Where Does Red-tape Come From?

Lene Holm Pedersen, Niels Ejersbo, Nanna Høygaard Lindeberg, Emil Thranholm

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


Recent research shows, that red-tape and motivation are associated in ways which are similar to the motivational crowding mechanism. Rules which are perceived as unnecessary and burdensome tend to reduce intrinsic motivation (Pedersen et al., 2013). Hence, the growth of red-tape is highly relevant to the discussion on the dynamics of motivation in the public sector.
The expansion of red-tape has been critiqued for years, but where do it come? Neither central nor local governments see themselves as being responsible for the growth of red-tape, which seem to happen according to a law of mushrooming. We follow Bozeman’s (1993) canonical definition of red tape as ‘[r]ules, regulations, and procedures that remain in force and entail a compliance burden for the organization, but make no contribution to achieving the rules’ functional objectives’. Documentation requirements are a particular type of command-and control regulation, where the individual employee must provide information about how they spend their time, and how the relevant services are provided (Andersen et al., 2015: 485). We investigate where these requirements emerge and when they come to be seen as red-tape across different hierarchical levels. Thereby, the paper attempts to contribute to the newly restated research agenda on red-tape, which call for at focus on the origins, tracking and evolution of red-tape (Bozemann and Feeney, 2011:133). Studies focusing on specific rules and sets of rules are seen as having a potential for advancing research and theory. One central element in this is to assess stakeholder views of the rules and ways in which stakeholders alter or navigate red tape (Bozemann and Feeney, 2011:133). Thus, the central research questions in this paper are where do the growth and use of documentation requirements take place and under what conditions are documentation requirements perceived as being red-tape?
The data consists of document analysis as well as a three of interlinked surveys each carried out at different hierarchical levels of the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services. 1) a survey to the directors of pre-school services at the local government level (n=98), 2) a survey of managers of day-care institutions in 10 municipalities (n=350) and 3) a survey of employees in day-care services in 10 municipalities (n=1000). In the document analysis the documentation requirement issued by central government are mapped. At the local government level directors are asked in the survey to name the documentation requirements which have been added at the local level and evaluated the use of the requirements. At the level of the manager and employees the purpose, growth and use are evaluated. By comparing the different levels the analysis digs into how different stakeholders perceive the growth and use of documentation requirements.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventThe 21st Annual Conference of International Research Society for Public Management. IRSPM 2017 - Corvinus University, Budapest, Hungary
Duration: 19 Apr 201721 Apr 2017
Conference number: 21


ConferenceThe 21st Annual Conference of International Research Society for Public Management. IRSPM 2017
LocationCorvinus University
Internet address

Cite this