Reference : Opening the black box : agencies as socio-technical networks
Scientific congresses and symposiums : Unpublished conference
Law, criminology & political science : Political science, public administration & international relations
Opening the black box : agencies as socio-technical networks
Fallon, Catherine mailto [Université de Liège - ULg > Département de science politique > Gouvernance et société >]
Thoreau, François mailto [Université de Liège - ULg > Département de science politique > Gouvernance et société >]
Joris, Geoffrey mailto [Université de Liège - ULg > Département de science politique > Gouvernance et société >]
EGPA Study Group on Public Sector Organizations - EGPA Conference 2010
[en] social constructivism ; agencification ; institutionalism
[en] Agencies have historically developed in Belgium, endorsing public activities not only at the federal level, but also at the level of decentralised governments (regions and communities). The current landscape in the Southern part of the county is more and more taking the form of a mosaic with very little efforts in terms of cooperation : this is particularly true when the agencies addressing similar target groups in a given sector are responding to different levels of governments with very little interaction, the coordination being organised by the users' themselves, according to their own strategies. At the same time, some agencies are taking more of a centre stage position : they not only provide services and support to their target group, they also fruitfully contribute to their status and identity building. Using a cultural approach may help study the "art of the state" in its diversity (Hood, 1998).

We propose to concentrate the analysis on the emergence of two Agencies whose mission is to support professionals working in the public sector. Based on a recent field work on the transformation of the sector of public research, we will analyse how the FNRS (an agency funding public research) succeeded to survive as an independent agency through since 1928 (Halleux & Xhayet, 2008), adapting to the transforming socio-political context: it emerged as an industry based project and transformed into a "mertonian" institution of knowledge contributing to unify the scientific community at the level of the country, while bypassing the historical divisions of the three worlds of universities in the country (Fallon, 2009). A diachronic analysis helps underline how socially constructed is such an institution, and how the configuration of networks are continuously reshaping themselves to better be embedded in a specific historic society (Laborier, 2003). The FNRS is currently struggling to define new forms of cooperation with the universities (and their researchers) which are themselves embarked in the current stream of transformations introducing techniques derived from New Public Management in research organisations (de Boer, Enders, Schimank, 2007).
In quite a different sector, another field work using the same methodological approach analysed the emergence of a very recent agency, EASI-WAL, serving the regional administration in order to encourage administrative simplicity (OCDE, 2003, 2005) and reported the shortcomings of this organisation in organising avenues for professional change with the civil servants (Thoreau, Fallon, Joris,2009).
The two field work research were organised as case study analysis, with document analysis, face to face interviews and in situ observation, using research tools derived from the sociology of science (Actor-Network Theory in Callon,1986). The paper will present the outcomes of the analysis of the dynamics of the cooperation between the agency and its target groups (FNRS & researchers; EASI-WAL & civil servants) and their outcomes in terms of innovation and organisational learning. We observe the implementation of two institutions both designed to support the emergence of some common goal within their target collectives (elitist -research; administrative simplicity): they autonomously gave shape to their internal procedures of categorisation and hierarchisation, with identification processes contributing to the definition of institutional boundaries defining a specific field while ensuring its inscription in the network through a specific legitimating strategy (Douglas, 1986). This analysis will unveil some of the mechanisms of cooperation of the different stakeholders supporting the institution, and also the struggle between stakeholders for the definition of settings of participation and administrative and political control.
Researchers ; Professionals

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