T05P05 - Into the Light: Political Advisers in Contemporary and Comparative Perspective

Topic : Policy Formulation, Administration and Policymakers

Chair : Richard Shaw - R.H.Shaw@massey.ac.nz

General Objectives, Research Questions and Scientific Relevance

Call for papers

Session 1

Friday, June 30th 10:30 to 12:30 (Manasseh Meyer MM 3 - 4)


The collaboration of civil servants with political advisers. What are the characteristics of in-house advice suppliers in Belgium?

David Aubin - david.aubin@uclouvain.be - Université catholique de Louvain - Belgium

MARLEEN BRANS - marleen.brans@soc.kuleuven.be - KU Leuven Public Governance Institute - Belgium

Athanassios Gouglas - athanassios.gouglas@kuleuven.be - KU Leuven Public Governance Institute - Belgium

Lev Lhommeau - lev.lhommeau@uclouvain.be - Université catholique de Louvain - Belgium

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The second wave of studies on political advisers defends a larger view of policy advisory systems where political advisers rely on a multitude of knowledge and advice providers. Policy advisory systems are understood as “the interlocking set of actors and organizations, with a unique configuration in each sector and jurisdiction, that provides recommendations for action to policy-makers (Craft and Wilder 2015). Even if governance reforms enlarged the advisory system to a multitude of participants, mainly external (e.g. consultants, scientists, NGOs, or think tanks), public officials working within government remain major providers of political advice. A significant part of their policy work consists in providing policy notes and more or less processed information to the ministerial cabinet members. This communications aims at identifying the characteristics of the public officials who are the most intensively involved in advice provision to political advisers. It relies on a survey conducted in Belgium in both the federal and regional government on in-house policy work by graduated public officials (N=3,481). This survey is in many points similar with previous enquiries conducted in e.g. Canada and the Czech Republic (Howlett et al. 2014; Vesely 2016; Nekola and Kohoutek 2016). An index of advice giving to political advisers is first built to assess the contribution of individual respondents to the request and needs of ministerial cabinet members on the basis of the kind of policy tasks conducted and the contribution to policy documents. Then a linear multiple regression is used to identify the characteristics of the civil servants who are the most involved in supply of advice to political advisers. Among these characteristics, the assessment will show the profile of these civil servants, their initial and professional training, their analytical skills, the kind of information they use, the persons they consult, and the policy analytical capacity of their unit. Empirically, this communication deepens the analysis of a Napoleonic system of politico-administrative relations, and theoretically it relates the literature on political advice with policy work and policy analytical capacity.



Craft, J., and M. Wilder (2015). “Catching a second wave: Context and compatibility in advisory system dynamics”. Policy Studies Journal, in preview.

Howlett, M., S. L. Tan, A. Migone, A. Wellstead and B. Evans (2014). “The distribution of analytical techniques in policy advisory systems: Policy formulation and the tools of policy appraisal”. Public Policy and Administration 29: 271-291.

Vesely, A. (2016). “Policy advice as policy work: A conceptual framework for multi-level analysis”. Policy Sciences, online first.

Nekola, M., and J. Kohoutek (2016). “Policy work at the sub-national level: Analytical styles of Canadian and Czech directors and managers”. Canadian Public Administration 59: 289-309.


Who's serving whom? Public service bargains between ministers, minders and mandarins

Richard Shaw - R.H.Shaw@massey.ac.nz - Massey University - New Zealand

Chris Eichbaum - chris.eichbaum@vuw.ac.nz - Victoria University of Wellington, NZ - New Zealand

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Talk of a ‘second wave’ of scholarly work on political advisers has recently emerged, presaging a research agenda characterised by empirical studies from the span of administrative traditions, a deeper theoretical engagement with both the core issues in the field (politicisation, advisers’ policy work and roles, etc.) and with proximate literatures, and by deeper and wider comparative research.


In that context, we have set ourselves two objectives in this paper. First, drawing on Hood and Lodge’s seminal work on Public Service Bargains (PSB) we seek a richer theoretical elaboration of the relationships that inhere between ministers, political advisers and civil servants. Second, we test the utility of this model using empirical materials from the New Zealand context, and on that basis offer some preliminary comments regarding the capacity of the PSB heuristic to fully illuminate interactions between the three parties to the contemporary core executive.


Experienced counsellors or adolescent claqueurs? Exploring the professional backgrounds of Australian ministerial staff

Maria Maley - maria.maley@anu.edu.au - Australian National University - Australia

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Australian federal ministers have large, politicised and powerful ministerial offices. Yet the advisers who work in these offices are also largely anonymous; their names have not been published in public documents since 2002. The secrecy about their identities breeds a curiosity and a concern about what skills and experiences they bring to the job. Drawing on a dataset of ministerial staff working for the conservative Coalition government headed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014, the paper explores the professional backgrounds and career paths of a cohort of contemporary Australian political staff. It considers whether it is true that many politicians, as Allan Behm recently lamented,  ‘surround themselves with adolescent claqueurs rather than experienced counsellors’. (A claqueur is a professional applauder).

Session 2

Friday, June 30th 13:45 to 15:45 (Manasseh Meyer MM 3 - 4)


The cabinetisation of the minister’s court in Australia and Canada. What is it and why is it happening?

Athanassios Gouglas - athanassios.gouglas@kuleuven.be - KU Leuven Public Governance Institute - Belgium

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By Athanassios Gouglas and Marleen Brans


It has been recently argued that ‘we may be observing a process of cabinetisation in non-ministerial cabinet systems, which started in the 1980s and continues till today’ (Gouglas, Brans, Jaspers 2015, p.1). Gouglas and Brans (2016) defined ‘cabinetisation’ as ‘a process by which that part of the ‘internal to government’ policy advisory system (as defined by Halligan 1995), which comprises ministerial offices, evolves towards or fully develops into a ministerial cabinet system’. The above claim requires further investigation. The concept of cabinetisation remains theoretically undeveloped and empirically untested. Moreover, there is no theory as to why such a phenomenon is happening or not? In view of this, the present paper has a threefold aim. First, to theoretically develop the concept of cabinetisation. Second, to provide empirical evidence of systems where the phenomenon is actually happening. Third, to speculate on explanations as to why this is the case? The present research is designed as a small N internationally comparative study, employing a most similar system, different output design (MSMDO). Our cases are three countries in the Westminster tradition with different cabinetisation records: Australia, Canada, and the UK.  We show that for cabinetisation to evolve three conditions need to be at play. First, a critical juncture in the form of a critical or watershed election that leads to a new government majority. Second, a need for political control over the public administration. Third, a need for more political responsiveness and policy capacity on behalf of the administration. While the third is a necessary condition, the first and second are sufficient ones for cabinetization to evolve.

Cohabiting the executive summit: Ministerial advisers and Top civil servants in The Netherlands

Caspar VAN DEN BERG - c.f.van.den.berg@fgga.leidenuniv.nl - Leiden University - Netherlands

This paper focusses on the working relationship between ministerial advisers and top civil servants in The Netherlands. Drawing on the recent theoretical and empirical results of scholarship in the field of ministerial advisers (Eichbaum and Shaw, Connaughton, Gouglas, Maley, Hustedt, Salomonsen, Craft), the paper contributes to the so-called second wave of research into the role of ministerial advisers, more specifically into the question how they formally and informally relate to the most senior members of the permanent civil service staff. Empirically, the study is based on document analysis and recently gathered primary survey data among Dutch ministerial advisers who served between 1994 and 2016. Survey questions that will be analyzed in this paper in particular are how much ministerial advisers work(ed) together with top civil service as a team; how much trust there is/was between ministerial advisers and top civil servants; how cooperative or antagonistic their working relationship is/was; how distinct ministerial advisers’ contribution in the policy process is/ was from that of the permanent top civil servants; and how ministerial advisers perceive(d) their hierarchical position vis-à-vis top civil servants. Variation in this working relationship will be explored and if possible explained by variation across policy sector, political party, time, experience on the job, and prior professional background. Thus, the paper sheds new light on the question of political-administrative cohabitation of the summit of the executive in a parliamentary system.  


Developing an Accountability Framework: Political Advisers in the Westminster System of Governance

Yee-Fui Ng - Yee-Fui.ng@rmit.edu.au - RMIT University - Australia

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This paper adopts a comparative approach in analysing the legal and political regulation of political advisers in the Westminster jurisdictions of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.


In particular, the following aspects are considered for each country:


The situations in each jurisdiction are compared and contrasted to discern common themes or systemic issues that emerge. 


This paper will develop an accountability framework for regulating political advisers. It is argued that the traditional Westminster vertical accountability mechanism of ministerial responsibility to Parliament has become less effective in contemporary times. The multi-faceted nature of a Minister’s role, combined with a 24 hour news cycle, mean that horizontal accountability mechanisms, such as the Ombudsman, Auditor-General and the media, have become increasingly important.


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