ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM AND THE ROLE OF PARTICIPATION IN THE FLEMISH COMMUNITY

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1 EUROPEAN GROUP OF PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION Study group on Public Personnel Policies: "Administrative Reform and Staff participation and involvement in European public services" ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM AND THE ROLE OF PARTICIPATION IN THE FLEMISH COMMUNITY PUTSEYS, Line, PELGRIMS, Christophe, and STEEN, Trui K.U.Leuven Department of Political Science Public Management Institute E.Van Evenstraat 2A 3000 Leuven

2 Introduction Administrative reforms are introduced in a range of public services across Europe. This tendency to reform is also present in the Flemish Community, one of the regional entities in Belgium. The new Flemish government that took office in 1999 had the explicit ambition to transform the Flemish civil service into one of the best performing administrations in the OECD (Deweerdt, 2000: 4). That same year, the Flemish government presented a far-reaching reform plan for the Flemish government. This reform (called Beter Bestuurlijk Beleid ) is based on the restoration of the primacy of politics. Its ultimate goal is to optimise the public administration by the reduction of rules, the focus on results and customerfriendliness, a larger responsibility for civil servants, the reduction of ministerial cabinets, integrated services for different levels of government and e-government. As a consequence the reform has a far-reaching impact on the present structure and culture of the Flemish public administration. In this paper we analyse the reform of the Flemish public service. We examine the extent of participation of the public servants in this reform, since according to the literature, participation of stake-holders in a reform is part of its success. To analyse the reform we will use a checklist that is based on the theoretical framework of Pettigrew et al (Pettigrew, Ferlie & McKee, 1992). Pettigrew et al distinguish the following dimensions in a reform: content, context and process. In this paper we examine all three. However, particular attention is given to the process dimension, where we focus on the (possibility and extent of) participation of civil servants in the reform. A checklist will be used to classify the participation possibilities (if present) of civil servants in the reform. In paragraphs 1 and 2 we present these theoretical frameworks. The third paragraph applies both frameworks to the proposed reform of the public administration in the Flemish Community. Introduction 2

3 1. The study of change: theoretical framework In this first paragraph we would like to present a conceptual framework to study the management of change. According to Pettigrew et al content, context and process are crucial elements in the study of change (Pettigrew, Ferlie & McKee, 1992). Elaborating on this basic assumption, a checklist has been drawn up. This checklist aims at showing the crucial aspects of reform more into detail 1. CONTENT The sort of reform Cultural and/or structural reform Radical or incremental reform Target Focus of the reforms : the total organisation, a department, a service Target Formulated explicitly Quantitative and/or qualitative Milestones Target group Which target groups are recognised? CONTEXT Motive Previous history Failure and success of previous reform programmes within the organisation Outer context Historical, social, economical, cultural and political background External pressure for reform PROCESS Planning, start-up phase & implementation phase Actors involved Support and involvement Resistance towards change Communication What? By who? How? To who? Means Financial Methodology Rounding off Institutionalisation and consolidation Figure 1 : checklist for the study of change 1 The checklist is discussed more into detail in : ANDRIESSEN M, C. PELGRIMS & STEEN T., Aandachtspunten in het veranderingproces. Methodologie om de roep om verandering te beantwoorden In : Vlaams Tijdschrift voor Overheidsmanagement, 2003, 8 (1), pp Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 3

4 First, in the study of change management, it is important to have a good understanding of what will be changed. In this dimension, focussing on the content of change, we pay attention to three kinds of elements: the sort of reform, the targets of the reform and its target groups. Questions arise as to which aspects structural, cultural or both - the reform initiatives are focused on (Kloosterboer, 1993: 24), and whether the reform initiative presents a radical break with the past or, in contrast, incrementally builds further upon the (reform) history of the organisation. Analysing the targets of the reform (Abrahamson & Lawrence, 2001: 4), we study aspects as the organisational level which the reform is focused on - the total organisation, a department or a service -, and the extent to which milestones are included in the reform plans. Finally, it is questioned whether target groups are recognised. Following Pettigrew et al a second dimension in the study of change relates to the context of the changes. The authors make a distinction between inner and outer context. Paying attention to the inner context allows researchers to gain insight into the susceptibility of organisations for change initiatives. In particular, getting insight into failure and success indicators of previous change programmes can be very useful in understanding the receptiveness of organisations for change (Steen, 2001: 135). Next, the study of the outer context makes it possible to include the historical, social, economic, cultural and political influences of society on organisations in the conceptual framework. Putting this second dimension into operation we pay attention to three elements: the motives behind the reform plans, the organisational history and the outer context. First, insight in the reform motives often delivers crucial information when studying change processes. Second, understanding the organisational history as to the implementation of reform plans helps to gain an insight into the receptiveness of organisations for change. This gives the possibility to study external pressure from this outer context. The third and last dimension of the conceptual model is the process. We can define change as a transition from a starting point X to an end point Y. However, since a change does not necessarily reaches the expected outcomes, it is important to notice that a situation Y can be reached. This deviation is not necessarily negative, on the contrary, it shows the dynamics of change. In the dimension process the path from situation X to situation Y (Y ) is taken into consideration. The process dimension can be made operational alongside four steps: the planning phase; the starting up phase; Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 4

5 the implementation phase and the rounding off phase. In each of the first three phases attention is paid to five elements: actors (Doppler & Lauterburg, 1996:164; Kloosterboer, 1993: 24), support and involvement (Open Universiteit, 1991: 264; Bouwen, Witte & Verboven, 1996: 179), communication (Open Universiteit, 1991: 265), means and resistance (Stroh, Northcraft & Neale, 2002: 431). The last phase consists of institutionalisation and consolidation (Open Universiteit, 1991: 236). Bringing these elements together, we come to our conceptual framework as shown in figure 2. The arrows in the model symbolise the need to take the dynamic relations between the different dimensions into consideration. Figure 2 : Conceptual framework 2. Participation and reform 2.1. Definition The concept participation has a range of different meanings. In this paper participation will be defined as: the degree to which a person participates or continually engages in organisational activities (Allen et al, 1997; Wagner et al, 1997). Literature presents commitment of employees in a reform as a key component in the success of this reform. A feeling of commitment can be created in different ways. We can make a distinction between informing people, allowing people to express their opinion and giving them control (Open Universiteit, 1991: 264). Many authors link the Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 5

6 receptiveness of employees for change with their participation in the change process. De Leede and Looise (1999: 438) for example, state that a feeling of ownership towards an organisational reform arises when the employees of the organisation are fully informed about the reform and are able to think along with and take part in the reform. This ownership can reduce opposition and increase acceptance of the reform. To let employees participate in reforms can also increase the creative potential of the employees and the organisational ability to adapt. Through participation one can create a basis for change, but one can also lay claim to the competences and the expertise of the organisation. Participation is also seen as a control mechanism through which the need for monitoring organisational changes after their implementation can be reduced (Open Universiteit, 1991: 264; Parys, 2002: 5). In the management approach a higher commitment of the employees in (radical) reforms is seen as a critical success factor to the effectiveness of the reform 2. As said before, participation can create a sense of co-ownership with the parties concerned, which leads to a faster acceptance of change and a reduced opposition of the employees towards the reform. Participation in Commitment in Acceptance of change change change Figure 3. Participation and Acceptance of change This idea is reflected in the following formula: E= Q x A x I This formula states that the effectiveness (E) of a change and the reform strategy behind it, depends on three elements: the quality (Q) of the solution, the acceptability 2 Cressey en Williams (1990) distinguish between the management approach, the democratic approach and the positive sum game to categorize different motives of participation in reforms. In the democratic approach employee see participation as a way to influence their working conditions (Poole 1986a). The positive sum game is a mix of the two approaches. Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 6

7 (A) of the solution for the parties concerned (by leaders as well as executors) and the quality of the implementation process (I) (Van Gyes et al, 2003) Dimensions of participation 3 In the literature we find several dimensions of participation that are used to describe the extent of participation in a reform programme. The dimensions are presented in the checklist below: Dimensions of participation: 1. Formal or Informal? 2. Direct or Indirect? 3. Influence? 4. Content of the decision? 5. Duration? 6. Degree of coercion? 7. Timing? Figure 4. Checklist of participation The first dimension of participation, the formal-informal one, relates to the extent of standardization. Formal participation refers to a legal regulation or a system of rules and agreements that is imposed by the organisation. We can distinguish the following bases of legitimisation: a legal basis, a contractual basis and management policies. Informal participation schemes, on the other hand, are based on a consensus emerging among interacting individuals or social units (Dachler & Wilpert, 1978). The second dimension, direct or indirect participation, indicates the manner of representation. Direct participation refers to personal contributions of employees to the organisation. Indirect participation refers to represented participation of employees in the organisational decision making (Dachler & Wilpert, 1978). Gill and Krieger (2000) note that whilst in earlier days the emphasis was on indirect (or representative) participation, since the beginning of the 1990s there has been a focus on direct forms of participation. This shift has gone hand-in-hand with a rediscovery 3 This is based on: Parys, M., Staff participation and involvement in the public sector reform of the Belgian federal government: the case of the Artemis-enquiry, Paper presented to the annual meeting of the European Group of Public Administration, 2002; Van Gyes et al (2003). Participatief Veranderingsmanagement in de Belgische overheidssector, Academia Gent. Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 7

8 of the human factor in work organizations, which can be seen as a response to the increasing competitive pressures facing enterprises and the growth of human resource management (Parys, 2002:4) 4. The degree of influence that employees can exert on decision-making is the third dimension of participation (Dachler & Wilpert, 1978). Heller et al (1998) made this criterion operational by means of the Influence-Power-continuum, in terms of the following division: Employees receive no information in advance about a decision; Employees do receive information beforehand; Employees can give their opinion about a decision; The opinions of the employees are taken into account; Employees can veto the decision; The decision is made by the employees themselves. The employees can not influence a decision when they are only informed about it. Indirectly information can be a basis to acquire influence (Knudsen, 1995:9), since one can only influence management plans when one is informed. To give an opinion about a decision is a somewhat more powerful means, although formally one cannot exert influence by it. It does, however, give the employees an opportunity to criticize and to formulate alternative solutions for the problem. This form of participation can sometimes change into a form of co-decision, when negotiations lead to formal or informal agreements between the parties concerned. The strongest form of participation is co-decision making or being able to veto a decision. Participation can also be categorised in terms of the content of the decision. De Leede and Looise (1994) mention three categories of this fourth dimension of participation: Job-content; Personnel concerns: namely working conditions, conditions of employment and industrial relations; Overall policy: this concerns the long term policy with a more strategic character. 4 A combination of the criteria formal and informal participation and direct and indirect participation results in four main forms of participation, namely formal-indirect, informal-indirect, formal-direct and informal-direct (Van Gyes et al, 2003). De Leede and Looise combined the dimensions direct and indirect and formal and informal in a participation cube. These dimensions do not form dichotomic variabeles, but are continua (de Leede & Looise, 1994). Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 8

9 The fifth dimension, the duration of the participation (Cotton et al, 1988), concerns the permanent character or otherwise of the participation. Short term participation is the onetime definition of policy goals by management and employees (or representatives). Most participation forms are based on long term contacts between management and employees or have a permanent character (De Leede & Loise, 1994). The degree of coercion (Locke & Schweiger, 1979) is the sixth dimension of participation. Participation in decision-making can be forced or voluntary. A law or a decree, for example, can oblige co-operation. Partly forced participation can arise from a contract between management and employees, or when management is legally forced to negotiate. Voluntary participation can arise when management launches the idea of participation and the employees approve this or vice versa. The last dimension, the timing of the participation (Hermel, 1988 and Cressey & Williams, 1990) is important in determinating the influence of employees (or representatives) on organisational change. Research shows that (the intensity of) participation varies according to the phase of the change process. Participation seems to be less applied in the phase of development or realisation (Kanter, 1983, Cressey & Williams, 1990). The participation of employees in the phase of decision making is mostly small. The possibilities of participation increase in the later phases. However, then the most important decisions have already been taken. This is called the participation paradox (Cressey en Williams, 1990). 3. Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community In this paragraph we apply the three dimensions of Pettigrew s theoretical framework, namely context, content and process to the proposed reform of the administration of the Flemish Community. In the second paragraph we will discuss the process dimension of the Flemish reform, more specifically the (possibility and extent of) participation of civil servants in the reform. Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 9

10 3.1. Context & content of the Flemish Reform 5 A. CONTEXT Motive Two principles underpin the proposed reforms. The first one is the restoration of the primacy of politics 6. In the mid-nineties this issue was put on the political agenda by Guy Verhofstadt, then a prominent member of the liberal-democrat party, later on Prime Minister. Initially, the concept referred to the power balance between politics on the one hand and the trade unions and other interest groups on the other (Stouthuysen, 2002 : 72). In the years after its introduction, the meaning of the concept primacy of politics gradually evolved and increasingly referred to politicoadministrative relations and the necessarily dominant role for politics. As such, it referred of course to a basic democratic principle, also frequently referred to in academic literature. According to Bouckaert (e.g.,1997: 109) political primacy means : legislative power has precedence over executive power, ministers over civil servants/managers and the public interest has priority over particular interests 7. A second core aim of the reforms was to downsize the ministerial cabinets and to strengthen the policy capacities of the administration. In Flanders, as in the Belgian federal and other regional governments, most of the policy formulation and design is done in ministerial cabinets (Dewachter, 1995: 242). These essentially consist of a number (roughly 20 to 25) political advisors, appointed by the minister, sometimes recommended by interest groups related to the minister s party (Pelgrims, 2001: 68). Ministerial cabinets have political and policy functions (Brans, Hoet & Pelgrims, 2002: 32, Suetens & Walgrave, 2001:297). Their political functions are related to the nature of Belgian party political recruitment and partitocracy (Dewinter et al., 1996: 5 These context and content paragraphs are based on : PELGRIMS C. & J. MAESSCHALCK, The impact of the government reforms in Flanders on the politico-administrative relations, Paper prepared for the NISPACEE conference, Bucharest, April,10 th - April,12 th 2003, 24 p. and Pelgrims, C., Hondeghem, A. & Steen, T., Coördinatie van beleid in een veranderende politieke-ambtelijke verhouding, Steunpunt Bestuurlijke Organisatie, Leuven, p. 6 The role of the concepts New Political Culture and primacy of politics in the agenda setting process of administrative and political reform has been described in MAESSCHALCK J., HONDEGHEM A. & C. PELGRIMS, De evolutie naar een Nieuwe Politieke Cultuur in België : een beleidswetenschappelijke analyse in : Beleidswetenschap, 2002,4, pp Own translation. Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 10

11 ) 8. Their policy functions include producing policy advice, communication and co-ordination, providing guidance to the minister into the secrets of the bureaucracy and fostering policy support from civil society. As such, the administration is left with implementation only (Hondeghem, 1996: 57-58). In the Flemish government agreement of 1999, the government explicitly acknowledged that downsizing the ministerial cabinets is a necessary condition to strengthen the policy capacities of the administration (Vlaamse regering, ). It is important to note that in its programme of administrative reform, the Flemish government did not propose to completely abolish the cabinets, but only to downsize them. A small group of political advisers around the minister will remain to assess the policy initiatives from a political point of view. In addition, these downsized cabinets will maintain an important role in the co-ordination process on the political level (Vlaams Parlement, : 6-7; Pelgrims, Hondeghem & Steen, 2003). Although the implementation of the reform process is still under way and a genuine evaluation is not possible at this point, there are significant indications that this particular element of the reforms will not be very successful (Pelgrims, 2003). The cabinets have not downsized yet. Previous history Presently, the Flemish civil service has a matrix structure with five vertical and two horizontal departments. Since its establishment the administration has already experienced several waves of reform. It was of course confronted with a steady growth due to Flanders increasing competencies, following the different state reforms. In addition, some initiatives were taken during the eighties to increase coordination, e.g. the installation of a board of secretary-generals 9. During the nineties, several projects of administrative reform were launched in different management areas: human resources, strategy, technology, and organisation (Bouckaert & Auwers, 1999: 60). Overall, these past reforms have been evaluated as rather successful. However, the persistence of change within the organisation could lead to change fatique among the employees. 8 Ministerial cabinets function as recruitment and career mechanisms for professional politicians, as lubricants for coalition government formation, party control of ministers and support to party organisation Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 11

12 Outer context Although in the checklist, many elements were mentioned to describe the outer context we restrict the outer context in this paragraph to the New Public Management paradigm, the rise of e-government and the citizen. In addition to the elements just mentioned, New Public Management ideas seem to have influenced the reform programme. A shift towards concentrating on the coreelements of government is recognisable in the Flemish reform plan. Also a distinction between policy preparation and policy implementation is pointed out. The policy preparation will be handled by the departments, while the implementation will be taken care of by the different agencies. Another element which often turns up in the reform proposals is putting the customer first, while the launch of the e-government project is also high on the agenda. B. CONTENT Target of the reform proposals First, the reform aims at establishing homogeneous policy domains around departments and agencies. A homogeneous policy domain is defined as a cluster of policy fields that create a coherent whole both from the perspective of politics and from the perspective of the client (Victor & Stroobants, 2000:49). For every policy domain, a department will be created, which will be responsible for policy formulation, monitoring and evaluation. The primary task of the department will be to support the minister (Vlaamse regering, 2002:17). In addition, it will be responsible for the implementation of those aspects which cannot be put at arms length. The agencies primary task will be implementation. Thus, the reform creates a structural and organisational distinction between policy formulation and policy implementation, as both need different competencies. It is emphasised, however, that this does not imply a complete separation (Commissie voor Institutionele en Bestuurlijke Hervormingen en Ambtenarenzaken, : 5). The linking pin between the departments and the agencies will be made by the managementgroup, composed of top civil servants of the department and of the agencies within a policy domain (Vlaamse regering, 2002:19). 9 Art. II.4 Het College van secretarissen-generaal in : Toelichting op het statuut van de ambtenaar. Deel II Organisatie en Werking van het ministerie, Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 12

13 A second aim of the reform is to establish a one-to-one relationship between the minister and his/her department and agencies. In 1990 a board of secretarygenerals was established to ensure proper co-ordination across all departments. In the course of the years, this body had developed significant power and was thus alleged to threaten the primacy of politics. In the new structure, there will be a one-toone relationship between the minister and his/her administration. This not only implies no mediation of a collegiate college of civil servants, it also precludes that more than one minister and department will bear responsibility over one agency. Finally, the policy reform creates a policy board at the top of each policy domain (i.e. the department and its agencies). This board will include the minister, the head of his/her cabinet and all the top civil servants of the policy domain (both of the department and the agency). The board should act as the strategic platform (Vlaamse regering, 2002:19). It should be a place for an open dialogue between politicians and civil servants about the strategic opportunities and needs of the policy domain (Victor & Stroobants, 2000:73). In addition, the board should guard good governance and support policy formulation. In contrast with previous reform programs, the 'Beter Bestuurlijk Beleid' reform targets the Flemish civil service as a whole: reforms are not only focused on the Flemish ministry, but also include semi-governmental bodies. The reform proposals integrate human resource management changes with the restructuring of the organisational model of the Flemish civil service. Although the plans are written down in a master plan, milestones are not included. Milestones appear only during the change process and on an incremental basis. Next to the civil servants, the reform targets the citizens. As such it fits in the objective to create a more open and transparent civil service that offers a qualitative service to citizens Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 13

14 3.2. Process: participation in the reform of the Flemish government As regards the process dimension we will focus on the participation possibilities in the reform. Since the implementation of the reform has not taken place yet only the possibilities of participation in the planning- and starting up phase of the reform will be discussed 10. Actors The agreement of the Flemish government in 1999 provided the basis for the reform during the planning phase. In February 2000, the reform plan was worked out further in the political conclave of Leuven. On March 2000 two official Special Commissioners were appointed to fill in the governmental decisions. The Special Commissioners were Eric Stroobants, Secretary-General of the department Coordination, and Leo Victor, Secretary-General of the department General Affairs and Finance. They worked out an extensive report for the Flemish government, which consisted of the elaboration of the principal ideas of the Flemish reform plan. On 21 December 2000 their report A vision on a transparent organisational model for the Flemish government was completed and submitted to the Flemish government. The Special Commissioners are also members of the Steering Committee of the overall reform. Other members of this committee are the heads of the ministerial cabinets, the advisor of the Minister-President of the Flemish government and the advisor of the Minister of Public Affairs. The appointment of the change managers for each policy field on 19 July 2002 marked the second phase of the reform, the starting up phase. The change managers are appointed by the minister on a temporary assignment after which they will resume their normal responsibilities (Vanderpoorten, 2002). They have an advisory role and report straight to the minister. There is no systematic consultation between the change managers. In each policy domain there is a sectoral commission, which consist of the senior civil servants of the policy domain, the minister or the head of the cabinet and the change manager of the policy domain. 10 The implementation of BBB was planned for January the first This date was postponed for a year. Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 14

15 The change manager can decide to involve the line management in the sectoral commission, but this is not obligatory (Pelgrims, Hondeghem & Steen, 2003:75). The task of the change manager is to provide in a more specific filling-in of the overall reform plan for his/her policy field. He or she has to develop a proposal about the four following topics: the migration of personnel, financial and logistic means; the crystallization of the organisational structure; the issuing of rules, processes and procedures; and internal and external communication 11. As members of the Steering Committee, the Special Commissioners will submit the proposals of the change managers to a quality test at the end of the starting phase. The Steering Committee will present the ultimate proposal concerning the different policy domains to the Flemish government (Pelgrims, Hondeghem & Steen, 2003:74-75). The political level will consolidate the proposal of the change manager. The second task of the change managers is to create a basis for change in their policy domain by supplying information to the civil servants in general (Flemish governmental newsletter,14 November 2002). Communication In spite of the major consequences of the reform for the civil servants in the Flemish public service, there was very little communication about it during the planning and starting up phase. The appointment of a change communicator on 27 April 2001 and the introduction of a communication plan for the Flemish Government did not alter this situation. In addition, the principal decisions about the reform were published in the press before the civil servants of the Flemish community were even informed about them (Pelgrims, Hondeghem & Steen, 2003:77). The communication instruments aimed at the civil servants consisted of a periodical newsletter and a web site that provided information about the content and progress of the reform. The communication touched only upon decisions made by the Flemish government, and was considered as being very vague (Pelgrims, Hondeghem & Steen, 2003: 77). Both initiatives focused on informing the civil servants, and had no Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 15

16 intention of letting them participate or give their opinion about the reform. Only in May 2003 a magazine for the civil servants that described the basic novelties of the reform was published. As a consequence, many civil servants are kept in the dark about the planned changes in the Flemish public service and their own future (Pelgrims, Hondeghem & Steen, 2003:77). Finally, an instrument that was used in past reforms (called research into participation action ) has not been used (yet) in this reform. This instrument questioned the civil servants with relation to the degree of acceptance of the modernization initiatives. The inventory of the bottle-necks of the reform was meant to increase the commitment of the civil servants in the reform (Bouckaert & Auwers, 1999: 15). Opposition As said earlier, the absence of a basis for reform can result in opposition towards a reform. The postponement of the introduction of a new pay and career regulation for the civil servants can serve as an example of opposition of the civil servants and unions towards this part of the reform All communication and no participation in the Flemish reform? Until now, the reform of the Flemish public service is an elitist reform. During the planning and starting up phase only a few senior civil servants were allowed to participate in the reform. In general, the civil servant was not offered a chance to participate. The few communication initiatives towards the civil servant are focused exclusively on information and not on participation. It remains to be seen if this will also be the case in the implementation phase of the reform. We will analyse the participation of civil servants during the planning and starting up phases separately, using the checklist as presented in figure 4 (cf. supra). In the planning phase we can hardly speak of a policy that was focused on the creation of a basis for the reform (Pelgrims, Hondeghem & Steen, 2003:74). The topdown communication was vague, as were the roles of the concerned parties. Neither 11 On the 27 th of April 2001 a change communicator was appointed and a communication plan for the Flemish Government was introduced. Due to the communication plan and the change communicator in April, 27 th 2001 the Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 16

17 the politicians, nor the Special Commissioners were important actors in the communication towards the civil service as a whole. Only the Special Commissioners participated in the reform, in a formal and direct way. The degree of influence of the Commissioners was rather low, since they acted according to the guidelines of the Flemish government. In complete agreement with the principle of primacy of politics of the Flemish government, the Commissioners were not involved in the strategic policy decisions but in the operational working-out of the reform. When we consider the category content of the participation, the Commissioners participated in the overall policy of the reform, although as already said, their input was more operational and based on the policy framework of the Flemish government. The Commissioners participation in the reform is long-term, since they are members of the Steering Committee of the reform (cf. supra). With relation to the sixth dimension of participation, we can establish that the Flemish government considered the Commissioners participation in the reform as a necessary element for creating a basis for the reform with the civil service in general and the senior civil service in particular. As to the timing, we expect that the participation of the Commissioners will increase gradually, given their involvement in the approval of the proposals of the change managers (cf. supra). Finally, in the planning phase there was no participation of the civil servant next to the Special Commissioners in the reform and there was hardly any communication towards the civil servants. Newsletters were only available from February first The report of the Special Commissioners could first be consulted on the website of the Flemish Government. Since the beginning of 2002 the report as well as information concerning (the progress of) the reform, is available on the special website of BBB. Participation in the starting up phase of the reform is also of an elitist nature. Change managers were appointed and participated in the realisation of the reform. They were also held responsible for the creation of a basis for reform in their own policy field. Co-operation and contact, however, between the change managers are possible but not obligatory. Change manager and senior civil servants meet in the sectoral commission of each policy domain. Other civil servants, as e.g. executive staff, can be included in this commission, but not all change managers make use of this opportunity. If we consider the dimensions of participation in the reform as related to communication is also a responsibility of the change communicator (see also below). Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 17

18 the change managers, we can establish that the change managers, like the Special Commissioners, participate in a formal and direct way in the reform. Their degree of influence in the reform, however, is rather ambiguous. On the one hand, their influence is high since the change managers have a lot of freedom in working out a reform proposal for their policy field. On the other hand, as a consequence of the primacy of politics, the change managers give advise to the minister about the reform of their policy field, but it is the political level which still takes the final decision. With relation to the category content of the participation, the change managers also participate in the overall policy of the reform, although their input is even more operational than the input of the Commissioners. The participation of the change managers is, in contrast to that of the Commissioners, short-term and defined in time. Just like in the starting up phase, the Flemish government considered the participation of the change managers to the reform as a necessary element for creating a basis for the reform in the policy domain. With relation to the dimension timing, we expect the participation of the change managers in the reform not to increase, since the planning phase was a potentially more influential phase than the implementation phase. In spite of the appointment of a communication manager, the development of a communication plan and the responsibility of the change manager concerning the creation of a basis for reform in his/her policy field, the ordinary civil servant still did not have the chance to participate during the starting phase. In addition, communication towards the civil servants about the reform plan in this phase was very limited, and often too late. Case Study: Reforms in the administration of the Flemish Community 18

19 4. Conclusion Using a conceptual framework based on Pettigrew et al, we analysed the Beter Bestuurlijk Beleid reform in the Flemish government as to its content, context and process. In this paper we especially focussed on the possibilities of staff participation and involvement in the reform. This focus on participation is linked with literature presenting participation and commitment of employees in reform as key components in the success of reform. The case study of reform in the administration of the Flemish Community shows only a limited degree of involvement by civil servants, with an emphasis on participation by a few civil servants - the 2 Special Commissioners and the 13 change managers in particular - and top-down communication concerning the reform plans and timing towards the civil servants in general. Linking these facts with literature, we could expect the limited participation and involvement of civil servants in the reform to lead to failure of the reform during next phases, especially when the starting up phase of defining plans and adapting rules and legislation will be ended and the actual implementation of the reform is to follow. However, the analysis also shows that the Flemish government could claim to have its reasons for limiting participation. The restoration of the primacy of politics, referring to politico-administrative relations, is one of the principles underpinning the proposed reforms. After having discussed the future of the Flemish administration at the political level, the Flemish government can be expected to have wanted to avoid new discussions and alternations of the reform plans at the politico-administrative and the administrative level. During the next phase, the start-up, the administrative involvement was somewhat increased. In carrying out their task of filling-in the overall reform plan for their own policy domain, the change managers were handed a lot of freedom in working out a reform proposal. Also, they were free to involve other civil servants e.g. executive staff in this. However, again the political level limited the influence that civil servants could exert. The change managers advise their minister about the reform, but it is the political level which takes the final decisions and guards the plans particularised at the level of each policy domain to be in accordance with the overall political reform plan. Conclusion 19

20 Since the reform of the Flemish Community is still in its start-up phase, it is yet to see if the limited administrative participation during planning and start-up will impede the implementation of reform. If communication and participation is to heighten during next phases, the Flemish case could be evaluated as being in accordance with overall assessments that possibilities of participation by employees seem to heighten during the reform process, while, paradoxically, then the most important decisions have already been taken. However, the question remains if controlling the degree of participation will show to be an effective means to guard the content of the reform plans, without hindering further success and, more specifically, without tempering the acceptance by civil servants who are to work in the renewed organisation of the changes. Conclusion 20

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