confirms that, “despite ambitious privatisation programmes undertaken in recent decades, a number of OECD and partner countries maintain state ownership in commercial enterprises”—with the 31 OECD and three partner countries included in the study having SOE “portfolios with a combined 2,111 enterprises, valued at over USD 2 trillion and employing about 6 million people” (OECD, 2014, p. 7). The entities continue to vary in form and significance from country to country, with some of the traditional reasons for their existence remaining in particular arenas. Included are “the presence of historic . . . monopolies, e.g. in electricity, telecoms and railway infrastructure; . . . the maintenance of state control over sectors considered of ‘strategic’ national interest, such as oil and gas; . . . the fulfilment of recurring public policy objectives, such as public service delivery; and . . . temporary equity injections to save failing companies either considered ‘national champions’ or vital to the functioning of the broader enterprise sector” (OECD, 2014, p. 9).

These continuities in state ownership of corporate entities in many countries have been accompanied by some distinctive changes in ownership, in addition to full privatization. Particularly notable are changes “from ownership as regulation to ownership and regulation”; “from public law ownership to private law ownership”; “from ownership outlays to ownership returns”; “from confined ownership to expansive ownership”; and “from ownership, owner and manager to ownership, principal and agent” (Thynne, 2011, pp. 184–192). The essence of these changes is that responsibilities of ownership and regulation have been separated and reallocated organizationally; that registered companies as means of state ownership are now favored over statutory corporations; that government and public concerns about the financial burdens of corporate commitments are being countered by the strategic management and enhancement of performance; that collective public ownership of corporate entities has been complemented by varying forms and levels of private ownership; and that serious attention is given to how the relationships between owners and managers as principals and agents can be structured appropriately in terms of integration, autonomy, accountability, and control.

Such changes as these have coalesced and assumed special significance where the expansion of ownership has resulted in many public-private “hybrids,” a common feature of which is that they “share the tension of multiple owners,” which makes them “susceptible to conflict between owners, whether over fundamental goals, the direction of organizational strategy, or the distribution of any surplus valued by more than one owner (whatever form the surplus takes)” (Vining & Weimer, 2016, p. 162). Several factors underpin this tension and, in doing so, raise questions about the value and efficacy of hybrids. They include “ownership fragmentation,” “clarity of allocation,” “cost of alienation,” “security from trespass,” “credibility of persistence,” and “autonomy,” which concern how the existence of multiple owners can complicate the assignment, reassignment, protection, and maintenance of property rights, as well as the principal-agent relationships involved (Vining & Weimer, 2016, pp. 163–168). These are all matters of public interest requiring meaningful responses by governments, especially where the assets to which the property rights are attached continue to be of considerable public importance.

Alignment III: Inter-Organizational Networks—Policy, Administration, and Management, as Governance

Inter-organizational networks variously involve departments, executive agencies, and corporate entities, along with market and civil society organizations. They are constructed and also natural, as ends-oriented means of synthesizing policy, administration, and management as forms of governance—depicted, for example, as “interactive” (Kooiman, 2003; Torfing, Peters, Pierre, & Sørensen, 2012), “collaborative” (Ansell, 2012; Emerson, Nabatchi, & Balogh, 2011), “constellational” (Thynne & Massey, 2013) and “holistic” (6, Leat, Seltzer, & Stoker, 2002). They comprise degrees of integration and autonomy in response to both intra-network and inter-network commitments and demands, with an emphasis on horizontalism and the coordination of often quite diverse areas of specialization. Their authority, ability, and funding via taxes and charges are largely derived from the organizations which they embrace. Their accountability and control are essential, but are frequently diffused by multi-organizational contributions and expectations.

The existence of inter-organizational networks is a key feature of “state-market-civil society synergism” as a basis for organizing public action in which mixes of state, market, and civil society involvement have considerable value (Thynne & Peters, 2015). They are affected by numerous arrangements comprising legal foundations, institutions-organizations, relationships, decision-making, spatial dimensions, and people; see Table 2. The arrangements become interrelated as network activity cross-cuts sectoral boundaries. This requires the skilful navigation and balancing of differing legal demands, structures, norms, decision styles, and delineations of people and place (Thynne, 2015, p. 268).

Table 2. State, Market, and Civil Society Arrangements.

Fundamentals of Government Structure: Alignments of Organizations at and Beyond the Center of Power

Source: adapted from Thynne & Peters (2015, p.76).

An extensive review of research on inter-organizational networks highlights three “modes of network governance”: a “self-governed network” (or “shared governance” network), a “lead organization network,” and a network with a “network administrative organization” (Popp, Milward, MacKean, Casebeer, & Lindstrom, 2014, p. 38). These modes generally coincide structurally with the first three of the four modes of ministerialization, but with different types of organizations normally being involved in them. They represent differing levels of organizational coordination and, correspondingly, differing degrees of organizational autonomy and integration within each network. Thus, the first is a loose configuration with the organizations in the network coordinating with one another in response to circumstances as they arise; the second sees one of the organizations assuming a lead role in consciously fostering coordination within the network; while the third has an organization located above or at the hub of the network, with responsibility for facilitating the coordination of the organizations that constitute the network.

The research addressed in the review has embraced inter-organizational networks with mixed state-market-civil society involvement, as well as networks with bases more firmly in one or other of the sectors. Significantly (Popp, Milward, MacKean, Casebeer, & Lindstrom, 2014, pp. 38–39):

  • Networks in the private sector are more likely to have a shared governance model than networks in the health and human services domain, which are more likely to have either a lead organization or, more often, a network administrative organization model

  • A fundamental challenge with governance of any network is that the needs and activities of multiple organizations often require accommodation and coordination

  • Factors such as network size and the degrees of trust among members influence which form is going to be most appropriate, and ensuring that managers make a conscious choice is critical for matching the best governance form to the context

  • The governance model selected needs to be able to balance power and authority and, given the importance of informal power, also be able to support new modes of leadership that rely on the role of the facilitator or broker

  • Shared governance is generally acknowledged to be challenging, if not impossible, when there are a larger number of organizations involved in a network (i.e., generally more than five or six)

  • Formal governance mechanisms (e.g., contracts) can be complementary to inter-organizational trust, which appears to be critical in public networks

  • A benefit of designing more formal networks is that a diversity of representation can be built into the design. In more informal networks, high degrees of homophily (birds of a feather) tend to be exhibited (i.e., formalizing networks may provide an opportunity to give voice to more perspectives)

  • The role of management is critical for effective network governance, especially regarding the handling of tensions inherent in each governance form. For a network administrative organization to be effective, network level staff must develop the skills needed for network level action; this is often a challenge due to significant resource constraints

  • The form of network governance adopted, and the management of tensions related to that form are critical for explaining network effectiveness

A fourth mode of network governance, generally consistent with the fourth mode of ministerialization, emerges when, for example, a network administrative organization subsumes the organizations within its network to the extent that they become conflated as a new type of organization. This could involve “co-optation” as a “process of absorbing new elements into the leadership or policy-determining structure of an organization as a means of averting threats to its stability or existence” (Selznick, 1949, p. 13). The resulting organization, as a form of network “embeddedness” (Evans, 1997, pp. 179–182), is likely itself to become an integral component of other networks configured as modes one, two, or three. Accordingly, all four modes could well be operative concomitantly in the one arena or in overlapping arenas, with significant implications especially for the forms, levels and effects of specialization, coordination, accountability, and control.

Alignment IV: Organizational Reviews—Policy, Administration, Management, and Governance

Organizational reviews embrace departments, executive agencies, corporate entities, and their inter-organizational networks. They are constructed means of control and accountability concerning all aspects of policy, administration, management, and governance. Their natural ends in the form of evolving outcomes are, ideally, organizational capacities for incisive self-analysis and continuous self-enhancement of integrity and performance in the public interest. This confirms the importance of their thoroughly addressing and stimulating improvements in the distribution, use, and efficacy of organizational authority and ability in government. Such matters are affected by the funds available to organizations from taxes and charges, as well as by how the forces of integration, autonomy, verticalism, horizontalism, specialization, and coordination shape organizational operations and goal achievement.

Organizational reviews are the responsibilities of numerous organizations, and the organizations being reviewed usually have their own review staff, approaches, and commitments. The organizations of particular importance are various integrity bodies, management review authorities, and commissions of inquiry (Aulich, Wettenhall, & Evans, 2012; Lawton, van der Wal, & Huberts, 2016; Bouckaert & Halligan, 2008; van Dooren, Bouckaert, & Halligan, 2015; Prasser, 2005). They have varying foci, responsibilities, authority, and ability, but have a common dual character. This is inherent in their concentration on the control, accountability, authority, and ability of the reviewed needing to be matched by appropriate provision for their own authority, ability, accountability, and control. As guardians, they also have to be guarded. Thus, while reviewing the reviewed, they usually need to safeguard especially their own autonomy as an essential complement of their authority and ability, at the same time as having themselves to be accountable and controlled in government. Their responses to the competing and often incompatible demands involved have to be strategic and firm, with no betwixt and between (Thynne, 2012).

Integrity bodies in particular attract considerable interest (Aulich, Wettenhall, & Evans, 2012; Head, Brown, & Connors, 2008; Huberts, Maesschalck, & Jurkiewicz, 2008; Lawton, van der Wal, & Huberts, 2016). Included are audit offices, ombudsmen, administrative tribunals, and independent commissions against corruption, as well as courts and legislative committees. Those other than the courts and legislative committees are sometimes now seen as essentially, if not actually, constituting a fourth branch of government alongside the legislative, executive, and judicial branches (Spigelman, 2004). All of them, in differing ways, are tasked with fostering responsible government and governance by concentrating on and countering any misuse or abuse of power. Their structures and degrees of autonomy, accountability, and control have to be legally prescribed and carefully protected. This poses significant challenges for their design, establishment, operation, oversight, and evolution (Thynne, 2012).

Integrity firmly embraces and sets standards for organizations and the people who comprise them. As “a quality of individuals . . . as well as of organizations,” it requires action “in accordance with relevant moral values, norms, and rules,” as supported by “approaches to governance that emphasise both effectiveness and ethics” (Lasthuizen, Huberts, & Heres, 2011, pp. 384, 387). Thus, analytically and in practice, there is a need “to move forward towards more conceptual and theoretical clarity and . . . to invest in improving the methodology of measuring unethical behaviour or ‘integrity violations’ (including corruption)”—otherwise “research results will lack the specificity and accuracy that we need to determine the right balance between different measures for fostering ethics and preventing unethical conduct” (Lasthuizen, Huberts, & Heres, 2011, p. 384).

A detailed analysis of “managing performance,” addressing a wide array of performance material including audit-integrity reviews, explores the performance management experiences of Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States (Bouckaert & Halligan, 2008). The focus of each country study is on the “context of a performance-based system,” the components of “measuring performance,” the ways of “incorporating performance information” and “using performance information” in management practices and decisions, and the system-wide arrangements for “administering, managing or governing performance.” The analysis recognizes that (Bouckaert & Halligan, 2008, p. 197):

A huge expansion has occurred in performance measurement applications over the last century, and this has now accelerated. The penetration was significant by the mid-1990s with measurement . . . and then management of performance becoming more intensive, extensive and external. The geographic spread, breadth and depth of commitment has become seemingly irresistible. The reasons for this include the continuing influence of reform leaders, international pressures for comparability in standards and statistics, and the relentless search for more effective tools for managing, controlling and improving public services.

Organizational reviews, individually and collectively, are important in assessing and also fostering three broad levels of organizational maturity (Thynne, 2012). The first level requires that organizations have appropriate structures and processes in place; the second that they function very effectively; and the third that they continuously meet high standards of integrity. The latter is seldom attainable, given the stringency of what it entails. There is also the possibility of regression rather than progression, with regular reviews having to be vigilant in determining slippage as well as achievements and, accordingly, in proposing appropriate sanctions, remedies, rewards, and reform.

Concluding Comments

The multiple alignments of organizations and power in government serve variously to fuse, blend, synthesise, monitor, and assess politics, policy, administration, management, and governance. The numerous organizations, networks, and reviews involved embrace departments, executive agencies, and corporate entities in their various guises, along with market and civil society organizations, the latter joining with the former in contributing to public affairs in the public interest. The result is a complex and diverse array of structures, which are shaped by contextual traditions and demands, operational dynamics, and patterns of goal achievement as forces of continuity and change in all governmental systems.

The alignments are valuably researched, analyzed, and made sense of through the lens of eight couplets: constructed and natural, authority and ability, means and ends, integration and autonomy, verticalism and horizontalism, specialization and coordination, taxes and charges, and accountability and control. These couplets are individually significant, while being especially pertinent as a whole. Together, they capture the essence of both complementary and opposing components of how organizations, networks, and reviews are, or could be, configured with consequences for the efficacy of government through organized action of public importance.

Much is known about the alignments and their effects in many governmental systems. At the same time, much also remains to be researched, analyzed, and understood. The scope and reach of essential ongoing inquiry are still wide and extensive, with the possibility of various agendas entailing significant challenges for theory and practice alike.


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