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Episodic citizenship, reputation and stereotypes

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This project, funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF): P36098-G, starts on the intersection of two trends. First, over the last three decades, managerial changes in the public sector have focused on introducing more efficient and effective public services. One of the baseline consequences is that the organization of public services has increasingly been structured through networks of separate agencies, rather than through large monolithic bureaucracies. Hence, higher levels of agency delineation and independence are considered as a solution for ensuring greater efficiency and effectiveness. The consequence of this increased agency delineation and organizational independence is that these public-serving organizations are also more identifiable as separate units, which has resulted in developing their own reputations vis-a-vis citizens, as well as other public-serving organizations, policy makers, and businesses.

Second, lifestyle in modern societies has evolved substantially to a reflective way of living, with individuals being continuously confronted by a plethora of choices. For example, as customers, we can continuously choose from various versions of similar products and services to best fit our personal needs and preferences. As employees, flexibility in career choices has increased within and across the boundaries of organizations with more international mobility, adjusted work-life balance programs, and life-long learning opportunities. And most relevant for the context of this project, as citizens, a larger range of citizen participation channels has been created. As a consequence, an overabundance of options exists to socially contribute and show beliefs, from slacktivism in social media, over project-based engagement in one-time campaigns, to direct participation in decision making, and in the co-production of public services.

The combination of these two trends, have made interactions between citizens and public-serving organizations more volatile, or ‘episodic’. This means that the modern citizen-bureaucracy relationship can be considered as a sequence of many decisions either initiated by a public-serving organization or by a citizen, and/or triggered by an external contextual change. An episodic decision event can thus be defined as a situation, out of a series of multiple events, in which a choice has to be made by a citizen towards a particular public organization, where such choice is meant to improve the fulfilment of the citizen’s needs and preferences.

Against this background, we research in this project how reputation of public organizations, as well as stereotypes about the people working in these organizations, play a role in episodic interactions between citizens and public-serving organizations. Across our concrete work packages, we take a mixed method approach, and we aim at developing insights that are relevant for both the scientific debate as well as for the formulation of practical recommendations for policy makers and public sector managers.

Project publications

  • Dinhof, K., Willems, J., & de Boer, N. A hijab-effect too? Clients’ reflections on professionalism and empathy toward hijab-wearing public servants. Review of Public Personnel Administration. DOI: 10.1177/0734371X241234264

  • Dinhof, K., & Willems, J. 2023, The odd woman out: An (in)congruity analysis of gender stereotyping in gender-dominant public sector professions. Public Administration Review. DOI: 10.1111/puar.13703
    An audio summary - PMG recording is available for this study here.

  • Dinhof, K., Sheeling, N., Bertram, I., Bouwman, R., de Boer, N., Szydlowski, G., Willems, J. & Tummers, L. 2023. The threat of appearing lazy, inefficient, and slow? Stereotype threat in the public sector, Public Management Review, DOI: 10.1080/14719037.2023.2229326
    An audio summary - PMG recording is available for this study here.


Earlier studies that led to the elaboration of the project proposal

  • Döring, M., & Willems, J. 2021. Processing Stereotypes: Professionalism confirmed or disconfirmed by sector affiliation? International Public Management Journal.  DOI: 10.1080/10967494.2021.1971125

  • Willems, J. (2020). Public servant stereotypes: It is not (at) all about being lazy, greedy, and corrupt. Public Administration, 98(4), 807-823. DOI: 10.1111/padm.12686

  • Willems, J. (2020). Citizens’ attitudes towards the public sector, public servants, and politicians – Development and validation of practical survey scales. OSF Preprints. DOI: 10.31219/osf.io/rnjua

  • Willems, J., Faulk, L., & Boenigk, S. (2021). Reputation shocks and recovery in public-serving organizations: The moderating effect of mission valence. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. 31(2), 311-327.  DOI: 10.1093/jopart/muaa041

  • Willems, J., & Ingerfurth, S. (2018). The quality perception gap between employees and patients in hospitals. Health Care Management Review. 43(2): 157-167. DOI: 10.1097/HMR.0000000000000137

  • Willems, J., Waldner, C. J., & Ronquillo, J. C. (2019). Reputation star society: Are star ratings consulted as substitute or complementary information? Decision Support Systems, 124(113080). DOI:  10.1016/j.dss.2019.113080

  • Willems, J., Waldner, C. J., & Vogel, D. (2019). Reputation spillover effects from grant-providing institutions. Nonprofit & Management Leadership, 30(1), 9–30. DOI: 10.1002/nml.21357

Open Access

Data from work packages in this project, as well as data from related projects, can be found here.