The Serendipity of Fragmentation: Bringing Organization Back Into Public Governance

Stephan Leixnering, Renate E. Meyer

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


Reform approaches in the public sector led to significant changes in the sector’s design. Especially NPM-inspired reform measures which had largely aimed at organizational disaggregation created pluriform landscapes of public sector organizations (PSOs). Following a core public governance principle, it was the central government’s task to coordinate, steer and control the newly emerged decentralized organizations. This raises questions about the overall design of the public sector at present. Our paper engages with the prevalent public governance phenomenon of fragmentation from a design perspective in order to understand governments’ lacking capability to steer and control PSOs. Therefore, we lift the level of analysis from single organizational entities to the organizational landscape to explore its organizational architecture and to grasp the status of the overall entity.
By investigating the structure of the City of Vienna which employs more than 90,000 people, we shed light on the design that structures collective action within the city’s multi-organizational setting. We find that the overall design is rather serendipitous than consciously decided. In more detail, it displays characteristics of a hybrid form of organizing between networks and formal organization: lacking a single center and featuring multiplex and multifaceted relations within the politico-administrative apparatus and between government and PSOs, high fragmentation, local and robust action, but latent structures of significant formal authority and an implicitly shared idea of the overall joint objectives and collective values of ‘the city‘ as a whole.
To present our case, we use a twofold strategy of data collection. First, we explored publicly available sources for the architecture of the city’s organizational landscape that provided insights in how structures and relations were formally designed. Second, we interviewed top officials and executives who performed key tasks in the coordination and management of the city’s autonomous units.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2015
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventThe 19th Annual Conference of International Research Society for Public Management. IRSPM 2015 - University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 30 Mar 20151 Apr 2015
Conference number: 19


ConferenceThe 19th Annual Conference of International Research Society for Public Management. IRSPM 2015
LocationUniversity of Birmingham
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

Cite this