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Home » Past Events » Paradoxes of Modernisation – Public Services Workshop Series, Hilary Term, 2008

ESRC Public Services Programme, Oxford Internet Institute and Public Policy Unit
Public Service Workshop Series, Hilary Term 2008

Paradoxes of Modernisation: Puzzles and Unintended Consequences of Public Policy Reforms

12.30-1.45 Tuesdays weeks 2 to 8 , Seminar Room, Oxford Internet Institute

Conveners: Christopher Hood (All Souls, Department of Politics and IR) and Helen Margetts (Mansfield, Oxford Internet Institute)

Ten years ago, James Scott in his well-known Seeing Like a State argued that what he called ‘high-modernist’ exercises in state-led social engineering projects (such as scientific forestry or ‘villagisation’ in Africa) repeatedly tended to lead to surprise and disappointment.  The aim of this lunchtime workshop series was to revisit that theme and explore the unintended and unanticipated effects associated with state-led ‘modernization’ in various forms.  

The workshop involves speakers and participants from a range of disciplines that includes anthropology, history, economics and political science from engineering to anthropology. It looked at a range of cases and concluded with an attempt to generalize and categorize. The workshop drew on work done by scholars studying how technology initiatives develop (often seeming to take on a life of their own) as well as work done on public sector ‘modernization’ initiatives that put heavy emphasis on the development of performance metrics and associated incentive systems. In that sense it draws on research work in the spheres of both the Internet Institute and the ESRC ‘Public Services’ research programme of which Christopher Hood is Director.

The workshop, sponsored by the ESRC Public Services Programme, the Oxford Internet Institute and the DPIR Public Policy Unit is part of a series that has been running for several years, and comprises a small informal group of faculty and graduate students interested in the analysis of public services and executive government.


22 January: Tim Leunig (LSE): ‘The Glamour of Speed: Why Politicians Spend Money Upgrading Little Used Long Distance Train Lines Instead of Heavily-Used Commuter Lines.’

29 January: Devi Sridhar (All Souls): ‘How did “Rational” Nutrition Policy Develop in the World Bank and What Happened to it When it was Applied on the Ground in India?’

5 February: Justin Keen (Leeds): ‘The Complexity of Policy-Making: Why Are Massive IT Programmes Seen as a Cure for the NHS and What are Their Outcomes?’

12 February: Yorick Wilks (Oxford/Sheffield): ‘What was Unanticipated or Unintended in the Development of the Internet?’ and Jeanette Hoffman (LSE): ‘Cyber-crime as an Unintended Consequence’

19 February: David Marsden (LSE): ‘Why Do We Keep Adopting Pay-for-Performance Systems in the Face of Evidence that they Fail to Motivate?’

26 February: Peter John (Manchester): ‘Why do High Performing Local Authorities Strive to Improve their Performance When the General Public only Notices the Poor Performers?  Voter Reaction to Incumbents’ Performance in English Local Governments, 1999-2007?

4 March: Perri 6 (Nottingham Trent): ‘When Forethought and Outturn Part: A Conceptual Framework for Understanding Unintended, Unanticipated and/or Unwelcome Consequences of Public Policy’. This paper is available on request