Living and Working in Moscow

Recently I gave an interview to Anna Chernyakhovskaya from the HSE News service. She asked me to share my experiences on working and living in Moscow. Here are her questions and my answers, as well as some related impressions from Moscow.

— You recently joined HSE. What was the most challenging aspect in making that decision? 

— Deciding to join the Higher School of Economics was not challenging. HSE is a renowned research university and provides me with an excellent research environment. But dealing with red tape, finding a proper apartment within my budget and bearing the effective costs of relocation was challenging.

— This is your first international job. What are the first impressions of living and working in an international environment?

— Living and working in Moscow broadens a person’s intellectual scope. This is why I made the decision to come here.

— What do you see as your goals for the 2015-2016 academic year at the university?

— My goals are to submit to top international journals in the field of Public Administration, deliver high-quality teaching and contribute to knowledge exchange within the university.

— What would you recommend to other international professionals who may be thinking of working in Russia?

— Learn and speak Russian wherever and whenever you can. The benefits so much outweigh the short-term opportunity costs (the usual statement is ‘I do not have time for that’ – but anybody does nowadays). Living in Moscow without acquiring any Russian language skills is useless and boring.

— What are three things that cause you difficulty in Moscow and three things that make life here attractive?

— Moscow offers a spectacular living environment. The range of astonishing architecture, from pre-1917 to modern, in all parts of the city is impressive and inspiring. Museums, events, learning and sports activities for kids – you name it.

Moscow is a hub for excellent researchers, including international ones. The pool of knowledge and thus the opportunities for spill over and cooperation are immense.

Moscow is a megacity of 15 million, but it is a green city. Moscow offers plenty of world-class and cost-free recreational areas, parks, and activities beyond the usual suspects of the Kremlin and Red Square.

Social competition is intense in Moscow. Competitive pressure and the resulting adaptive behaviour can be witnessed everywhere.

Life in Moscow is expensive. Only three things in Moscow are cheap – fuel, bread and public transportation – everything else is expensive. If you have money you can live a decent life; without money life is sad like anywhere else in the world.

The original interview can be found on HSE News Website at http://www.hse.ru/en/news/campus/163556331.html. [External Link].


The Hungarian Sense of Beauty: Snapshots from Budapest

Some stunning examples of modern design in Budapest can be found below the surface. To get from the National University of Public Service to the City Center you will have to take Metro line 3. You might then iInterchange to Line 4, which was completed only in 2014, to see the stations Fövám ter and Kálvin ter – which have a more than impressive architecture (pictured below).




If you climb up to Buda Castle (or use the funicular) you will get an overview of the more classical must-sees that Budapest offers its visitors (pictured below). A good chance to see visit Budapest will be the IRSPM conference in 2017.



Co-production in Public Safety and Elderly Care: Empirical evidence from the US and Denmark

Pictured above: Kalvin tér Metro station, Budapest, October 15, 2015.

Day Two of the conference on Public Service Innovation and the Delivery of Effective Public Services at the National University of Public Service in Budapest (15-16 Oct 2015).

In the Plenary on Oct 15 Stephen Osborne provided an insightful conceptual framework for the study of co-production in Service Delivery (see my last post). In the Paper Sessions throughout the conference several researchers presented concrete empirical evidence on what co-production actually is and what its antecedents are.

Metro_70iesMetro station Nagyvárad tér, where the University is located next to; October 14, 2015.

In their paper Megan LePere-Schloop, Brian N. Williams from the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, and their co-authors are studying co-production of safety and security in the residential campus environment of their university.

It’s a quantitative paper. The relevance of the topic requires no long explanation: Since 2013 there have been two dozen campus mass shootings in the US. So the implicit rational behind including students in creating safety and security on the campus, is not to cut costs but to improve effectiveness of service delivery. It is not that easy: In Athens, where UGA is located in, there is an elected sheriff, a chief of policy elected by the local council, and campus police. The resulting overlap of competencies adds a level of complexity.

Using survey data from 1130 undergraduate UGA students Megan and co-authors investigate the determinants of students’ role perceptions in co-production. Using (ordered) probit models they find that civic engagement and the perception of hometown police positively impact student’s role perception. This suggests that co-production becomes difficult when negative perceptions are transferred to the campus environment.


National University of Public Service, October 15, 2015.

Luise Langergaard from Roskilde University in Denmark and her co-author  presented their findings from an innovation project in elderly care in Copenhagen. I like this presentation because I gained helpful insights about the daily life problems and processes in Danish elderly care.

The municipality of Copenhagen initiated a project called Life Quality in Nursing Homes. The intention was to identify best-practices in nursing homes and to spread them across the sector. The project was driven by a shift from the flawed cost-efficiency focused New Public Management approach to a more trust oriented reform that give nursing homes the operational leeway that is required to improve quality of service delivery. So yet another innovation, benchlarning, you name it-project? I don’t think so.

The findings from qualitative interviews in 5 municipal nursing homes in Copenhagen suggest that performance improvement can come at almost cost-free. Resident’s perception of homeliness and self-determination heavily contributes to their level of satisfaction and thus their well-being. One female resident highlighted in an interview that she wants to be “the host in her home”, she just wants to able to invite her family to a cup of tea in the nursing home in a way as she would have done it when she lived on her own. The wish came true easily in this particular case since both the nursing staff and the facility manager supported innovative behavior.

Luise and her co-authors pointed to the changing role of relatives in elderly care in recent years. Relatives became more powerful and are more engaged in taking decisions-nowadays there are more conflicts with relatives which poses an obstacle to innovation and meaningful co-production. Or in the words on George Tsebelis: As the number of potential vetoplayers increases a change in the status quo become less likely.


Co-production and Innovation in Service Delivery

If there was a buzzword these days in Budapest – apart from ‘innovation’ – it was co-production. Co-production is everywhere – it is day one of the IRSPM conference on Public Service Innovation and the Delivery of Effective Services, which took part 15-16 October at the National University of Public Service (pictured, the afternoon before the conference actually started).


But innovation first: In the Introductory Plenary Session Stephen Osborne from the University of Edinburgh, and co-chair of the event started from a very broad definition that innovation is the creation of knowledge. An important feature in this knowledge-creation process is creativity, that is, divergent thinking and the ability to create multiple solutions to a similar problem.

Innovation is a buzzword, as is co-production. The moniker innovation is commonly used as a proxy for “change for the good”. Stephen’s – somewhat rhetoric, somewhat serious question – was ‘But is it really better to be innovative?’ He pointed out that previous research had shown that innovation involves risks – (and I add) which comes as no surprise since riskless choice is an outdated concept from the 1960ies – and about 3 out of 4 so-called innovations fail. So innovation, in the very broad terms of Stephen, is seemingly not a cost-efficient way to reform and change public service delivery.

Turning to the issue of co-production Stephen argued that a service perspective is needed to understand public service delivery and to design and change it properly. Because public service delivery is not just production of goods, and e.g. tax management, parks, and health care are not just manufactured goods innovation and co-production must not just be about reducing costs in times of austerity.

At this point I have to add Stephens’s definition of the term “Co-production”: co-production is “voluntary or involuntary involvement of a service user in any of the design, management, delivery and/or evaluation of public services in order to add value”. From that follows that co-production is part of the nature of public service delivery, because production and consumption occur at the same time. Taking on Stephen’s perspective co-production is just everywhere. He introduced 4 Quadrants of co-production: pure co-production, co-design, and co-construction (I missed the fourth one, but I can be found in two recent articles, one in the 2013 volume of the American Public Administration Review, and another one in 2015 in the British Journal of Public Management).

Budapest_Kalvin_ter_designIs this alreay co-production? Customers at Kalvin tér metro station in Budapest, Oct 15.

Comments from the audience pointed on two major issues: Stephen delivered a series of good and also entertaining arguments why co-production is a relevant issue. But are there any examples of successful co-production? Stephen gave a negative example of co-production effects from mental health care in Scotland. Children had a say there in the co-design of new residential homes. And what they wanted was to have the door handle at the bottom of the door – so they could leave themselves. But this is not what social workers really want.

The second issue is a lack of quantitative measures to co-production intensity and its potential impacts on organizational performance. Stephen argued that qualitative research is the only approach because service delivery and thus co-production is about processes. But in fact there is work going on to address this issue: The next day Marco Meneguzzo from London Open University presented a set of potential indicators to capture the extent of co-production activities.

And there is (even more) good news. Per Skalen from Karlstad University gave an example of successful co-production from Swedish health care. The inclusion of patients in designing the treatment increases clinical outcomes. So co-production to the innovation forefront!