Unpacking reputational concerns in public agencies

Public Administration
Kristoffer Kolltveit
OsloMet–Oslo Metropolitan University
Kristoffer Kolltveit
OsloMet–Oslo Metropolitan University
Jostein Askim
Universitetet i Oslo
Rune Karlsen
Institute for Social Research, Oslo

Public agencies are surrounded by accountability relations to networks of multiple audiences (Carpenter 2010), and at the same time they are enrolled in a complex web of reputational concerns. Scholars have argued that accountability behavior is motivated by reputational concerns, and that accountability is an interdependent relationship between account-holders and account-givers (Busuioc and Lodge 2016). Reputation relate to the ‘presentation of self’ where organizations and individuals seek acceptance from networks of multiple audiences (Busuioc and Lodge 2016). In this paper, we argue that reputational concerns consist of several aspects (the organization, the sector, the minister’s entrourage etc.), and we investigate what explains how civil servants weigh and rank different conceptualizations of the agent(s) they represent. While formal affiliation between agency and mother ministry might be seen as a natural predictor, two alternative propositions are elaborated in the paper concerning the civil servants’ tenure and the level of media attention. While it is well known that ministers might catch the disease ‘‘departmentalitis’ (Kaufman 1997: 10) and become more obsessed with their ministry’s objective (Flinders 2002: 66) than the well-being of the cabinet as a whole, civil servants might also change their reputational concerns depending on their time in the organization: We ask: Does longer tenure cause ‘departmentalitis’, meaning that the tendency to emphasize their agency/department over other agency conceptualizations increases with longer tenure? And does strong media pressure on the organization lead civil servants to emphasize their agency/department over other agency conceptualizations? To answer these questions, we draw on unique data from a 2016 survey of Norwegian civil servants mapping their reputational concerns as well as individual data concerning their background, competences and daily work.
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