Black Swans in Public Administration: Rare Organizational Failure with Severe Consequences

The subject of the project is organizational failure in public administration with severe consequences for the physical integrity of humans. Examples are coordination and management deficits of child protection, organizational failure in disaster relief, inadequate maintenance of public infrastructure causing buildings and bridges to collapse, etc. The theoretical point of departure is the asymmetry between the rarity of the respective incidences and the seriousness of their consequences under the condition of professional administration in rule-of-law based democracies where systems failure and ill-conceived decisions resulting in threats to, or even loss of, human lives are extremely singular events. However, given the drastic consequences of such failure, these rare events cannot be treated like negligible statistical outliers (hence the Black Swan metaphor). They obviously require systematic analyses to which the project shall contribute. The research objective is the analysis of regular patterns of failure across various fields of public administration, the test of hypotheses on general causal mechanisms and a contribution to the theoretical debate on pragmatism and the ethic of responsibility in public administration. The project addresses one of STIAS’ current general themes which is “Understanding Complexity” and, in particular, the subthemes “Anticipation of Complexity” and “The Implication of Complexity for Ethics”.

Project leader(s):
  • Wolfgang Seibel (Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Konstanz)

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