The NSOB Think Tank consists of our core staff and a network of ‘in-orbit’ domestic and international collaborators. Our mission is to encourage ‘reflection in action’: helping public sector professionals and other stakeholders to reframe the way they think about politics, governance and public administration. We do so by producing essays, reports, encounters and experiences designed to provoke strategic thought, self-examination, and redesign of current practices and relationships. We do not believe in simplistic solutions. Instead we identify dilemmas, paradoxes, and fundamental questions. We offer new and sharp lenses to make sense of the often complex and ambiguous challenges that public managers face and the dynamics of the institutions they inhabit. We interpret and assess their leadership practices, and provide them with food for thought about their own past, current and possible practices. As an honest broker we use our power to invite to facilitate conversations that otherwise would not take place.
The Think Tank adheres to a number of operating principles:
- Non partisanship and independence: we are not connected to any political grouping and have no ideological axes to grind on any particular public issue
- Rigour and relevance: drawing on the intellectual capital within the organisation and its wide network, we apply cutting-edge academic brainpower to produce usable knowledge on politics, governance and public management
- Different and dangerous: in undertaking projects we follow our instincts about what might be – or ought to be – important public policy issues; and we are particularly interested in tackling questions that others overlook, ignore or find difficult to handle.
- Initiative and responsiveness: a considerable part of our projects are self-initiated and self-financed through the NSOB foundation; but we also work for clients who are willing and able to engage constructively with us. We do not do ‘horses for courses’ studies.
- Context and perspective: our core strength lies not in technical expertise or deep knowledge of particular policy domains, but in the ability to put current issues into a wider conceptual, strategic, temporal, and comparative perspective.
- Publicness and discretion: most of our publications are freely available and aim to contribute to the public and academic debate; but part of our work is also to offer confidential advice and facilitate Chatham House rules sessions designed to offer the privacy and safety that can be a prerequisite for some forms of necessary reflection and learning.
Think tank activities cover a wide range of topics and issue areas. Among others, these include:
Strategy-making in public organisations
How and to what extent do departments and agencies actively interrogate their pasts and their futures? How do they craft and (re)negotiate their missions, structures and competencies in the face of ambiguity and change in their operational and strategic environments?
The interface between politics and administration
How do public managers and political office-holders deal with their mutual dependency, given their distinct roles and responsibilities in the process of government? What mechanisms do they use to navigate the no-man’s land between the world of partisanship, passion, urgency and politicking and that of neutrality, reason, endurance and professionalism? How do they deal with perennial and newly-emerging dilemmas and tensions in the advisory and accountability relationships they maintain with one another? What institutional forms of managing the P-A interface exist in different jurisdictions and what are the systemic and cultural conditions under which they thrive?
Innovation challenges and processes
Traditionally tasked with delivering order, stability and predictability, how well are governments equipped to effectively identify, encourage, consolidate, employ or exploit the innovations that have increasingly become key to maintaining the competitiveness of nations and the quality of government itself? We examine and evaluate public policy and decision making processes concerning technological breakthroughs, cultural shifts, new philosophies of governance and partnership, megaprojects and institutional reform proposals.
Regulation, oversight and compliance
Intensely political at its core, the state has awesome powers. In the modern governance context many of these are delegated to ‘arms-length’ regulatory agencies. Regulators can impose fines, seize property, limit business practices and suspend professional licenses. Their distinguishing feature is their explicit use of state authority and coercion. To design and manage robust, responsive and smart regulation practices is not a primarily technical task. More often than not it is an adaptive challenge, carrying strategic and managerial challenges and dilemmas. The same goes for inducing organizations – public and private alike – to comply with regulatory demands put to them by regulatory agencies in socially responsible yet cost-effective ways. Our studies of regulation and compliance examine how public organizations can meet the strategic demands both impose
Management of ‘wicked problems’
How do government deal with the ‘impossible jobs’ that are an inevitable by-product of the social-engineering ambitions of the activist state? How do street-level bureaucrats, their managers and their political superiors cope with the complexities and contradictions involved in managing difficult clienteles, public emotions, the private lives of citizens, contentious redistributive issues, cultural conundrums, intergenerational tensions, and transnational challenges?