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The ESRC Public Services Programme: Quality, Performance & Delivery

Public services are central to the politics of modern democracies. Everyone wants good public services and every government offers recipes for reform. But what counts as good is contested, and so are the recipes. The aim of the Public Services Programme is to foster an interdisciplinary research community with a multi-faceted approach to addressing key public service provision issues. Since our launch in January 2005, we have brought together nearly 100 researchers from across the social sciences, and all four countries of the United Kingdom, to address the problems of public service performance.

The Programme extends to a wide range of public service domains: we have commissioned 45 research projects and six fellowships focusing on three sets of inter-linked themes:

Each project and fellowship has its own page on this website which can be found in the Research Projects section. Our research concentrates on quality analytical studies that demonstrate the counterintuitive properties of complex systems, the unintended effects of policy designs and the relationships between beliefs and perceptions about common measures or practices. The Programme combines a variety of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, some of which are at the forefront of innovation in the social sciences.

The Programme is, however, more than just a network of UK based research projects. We have an international outlook and have forged strong links with several institutions outside the UK, including the International Public Management Network, whose annual workshop we brought to England for the first time in the summer of 2007 (see Past Events), the Netherlands School of Government, Rotterdam and Leuven University, Belgium. Our research findings have lessons for academics and policy-makers outside as well as inside the UK and, accordingly, have been presented at events around the world.

We sponsor, participate in and organise a number of events each year, ranging from small workshops and debates to large conferences. You can find details of our previous activities in the Past Events section and our upcoming events can be found on our Noticeboard. Publications that have arisen from our events and networking can be found in the Library.

The Public Services Programme may be of interest if you are concerned with the delivery, performance and quality of public services, whether as a service-user, researcher, policy-maker, or if you are working at the sharp-end in schools, councils or hospitals. The Programme has now ended, but this website will remain as a resource of research findings and information.

Programme Findings

Please visit the Programme Findings section for an overview of our findings to date, or visit the Library or the individual Project Pages.

Programme History

The Programme was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council for a period of five years from November 2004 through October 2009. Our research projects were commissioned in three calls. The first call commissioned sixteen projects; fourteen small grant projects in December 2004 and two large grant projects in May 2005. The second call took place in Spring 2007, awarding thirteen grants that extended one first call project and created a further twelve new projects. Extra funding was secured from the General Medical Council and the Scottish Executive allowing us to significantly expand our third call, in January 2007, to incorporate the commissioning of six new projects, all on the theme of medical regulation and performance, and six fellowships.

Programme Team

Christopher Hood (Programme Director)

Christopher Hood PortraitChristopher Hood is the Gladstone Professor of Government and Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He specializes in the study of executive government, regulation and public-sector reform. Before coming to Oxford in 2001 he held chairs at the London School of Economics (he was head of the Government Department there from 1995 to 1998) and the University of Sydney, NSW, and he has also worked at the universities of Glasgow, York, Bielefeld, the National University of Singapore and the City University of Hong Kong. His publications include The Limits of Administration (1976), The Tools of Government (1983) and The Art of the State (1998 and 2000) for which he was awarded the Political Studies Associations W.J.M. Mackenzie Book Prize in 2000.


Deborah Wilson (Deputy Director)

Deborah Wilson
Deborah Wilson combines her post as Deputy Director with her role as Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (Bristol) where her current research  on incentives, choice and performance management in the public sector, with particular emphasis on education  fits neatly within the themes of the Programme.



Ruth Dixon (Project Assistant to Programme Director)

Ruth Dixon

Ruth Dixon joined the Programme in November 2006 from a background in Biochemistry. After studying Chemistry at Cambridge and Warwick, and working in the Biochemistry Department at Oxford, in 1992 she became a senior (non-clinical) scientist at the MRC Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital and the Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford, investigating aspects of human disease. She also spent a year at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen. During her recent career break, Ruth obtained a diploma in statistical methods from the Open University.


Gail Savage (Programme Administrator)


Gail joined the Programme in July 2009 from a background in education. Following a degree and PhD in Chemistry at Cardiff and many years as a chemistry lecturer, she took a sabbatical, during which she tried her hand at cheese-making, property renovation and voluntary work for the National Trust. She then returned to the workplace as professional develoment and communications officer for the Fire and Rescue Service.