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Research Political Science and Public Administration

The Department of Political Science and Public Administration conducts high-quality research that is both relevant for academia and for society.

Within the department, the research is organized in three research groups: two groups work from a public administration angle and one from a political science perspective. Both the theoretical and the methodological basis for the public administration and political science research are highly diverse. This diversity of ideas and the confrontation of insights of different origins make it interesting and offer grounds for developing innovative ideas and to contribute to a large variety of bodies of knowledge in the different fields of our research.

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New Public Governance

The central theme of the public administration research is New Public Governance. This concerns the organisation and quality of public administrations, with special attention to sectors such as security and the welfare state. With this central theme we connect with relevant developments in society, economics, government and politics and the new control mechanisms of the government, society and market arising from this. This research is conducted within two research groups:

Governance of Quality focuses on several pressing social problems, which are crucial for the quality of living together in society, and at the question of how governance structures and arrangements (could) influence this.

Quality of Governance focuses on the quality of governance and the government itself. Specifically, research is conducted into which characteristics of governance structure and policy are determining the quality of governance. Accordingly, it identifies which consequences this has for the process of achieving better governance. 

In 2014, an international research evaluation committee assessed the program's relevance to be excellent (4.5 out of 5) and its quality, productivity & viability very good (4 out of 5).

Multi-layered Governance in Europe and Beyond

National and international politics have become increasingly intertwined into so-called multi-layered or multi-level governance systems. A central starting point in political science research is therefore that politics should not be studied at a national or international level, but in mutual coherence. Covering all three main subdisciplines of political science, Multi-Layered Governance in Europe and Beyond (MLG) examines the scope, institutions and agency of multilevel governance. The program's three main research questions are:

  • Scope: To what extent does the emergence of multi-layered governance actually overtake or transform political structures above (e.g. inter-regional and global institutions) and below (traditional, hard-wired institutions of domestic and local government) European integration?
  • Institutions: Which institutional arrangements can ensure policy effectiveness and democratic legitimacy in multi-layered settings?
  • Agency: How does multi-layered governance affect the motivations and capacity of elites to adopt decisions and steer society?

All (senior) researchers in the MLG program work on at least two of these questions. This research group brings together researchers from different sub-disciplinary backgrounds: experts in comparative political science, international relations and political theory. This diversity is also highly visible in the different cross-cutting topics that political scientists focus on, such as European integration, political parties, elite networks and environmental, social and foreign policy. In 2013, an international research evaluation committee assessed all aspects of the program - quality, productivity, relevance & viability - to be excellent (4.5 out of 5).

More about our Research

  • Quality of Governance research group

    In its research, the department of Public Administration and Political Science of the VU University Amsterdam focuses on several main themes. One of these themes is ‘Quality of Governance’ (QuGo). The main question guiding the research of the Quality of Governance group is:

    What does quality of governance entail, which features of government structures and processes determine it, and how does that affect the quest for good governance?


    The research is organised around three broad themes:

    1 Reflection on the content of quality of governance 
    What does good governance entail? Reflection on this question has both academic and societal relevance; academically, it is important to understand which values and criteria are relevant to understand and explain the process and result of administrative actions. In terms of societal relevance, it is important to explore the values that are important in the on-goings of executives, managers and civil servants in the public sector and assess the impact that these values have on the result of administrative processes. Based on the history of the research group and its members, integrity of governance plays an important role within this research theme. 

    2 The impact of institutions on the quality of governance 
    Within this theme, we study the relationship between the changing organisation of and relationships within the public sector on the one hand and the quality and integrity of governance on the other hand. We explicitly pay attention to the relationship between centralised and decentralised governance, the functioning of public-private partnerships, the involvement of civil society (e.g. interest groups) and the relationship between formal and informal institutions.  

    3 The impact of instruments aimed at promoting quality of governance 
    There are many instruments, mechanisms, organisations and ‘systems’ that are supposed to enhance the quality of governance. This concerns, for example, codes of conduct, training programmes, leadership and (legal) supervision and oversight structures. These instruments often stand on their own, with no information about their functioning and effectiveness. The Quality of Governance research group tries to improve the information about and the understanding of the functioning and effectiveness of these instruments.

    Our ambition 
    The research group aims for high quality research and has the ambition to conduct international (comparative) research. Methodical and methodological reflection is highly relevant for both the actual research and its output. The international perspective plays an increasing role, which is reflected in our involvement in research aimed at Pakistan, China, the Caribbean and Tanzania. Finally, our research group also tries to connect scientific research with the world of practice, for example by conducting research for organisations in the public sector. The research output of the QuGo research group can be found among the New Public Governance publications

  • Multi-Layered Governance in Europe and beyond

    Bringing together researchers from various sub-disciplinary backgrounds – comparative politics and international relations in particular – the central idea of the research in Political Science is that politics cannot be studied purely at a national or international level anymore. Instead, national and international politics and policies have become increasingly intertwined and form systems of multi-layered or multi-level governance.

    The research programme ‘Multilayered governance in Europe and beyond’ therefore examines the emergence of multilayered forms of governance in the EU and beyond (regional, national, international, transnational) with a special attention to the changing role of power and politics.

    Programme leader: Prof.dr. Henk Overbeek

  • Collaborations

    Many researchers of the department also participate actively in the following initiatives:  

    • The Talma Institute combines knowledge and conducts research in the field of work, care and welfare. 
    • VU Interdisciplinary Centre for European Studies (VICES) is a platform for researchers at VU to share their research, work together, and develop new ideas new ideas regarding Europe and European integration.
    • Our department takes an active role in developing the research institute of the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Institute for Societal Resilience (ISR). The ISR aim is to understand, explain and offer solutions for the manifold current societal challenges, such as international conflicts, financial crises and concerns about the viability of the welfare state. Researchers of Political Science and Public Administration participate in, amongst others, the Knowledge Hub Security and Social Resilience. In its portfolio of research projects, this expertise lab collaborates with Dutch government on the national level, as well as with security regions, municipalities and the police force on the local level in their approach to security problems.
    • The China in Europe Research Network (CHERN) is a Europe-wide a platform for knowledge exchange about China’s increasing presence in Europe. It aims to bring a more interdisciplinary, integrated and over-arching conception of China’s deepening engagements. Led by its Chair Nana de Graaff (Associate Professor in International Relations at VU Amsterdam), CHERN now consists of around 120 researchers from different countries and disciplines.
  • Publications

    Consult the scientific publications of the department on the VU Research Portal. It is also possible to view publications by research theme: