Monthly Public Administration Discussion Meeting

I am co-organizing and co-chairing the monthly PA discussion meeting at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow together with Jesse Campbell. We established this series in autumn 2015; we just had our 7th meeting (see post „From Skillset to Mindeset“). We started as a closed shop of some 10-20 people from the School, and now announcing events campus-wide. The meetings are open to researchers and students from across all disciplines. Prior registration is not required; however, if you do are not a member of HSE please contact me before an upcoming event. I will announce upcoming events here and at this blog’s subpage „Public Administration Discussion Meeting“.

(pictured above: view from Lubyanskaya Square onto with one of the seven sisters skyscrapers)

Recent meetings

7th Public Administration Discussion Meeting: “From Skillset to Mindset: A New Paradigm for Leader Development of the Senior Civil Service”. Presenter: Robert Kramer, National University of Public Service in Budapest. 2016, April 18.

6th Public Administration Discussion Meeting: “Contemporary Russian otkhodnichestvo”. Presenter: Natalia Zhidkevich & Artemy Pozanenko, Higher School of Economics. 2016, March 14.

5th Public Administration Discussion Meeting (Three presentations; 2015, February 16):

  • Tobin Im, Seoul National University “Defining New Stages of National Development: A Time Perspective Approach”
  • Alexey Barabashev, Higher School of Economics: “Crisis of State Governance and Theoretical Tools for its Overcoming”
  • Alexander Kalgin, Higher School of Economics: “Performance management, satisfaction, and turnover: The role of organizational alignment”

4th Public Administration Discussion Meeting. “Public or private? Which values determine the choice of profession of MPA students?” Speaker: Tamara G. Nezhina, Higher School of Economics. 2015, December 14

3rd Public Administration Discussion Meeting: “How to determine optimal staff size in the local administrations”. Speaker: Ilya Akishin, Higher School of Economics. 2015, November 23

2nd Public Administration Discussion Meeting: “The Application of Quantitative Methods for Study of Civil Service Reform”. Speaker: Georgy Borshevskiy, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). 2015, October 19

1st Public Administration Discussion Meeting: “Theory of an Effective State, and governmental Bodies Evaluation” Speaker: Alexey Barabashev, Higher School of Economics. 2015, September 21




No matter what’s your profession – let’s bike to work

“No matter what’s your profession- let’s bike to work” reads a bicycle drive approved by Moscow City Government I recognized in the metro yesterday.

The poster indicates that there will be a kind of action day on 20th of May. The City Government of Moscow launched similar campaigns to boost the share bicycling in public transportation in recent years. Bicycle-sharing stations are visible all over the city. Green colored bicycle lanes of some hundred miles length have been created in major routes throughout the capital. From time to time I am even witnessing some brave bicyclists on the bus lane of Leninskiy prospekt.

I appreciate these policy-actions.

To the reader it might be noteworthy that the bicycle-use drive is supported / co-organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a partisan endowment from the German Social Democratic party.

How to cite: Tim Jaekel (2016): „It doesn’t matter who you are working with – you may bike to work“. Publicsector-research.net. Retrieved YYYY-MM-DD. (add current date here, e.g. 2016-04-23)


From Skillset to Mindset

The best thing in bureaucracy is hierarchy: Getting things done that require the physical and intellectual capacities of more than one individual is best archieved by top down orders, according to Max Weber. We know now that clear goal orientation and managerial autonomy (e.g., Moynihan 2008) as well as some ambitious policy entrepreneurs hired from outside (Teodoro 2011) should be added to the list of ingredients of a successful agency.

The worst thing in public administration is unconscious incompetence, according to Robert Kramer: People are unable to admit that they do not know a solution to a wicked problem.

Robert last Monday (18th of April) presented and discussed his work in this month’s Public Administration Discussion Meeting  at the Higher School of Economics (HSE), a research seminar series that I organize and co-chair together with Jesse Campbell. Robert currently holds the International Chair of Public Leadership at the National University of Public Service in Budapest; prior to that he taught at the American University, and served the US federal government for some 20 years, a big chunk of that time in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So he knows how government agencies look like from the inside.

In current times of (even more) uncertainty and goal ambiguity the unability to admit that ‚I do not know‘ is a major source for organizational underperformance. Robert’s convincing example was the bumpy implementation the website underlying the Obamacare program, where people can now sign up for a health insurance.

Unfortuneatly being unable to admit that I do not know results from bureaucratic hierarchy. Administrative professionals have little incentives to trying new ways of doing things, that is, innovative and error-correcting behavior. Robert argues that they rather prefer silo-solutions, and stick to a common stay-in-your-lane mentality.

In his talk and in an underlying paper „From Skillset to Mindset: A New Paradigm for Leader Development of the Senior Civil Service“ that is currently under review at PMR, Robert argues that administrative decision maker „will have to develop new mental capabilities“ to adress to behavioral phenomenon. „(N)ew ways of thinking are necessary“; which requires developing a mindset that allows to cope with adaptive challenges, rather than further enhancing the existing skillset. Robert advocates for an instrument called transformative action learning: the art of learning how to learn, unlearn and relearn.

To me the value added was his focus on individual level behavior and the psychological public administration decision making. Robert creates a link between neuro-cognitive science and theory, developmental psychology on the one hand and individual level learning and organizational management on the other hand. I consider this to be an relevant contribution towards Behavioral Public Administration.

(pictured above: XVII April conference at Higher School of Economics, Moscow.)


How to cite: Tim Jaekel. 2016. „From Skillset to Mindeset“. Publicsector-research.net. Retrieved YYYY-MM-DD (add current date, e.g., 2016-04-25)



Endogenous Shocks in Social Networks: Effects of Students‘ Exam Retakes on their Friends‘ Future Performance

Maria Marchenko from the University of Manheim, Germany and the Higher School of Economics, Moscow yesterday presented a model to estimate the effect of an endogenous shock on future network performance. The presentation was held at HSE’s Center for Institutional Studies Research Seminar. The related paper „Endogenous Shocks in Social Networks: Effects of Students‘ Exam Retakes on their Friends‘ Future Performance“ should be available at https://sites.google.com/site/mariavmarchenko/jmp.pdf.

The network consists of 1st and 2nd year undergrad students at the Nizhniy Novgorod branch of HSE. Students create links and ties to peers, while living in the same dorm and taking the same courses.

The endogenous shock is a retake of one of the network members, that is, that one of the students in such a network fails in an exam. HSE is highly selective, after three retakes a student will expulsed by default.

Now, the question is, to what extent, if at all, the retake of one of my friends affects my future performance, and the future performance of all my other friends?

Two major issues arise in such a setting. 1. The shock is highly endogenous. Proper instruments, IV, are required. Maria uses the individual characteristics of the friend of my friend as instruments.

  1. Estimation strategy. Maria uses a 2SLS approach. Probably oversimplifying her sophisticated model in a first step the dependent variable is the likelihood that I will fail in an exam, i.e. that I experience a retake. The residuals from this estimation are then taken for the second step. The depend variable is now the difference in my performance, in terms of average grading scores, between now (in the year the shock happens) and the next year. On the right hand side of the equation are an array of individual level characteristics, including tuition free place or not, higher education of parents, and high school exam and university entry scores; network characteristics, that is, and a term for correlated effects.

The effect of the shock on the network performance varies depending on the set of controls in the equation. But there is a negative effect; at maximum a retake of my friends will increase my future performance by .4 standard deviation, SD.

I very much like the basis idea of Maria’s work and the empirical approach. The crucial issue in studying peer effects is whether such an effect is physically, and logistically feasible, as Gigi Foster from UNSW’s Business School has highlighted in a presentation in the same seminar series roughly one year ago. In the case of students it is absolutely reasonable that there are potential spillover effects.

What I would like to see in a paper are some plots that demonstrate the predicted levels of the dependent variable “(change) in future performance” over the possible range of network characteristics, given an endogenous shock of retake; all other variables from the equation held at their mean value. This would also help to understand how robust the findings are.


Seen on the street


Next to the arbitration court I recognized a small group of protesters today in front of a Delta Credit bank office. Mostly women, one of them with her pre-school aged son, they carried banners reading “societe general – bank slaveholder No. 1” and Delta Credit – against Russian people”, and “SOS”, among others  (pictured). Delta Credit is part of Societe General, a French banking company.


Seemingly the protesters were foreign currency mortgage holders demanding the bank to restructure their debts since the strong devaluation of the Russian Ruble against Dollar and Euro has put them under extreme pressure to repay their liabilities. Similar protests were staged already earlier this year.



Otkhodnichestvo, or Why Russian Economy is Rather Resilient

From Friday morning to Sunday afternoon Alexander sells delicious home-made honey and edible oil on an outdoor farmers market in Moscow. (As for my taste it is the best honey in Moscow and other experts confirm this judgement). Every Sunday afternoon, when market closes, Alexander drives back to his hometown Volgograd, some 600km south of Moscow — just to return to Moscow the next Wednesday together with his wife, his car packed with new luscious organic products from his beehives. In Moscow Alexander and his wife Lena sublease a single-room in an apartment nearby the market place. Lena is selling products on another farmers market in the capital, too.

This weekly cycle runs from early May, when outdoor farmers markets open, to late November, when the City regulation instructs them to close.

Alexander and Lena are otkhodniks, wandering workers.

To make a living otkhodniks temporary move out from their hometown to work and earn money elsewhere. They do not relocate to Moscow. No, out-of-town workers remain citizens of their hometown, they are enrolled in the OMS system, the public health system, and they pay taxes in the towns and villages where their houses or apartments are situated in.

Between 10 and 15 million individuals in Russia are otkhodniks, according to an estimate of Juri M. Plusin, Yana D. Zausaeva, Natalia N. Zhidkevich and Artemy A. Pozanenko, who recently published their path breaking study on Russian Labor Migrants (see my last post for a reference). Mostly married male blue collar workers in their young and middle-ages performing specialized tasks, wandering workers are a frequent feature of the Russian labor market – but yet an understudied subject, as Natalia and Artemy, who presented their book at the 6th Public Administration Discussion Meeting at the Higher School of Economics recently told an interested audience. The otkhodniks they interviewed as part of their extensive field studies in Russian cities, towns and villages, as well and their relatives and neighbors could not believe that social science researchers and policy makers have only patchy knowledge about this “phenomenon” of within-country labor migrants. In fact this special type of labor migration, otkhodnichestvo, literally, the state of being on the move for work, is not a phenomenon, but a regular feature of Russian economy and dates back at least to imperial 19th century Russia.

Oversimplifying the findings a bit there are four big centers throughout Russia that attract wandering workers: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Siberian region and regional cities and economy hubs. 500 kilometers away from Moscow is a peak of labor migration. Transportation within this radius of 500km it is relatively cheap. People can afford to travel to Moscow and back frequently. In turn Labor migration boosts private transportation companies. Beyond a distant of 500km labor migration towards Moscow decreases.


Being an otkhodnik is nothing that puts shame on you. In a deprived region with an oversupply of labor and a low wage level there is nothing negative about moving out to work hard elsewhere and bring home money that will feed your family and help to educate your children. Nowadays otkhodnichestvo is more frequent in the Southern region of Russian than in the North.

Both local and state authorities have no large interest in interfering. They stimulate local growth; people do not move away from low populated areas. Within-country labor migrants save the large chunk of their earning and bring it home. This is a feature that they share with Gastarbeiter, guest workers, from former Soviet republics; but apart from their origin an otkhodnik is different from a Gastarbeiter. Gastarbeiter are away from Kirgizstan, Tadzhikistan or Moldavia for a long period of time (because there is no low-cost 6 hour bus ride from Dushanbe to Moscow), while otkhodniks are only 2 weeks or a month out. Mid-and short term labor migrants should also not be confused with foreign specialists, which have a special employment and visa status in Russia.

– out for work

So far this sounds like a success story. Labor economist will consider this extremely high level of job mobility and adaptability as a positive feature of the labor market. Officially deprived regions become resilient because Labor Migrants spend almost all their earning in their native hometown rather than on Tverskaya Street in Moscow. All of this contributes to a rather high level of economic stability in the Russian regions. White collar workers in Moscow City skyscrapers do experience an economic downturn, blue collar otkhodniks constructing high-quality wooden dachas in the green belt outskirts of Moscow do not.

- Excuse me sir, are you an otchotnik?
– Excuse me sir, are you an otkhodnik?

But what is the untold story? Being away for a long time from wife and kids has a negative impact on family relations. After work men meet new women; the spouse at home may become acquainted with somebody new, too. One out of four marriages breaks up due to this. Juri M. Plusin and his co-authors also find that most short term labor migrants do not work in line with their education. So the question is whether a follow up employment can be career advancement.

About 50 percent of the work is unofficial black labor. No registration, no taxes. That also means no employment security and labor law enforcement.

Otkhodniks are well-informed about what is going on in Moscow, probably better than Muscovites are, and channel this knowledge to their hometown region. Juri M. Plusin and his co-authors thus conclude that modern otkhodniks are “agents of urbanization”.

- Lunch break
– Lunch break

On Labor Markets and Wandering Workers

Some years ago I published a book on labor market reforms. In fact it was my PhD thesis. What I did was to investigate all reforms in written labor market regulation that did take place in Western Europe between 1950 and 2008. That was a lot of reading through labor laws and rules, and coding changes of them according to a newly developed scheme that compromised some 40 items and different levels of reforms.

Here is the reference including a Full-text link: Jäkel, Tim. „Arbeitsmarktreformen. Eine Empirisch-Vergleichende Analyse Für 16 Westeuropäische Länder 1950 Bis 2008.“ Heidelberg: Universitätsbibliothek der Universität Heidelberg, 2011. URL: http://www.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/archiv/12204

In the end I identified and coded some 450 reforms. I found that labor in Germany is more tightly regulated compared to Denmark. But I also found that Greece was among the countries with a tight grip on the labor market as, well. But markets forces were set free in a several important areas in recent years.

What drives labor market reforms? Well, I found that center right-wing parties tend to loosen or to abolish restrictions more heavily compared to their social democratic counterparts – which not really comes at a big surprise and confirms Douglass Hibbs seminal proposition that parties make a difference.

But two things were missing in my analysis: the first one being the impact of the financial and economic crisis 2010 on labor market regulation. Not my fault, I started before the real estate bubble busted in 2008 and I just finished, when the crisis was still not over. We know now that Germany’s labor market performed quite well in times of crisis. This resilience was the harvest of prior reforms. Greece, in turn, performed less than bottom line. Working contracts had (and have) been tightly restricted to protect insiders from a young labor force. Youth unemployment skyrocketed up to 25% and more.

The second thing that I would add in a follow-up study is the perception of all this by regular people. What does a worker on the ground thinks about all this rule and policy-making? What are their motives and beliefs? What drives them to move to one place to another just looking for work (a labor economists would term this job mobility)?

Juri Plusnin, Yana Zausaeva, Artemy Pozanenko and Natalia Zhidkevich from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow wrote a book exactly about that. What they did was to conducted field research on domestic labor migrants in small villages and town in European Russia during 2011 and 2014 to investigate something that sociologist call a phenomenon, but that is in fact a regular thing for a large share of the Russian workforce: Being a Wandering worker.

Two of the authors, Artemy Pozanenko and Natalia Zhidkevich, presented their findings at the 6th Public Administration Discussion Meeting as the Higher School of Economics yesterday. Natalia and Artemy are both working as analysts at the HSE Laboratory for Local Administration. We should mention that their book Wandering Workers: Mores, Behavior, Way of Life, and Political Status of Domestic Russian Labor Migrants (2015. Publisher: ibidem Verlag Stuttgart) was recently nominated for the Distinguished Scholarly Monograph Award in the American Sociological Association’s Section on Labor and Labor Movements. Congratulations!

Save the date: The next Public Administration Discussion Meeting will take place on Monday, 18 April, 3pm at Higher School of Economics, 20, Myasnitskaya ulitsa, Moscow. Professor Robert Kramer from the National University of Public Service in Budapest will present a new paper on the shift from Skillset to Mindset in Policy-Leadership.



LeCorbusier in Moscow

Public Administration is more or less about how to manage large organizations and to enable individuals within them to take effective decision. Or as Herbert A. Simon put it in the 4th ed. of his seminal book on Administrative Behavior:

„Administrative behavior is generally upbeat about organizations (…) and particulary on the conditions that enable them to operate well“ (H. A. Simon 1997, Administrative Behavior. The Free Press, p. viii)


We are quite well informed about models that seek to explain how people take decisions. I wonder whether there is rich evidence on how the architecture of a public agency building impacts organizational performance.


Does the Russian Federal Statistical Office perform better because its employees work in a building designed by LeCorbusier? Well, there will be better predictors of organizational performance. But it is nice to have a look at this building.


LeCorbusier won an international competition in 1928 to design this bulding, which is located in Myasnitskaya Street, some 300m away from Metro Station Chistye Prudy.




Kitay-Gorod, Part II

The lower part of Kitay-Gorod situated next to Moscow River was a living area mainly for poor people. Floods were a frequent event. The first port could be found there. Two storey houses dominated, with shops in the first floor, and apartments in the 2nd one.


Il’inka Street (ильинка ул.) was the place to negotiate and close financial deals. Street hosted several hostels for merchants. Most hostels belonged to Moscow monasteries. Pictured above is such building that once hosted such a monastery hostel. The former stock exchange was located at Birzhevaya square (Биржевая пл.).


Nikol’skaya ul. (Никольцкая ул.), today the most vibrant and fancy part of Kitay-Gorod was the area for academic purposes back then. Bookshops and printing presses could be found there.


In the area around Varvarka Street there was also an Open Market Space with several small lanes designated to particular good. In Rybny lane (russ. Рыбныи переулок), which still exist today (pictured) one could get seafood for instance.

Nowadays Il’inka Stree (ильинка ул.) is home to several financial state institutions. You can spot the front of the Federal Ministry of Finance, for instance. Passing by HSE’s Political Science Department (also very important) the Constitutional court can be recognized by its impressive clock (though not by an informative label such as mounted on the Ministry of Finance).


In current Moscow terms, Kitay-Gorod is quite small. At the height of Kitay-Gorod Metro Station there were closing wall and gate. Lubyanskaya square (Лубянская пл.), and also Myasnitskaya Street (Мясницкая ул.) were and are not part of Kitay-Gorod.



Kitay-Gorod, Part I

Today, Anna Lapidus and Narina Dadayan from the Higher School of Economics delivered a splendid walking tour through one of the oldest parts of Moscow: Kitay-Gorod.


Russia history is complex and multifaceted (too multifaceted for Google’s algorithms; typing Китай-город into Google Translate yields ‚China Town‘ – a translation that is at least misleading. Kitay-Gorod has neither strings attached to China nor anything in common with similarly named districts common in North American cities). There are two sense making explanations for the name. The first one is that Kitay derives from the old Russian word кита, fence; the district of wooden fence. The settlement of Moscow was founded in 1147, with the Kremlin at its centre. Kitay gorod is the area that was constructed next to the Kremlin and fortified with wooden fences.


The second potential explanation refers to the Italian word città, town or city. Italian architects designed large parts of the Kremlin’s architecture in the 15th and 16th century.


The former explanation is the more popular one. The latter one makes more sense, at least to me.


The district of Kitay-Gorod was and is still composed of three main roads: Nikol’skaya ul. (Никольцкая ул.), Il’inka ul. (ильинка ул.), and Varvarka Street (Варварка ул.). Varvarka Street was the religious street. Several churches have been located there. The first Romanov tsar was born in one of the houses located in Varvarka Street. Literally the Russian word Варвар comes from Barbars. Back then all foreigner that did not speak Russian were entitled to be called Barbars. So Varvarka Street was the street for the foreign traders. Nomen est omen.