The SPG Program

The SPG program studies when and why the public sector operates really successfully. This is not a trivial matter. There is plentiful evidence about the pivotal role that the quality of public governance in making (or breaking) the wealth, well-being and resilience of communities and nations. Yet existing political and public institutions and professions are challenged by cascades of technological, economic and social change.  The nation state is no longer the self-evident centre of gravity in tackling the problems of our time and representative democracy is no longer taken for granted as the only game in town in organizing collective action. There is widespread scepticism about the problem-solving capacity of governments and about the effectiveness, efficiency and fairness of public bureaucracies. Existing public governance scholarship has in recent decades built up a rich language persuading us just how difficult it is to govern well, particularly in late-modern conditions. We are now routinely told that ‘VUCA’ (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), risk, disturbances and crises are the new normal. Existing research on public governance accordingly focuses on its dilemmas, shortcomings, failures, unintended consequences, and inherent limitations. In contrast, our research program purposefully leans the other way in how we approach the study of governments and governance today – not to replace the bodies of critical work presented above but to offer both a complement and a counterweight to them. SPG focuses on studying instances of successful government and governance, on multiple levels and in all its manifestations. We explore how instances of success become framed, perceived, assessed and reputed as such, and what it is about them that renders them successful. In particular we focus on the following key questions:


1. What does ‘success’ in public governance look like? How is it defined and assessed by those who engage in it (policymakers), those who experience it (stakeholders, citizens), those who assess and evaluate it (professional and investigative bodies) and those who study it academically (the research community)?

2. How can we identify, explain, and learn from instances of major public policy success? This includes in-depth and comparative case studies of ambitious, impactful and widely appreciated instances of urban planning and development; innovative social, educational, public health and safety programs; and major general interest reforms in e.g. pensions and competition policy.

3. How can we identify, explain and learn from the design and practices of highly successful public organizations?

4. How can we identify, explain and learn from instances of successful collaborative (horizontal, interactive) governance?


In engaging with these questions, we want to explore the academic and societal potential of building what might be called a ‘Positive Public Administration’ (analogous to, e.g., Positive Psychology). Where the study of failure, breakdown and crisis can tell us what to avoid, the study of successful governance can teach us what to embrace and emulate when we design political and administrative institutions, make public policy decisions, orchestrate service delivery processes, craft public innovations, and develop public sector workers and leaders.

For the latest overview of the SPG program please see here.

Contact Us:

Bijlhouwerstraat 6, 3511 ZC Utrecht, The Netherlands

TEL: +31 30 253 81 01  |  EMAIL:

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No694266)