Research projects – University of Copenhagen

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Research projects

Ongoing Centre for Results, Effects, Measurement and Evaluation research projects with external funding.


Resposibility and Rules

Project responsible: Merete Watt Boolsen
Responsibility is the connecting link in both the theoretical and the empirical work of this project, whose purpose is to contribute on both dimensions to an understanding of the development that – as time goes - concentrates on more rules in the public sector; the hypothesis being: the more rules the less responsibility with the individual worker.
The project thus focuses on how increasing amount of rules lead to decreasing responsibility. How does the individual professional react?
The theoretical elements are made up of sociological and psychological theories about control and evaluation. Empirically we draw on material from three sectors: social welfare, education and hospitals.
The project is a co-operation between psychologist Rikke Schwartz (private practice); associate professor Lilli Zeuner (SDU), and associate professor Merete Watt Boolsen (KU).


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Consequences of performance indicators for the psycho-social work environment

Project responsible: Peter Dahler-Larsen
The project is financed by the Foundation for Research on the Work Environment. The project is carried out by Signe Pihl-Thingvad, Department of Political Science and Public Management, University of Southern Denmark, and Peter Dahler-Larsen, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen. The project describes language teachers, high school teachers and job consultants by means of both quantitative and qualitative data. We performance indicators relevant for these three groups of employees and how emplo-yees believe performance indicators function at the work place. We analyze whether performance indicators contribute to stress in addition to the level of stress otherwise explained by conventional stress models. The project contibutes especially to a better understanding of the organizational factors that contribute to making employees´ own expectations to themselves a stress factor. We also have interesting findings relating to variations in the degree of clarity in performance management as perceived by the employees. The project culminates in a book (in Danish) that is published by Southern Denmark University Press over the summer 2014. For articles in English, see the websites of Signe Pihl-Thingvad and Peter Dahler-Larsen.


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The Unintended Effects of Performance Indicators on Citizens' Evaluation of Public Services

Project responsible: Asmus Leth Olsen
Project periode: May 1, 2013 to May 1, 2016.
What type of information cues affect how citizens' evaluate the performance of the public sector? Increasingly, performance indicators (PI) spread across policy areas in order to provide citizens with comparable information on the output or outcome of public organizations. Ideally, PIs should replace vague beliefs about public service performance, inform citizens' choice at the ballot box, or provide an informed platform for ’voting with the feet’ . However, exiting studies of the effects of PIs have mostly focused on their effect on public organizations, managers, and public employees - and in particular their potential unintended consequences. Informed by a theoretical foundation of bounded rationality and cognitive biases, the projects develops a set of hypothesis on how PIs affect citizens in potential unintended ways. Bounded rationality points to how limits on human capacity to process information affects how citizens prioritize their attention and process information  Public sector performance is a complex concept to make inference about and most individuals' information will be fragmented and incomplete. Citizens will likely draw on many informational cues in order to make up their minds on public services. The project applies various experimental and quasi-experimental methods to approach the research question.

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The psychology of the public sector: How Citizens Experience Public Services and What it Means to Public Sector Leaders

Project responsible: Asmus Leth Olsen
Project periode: July 1, 2014 to August 31, 2015.
In psychology counterfactual thinking is defined as mental representations of alternatives to past outcomes. In social psychology counterfactual thinking induce a causal-inference effect which enforce a link between some antecedent and the outcome via a counter-factual. It has argued that counterfactual thinking is both beneficial and functional. It highlight that our imagination not only produces wishful thinking but also allows us to evaluate reality against its alternative. Counterfactual thinking stimulates learning by helping us to link antecedents and outcomes. From a public administration point of view counterfactuals are of particular interest as they help form connections between antece-dents and outcomes in relation to public sector performance. The project applies a set of survey experiments to test the construction of counterfactuals affect citizens judgment about blame and responsibility by pointing at possible antecedents for the policy outcomes we observe. Clearly, in politics administrators and politicians will have great interests in affecting the salience of antecedents in order to avoid blame of gain praise. In a series of experiments I scrutinize how counterfactual thinking affects perceptions of performance in various settings.

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Selection, Personal Motivation, and Corruption: Who works in the People Sector in the least Corrupt Country in the World?

Principal investigators: Asmus Leth Olsen, Frederik Hjorth, Nikolaj Harmon and Sebastian Barfort
Project period: June 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014.
Explaining variation in corruption across political systems is an important task. Recent research among developing countries finds that public employees are more willing to engage in corruption than private sector counterparts. The project investigates the link between corruption behavior and public employment in a Danish setting. Denmark is an interesting case as it enjoys some of the lowest levels of corruption globally. This is done via a number of innovative experimental studies which can measure indirect corruption behavior. We expect public-private differences in corruption behavior to be very different in Denmark than found elsewhere.

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Performance management in the field: the use of performance management in day-care

Project responsible: Caroline Howard Grøn
The project is a part of SPARK (Only available in Danish) and aims at uncovering how performance management is implemented in daycare in Frederiksberg municipality. The project tracks the work of the day-care teachers with performance management for two years, and utilizes theories on implementation, translation and motivation to answer the following questions:
1) How is performance management implemented in day-care?
2) How does the way performance management is used develop over time?
3) What determines how performance management is implemented?
4) What are the consequen-ces of performance management on employee motivation and competence?
5) What are the consequences of performance management on the relationship between employees and managers?
The project hence aims to contribute to our knowledge on how managerial tools are implemented and translated in practice and how management affects the managed and is affected by them. Finally, the project aims to contribute to our knowledge regarding the effect of performance management in practice. The project will end in 2015.

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Crisis Management: Administrative Policies and Public Organisation in Times of Austerity (SPARK)

Principal investigators: Hanne Foss Hansen and Caroline Howard Grøn
Project period: 2012-2016.
The project is funded by the VELUX foundation by a grant of 5.2 mil. DKK. 
The financial crisis, the rebalancing of the Danish economy and the long term prospects of a public sector under pressure have put austerity and cut backs on the political agenda. But what happens with the managerial tools in play when the context changes from a budgetary surplus to a deficit? And what does the crisis do to the structural and cultural characteristics of the Danish public administration, which have caused it to be among the best in the world?
The project analyses how performance and evaluation management are used in the context of the crisis and how, if at all, the information that these managerial tools produce are used for cutting back. Finally, the project analyses the consequences of these changes in relation to ‘the Danish model’: a high degree of local autonomy and the large trust between the actors within the Danish public sector.
The project runs from 2012 to 2016. Beyond Hanne Foss Hansen and Caroline Howard Grøn the project team consists of Gunnar Gjelstrup, Mads Kristiansen and Eva Moll Sørensen, the two last mentioned funded as post.doc’s by the project. Furthermore, two Ph.D. students, Søren Kjær Foged and Niels Borch Rasmussen, are affiliated with the project. The Ph.d.-projects are funded by the department and the University College Metropol.
For further information, please visit SPARK-website

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Effects of changes in leadership and management structures in Nordic higher education

Project responsible: Hanne Foss Hansen
The study investigates the relationship between changes in leadership and managerial structures and teaching and research performance in universities in the Nordic countries. Three main research questions are addressed: 1) What are the drivers promoting changes in leadership and management structures? 2) How have internal actors, academics as well as administrators, reacted? 3) What can be said about the effects in teaching and research performance? The study adopts a mixed-methods approach combining desk-top analysis of key documents and official statistics, interviews and a survey. The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway and led by University of Agder (Romulo Pinheiro).

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