About the project

State of the art: Government departments are key institutions in modern democracies. They have a leading role in setting the government’s agenda and provide the expertise and resources to have a lasting effect on the policy output. The allocation of government departments is thus a central element of coalition negotiations during the government formation process. A key assumption in this research is that portfolio design – defined as the distribution of competencies among executive offices – is fixed and exogenously given. Yet, this assumption is very often not met empirically: policy responsibilities are transferred from one department to another, new departments are created, and others are discarded or merged.

Objectives: The proposed research project studies the causes and consequences of changes in portfolio design. Building on a theoretical framework in which parties value ministerial portfolios for their influence over government policy, we analyse portfolio design reforms in ten West European democracies from 1970 to 2020.

Approach: A team of country experts – all leading scholars in the field who possess the necessary detailed knowledge on country-specific rules – collect documents (decrees and laws) that contain information on changes in portfolio design. The research group will code affected ministerial jurisdictions using joint coding instructions to ensure comparability and assign amended policy responsibilities to policy areas according the coding scheme of the Comparative Agendas Project.

Level of originality: We aim to make three contributions to the existing scholarly literature. First, the project will systematically and comparatively describes all changes in the portfolio design in ten West European democracies over the last half-century (1970-2020) based on newly collected and coded institutional data. Second, we develop and empirically test a political explanation for these reforms according to which political actors change portfolio design in the process of government formation to achieve their policy goals. Third, the project will explore the effects of portfolio design reforms for policy-making, in particular with regard to the question of how such reforms affect the legislative output of government departments.

Primary researchers involved: Ulrich Sieberer (PI), Thomas M. Meyer (PI), Hanna Bäck, Andrea Ceron, Albert Falcó-Gimeno, Isabelle Guinaudeau, Benjamin Guinaudeau, Martin Ejnar Hansen, Kristoffer Kolltveit, Tom Louwerse, Shane Martin, Wolfgang C. Müller, Thomas Persson, and two doctoral researchers: David Schmuck and Koichi Osamura.

This research project is funded by the German Research Foundation (grant number: SI 1470/9-1) and the Austrian Science Fund (grant number: I 5876-G).