Research of the Public Administration and Policy Group

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.

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Changing Governance and Governing Change

Uncertainties, contested values, and complex interdependencies across scales make problems such as adaptation to climate change or sustainable agrifood chains inherently ‘wicked’. Because it is impossible to handle wicked problems effectively with standard policies and within the usual administrative institutions, we focus on innovative governance strategies and arrangements, varying from local self-organising communities to global public–private partnerships. 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

When innovative governance strategies and arrangements are brought into practice, 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 along three cross-cutting research lines:

   1. Patterns of change: This line analyses the mechanisms underlying continuity and change in policies and governance arrangements and how existing governance institutions enable or constrain these patterns.

   2. Interconnectivity. Wicked problems cut across the usual boundaries between sectors, scales, public and private spheres, science and policy, and diverse normative frameworks. This line develops an understanding of (1) how actors operate across these boundaries and to what effect and (2) which institutional forms foster interconnectivity across these boundaries (e.g. boundary objects, collaborative networks, international norms, or mainstreaming instruments).

   3. Governance capabilities: This line develops an integrative approach for assessing and co-designing governance arrangements. We have structured various strands of scholarship into the novel 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

Key theoretical contributions include: a social mechanism perspective on policy change (research line 1), the concept of interactional framing (research line 2), and the novel framework of governance capabilities (research line 3).

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: Governance of Climate Adaptation (Knowledge for Climate), SUSPENSE project on Environmentally Sustainable and Equitable Palm Oil (INREF), Mountain-EVO project on Adaptive Governance of Mountain Ecosystem Services (UKRC). Through long-term relationships with stakeholders, we go beyond written recommendations and make a difference in policy practices.

Research Projects

Visit our Research Projects page for more information about our research projects and PhD projects