Ghent University, Belgium, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration

June 8-11, 2016



The search for ways and strategies to make government and the public sector retain, regain or increase legitimacy is of great importance to public administration and management scholars, practitioners, and society as a whole.

The ongoing global fiscal and economic crisis puts stress on public resources forcing governments to (re-) assess their positions and activities, and to do so in a changing context with a political discourse and public opinion that is increasingly negative about the role of government within society; More often than not it is perceived as incapable, too inefficient and ineffective in response. Thus, the fiscal and economic crisis seems to be accompanied by a legitimacy-crisis for government. The interesting paradox is that besides voices attacking government and the public sector as a whole, others also call on government and the public sector to tackle the fiscal and economic crisis. Hence, the public sector is criticized as inefficient, ineffective, and heavily pressured to downsize on the one hand. On the other hand it should regulate financial markets, boost economic development by public investment, and deal with other existing and new complex issues (e.g. migration and human trafficking, international terrorism, sustainable development).

This edition of the TAD takes this context of government and its legitimacy in times of crisis as the point of departure for discussions. Key questions to be addressed are:

  • Are we actually observing a legitimacy crisis of government and the public sector, and if so, how and to what extent?? Are levels of public trust and satisfaction decreasing, and what are the reasons for it? Can we observe any differences, or similarities here on both sides of the Atlantic and why (not)?
  • How is this debate linked to the meta-debate about the different roles governments can play (regulating, stimulating, sanctioning, delivering services…)? Is government still legitimate enough to play all these roles at once? Or is the state simultaneously losing ground on some roles, but able to maintain its position on other roles, or even gains ground on certain roles? What are the drivers for the (lack of) legitimacy for these roles?
  • What is the nature of current societal debates about government and the public sector, and in what ways could the quality (e.g. more evidence-based) of these debates in different regions and countries be increased? How can we bring in ‘societal and social gains’ back into public sector value? Is the focus of debating government performance too much focused on financial and budgetary parameters like % of GDP? How do we ensure that people and organizations discuss the public sector in desirable ways, to ensure that it is not just about the level of public spending and efficiency, but also about the importance of actual problem-solving, and principles like transparency, inclusiveness, resilience, democracy, social equity,…?
  • How can these potential legitimacy problems within government and the public sector be solved? Through greater management for performance, through increased citizen participation, engagement and co-production? Or through increasing transparency, integrity and public service ethos within public sector organizations?

The issues concerning the status of, the causes for (losing), and the solutions to increase government legitimacy will be addressed in four panels. Panel 1 deals with the relationships between public management, public sector performance and how it affects citizen satisfaction, trust and, ultimately, legitimacy. Panel 2 addresses the relations between the democratic quality in a society, the engagement of societal actors and citizens, and legitimacy. Panel 3 focuses on legitimacy, discrimination in the public sector and social equity. Panel 4 examines the interplay between civil servants’ behavior (public service ethos, integrity, …) and legitimacy.

High-level plenary speakers on both sides of the Atlantic are currently being invited by the conference chairs. Steven Maynard-Moody, who is Director of the Institute for Policy & Social Research and professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration at the University of Kansas, has already accepted the invitation to give a keynote talk.