DEALING WITH UNWRITTEN RULES

HOW CIVIL SERVANTS THEMSELVES CAN CREATE ROOM FOR OPENNESS IN POLICY DEVELOPMENT

Photo on the PhD-book cover (and this PhD thesis website): ‘ Het Plein’ (The Hague)
Made by René Mensen, Emmen, used with permission.

Over deze site:
The starting point of this PhD research is curiosity about the functioning of government in relation to the outside world. Curiosity because I had learned to think in terms of ‘bottom-up’ and ‘outside-in’, while working in a vertical organization. Growing up in an en trepreneurial family and working in a medium-sized company, I assumed that ‘you cannot make an effective product without knowing the market’. For me, market exploration was more than science and statistics. It also included with so-called ‘(un)usual suspects’ and experiencing things in practice. Staying connected to where and what is ‘really’ happening. And now, I worked at a government organization where the own requirements took center stage. That caused friction, even in the eyes of the people inside the Ministry.

That revealed a paradox. When a government is faced with complex issues involving a variety of actors, knowledge is not unambiguous (so-called ‘wicked problems’) and open policy development is desirable, it frequently does not fit the established departmental ‘policy production processes’.
I kept being fascinated by the question ‘How does it work exactly?’ What does that mean for open processes and how should civil servants deal with the paradox between open policy development and ‘that’s how it is done here’? With regard to ‘that’s how it is done here’, this research focuses on a specific category of so-called unwritten rules, namely hard unwritten rules, which are the heart of the organizational culture. They are hard to change, either by employees or by the leadership.

Open Policy Development is, for the sake of this research project, renamed as ‘Open MultiStakeholder Policy development’ (OMSPD). Indicating that usual suspects AND unusual suspect have to be part of a policy development process, when it is defined as open.

This thesis offers a contribution to scientific theory formation, research methods and administrative practice.

Despite many government studies and experiments, OMSPD has as yet not been generally accepted. This study shows how hard unwritten rules restrict openness. Unlike earlier studies, this study looks above all to what this means for policy-makers in departments. The study shows what coping strategies are for civil servants who want to apply OMSPD, recognizing and using the hard unwritten rules. It is possible to connect the vertical orientation of the rules to the horizontal characteristics of OMSPD. The study offers civil servant insight into the possible combinations, while offering their managers in the vertical line insight into the way they can manage openness without coming into conflict with the rules.

The ‘added bonus’ of this study is a new policy typology of openness based on the level of inclusion and the nature of the involvement of the actors. The typology offers insight into the range of closed and open policy trajectories.

Dealing With Unwritten Rules is part of: http://www.managementissues.com