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Lean and mean or fat and flexible?

Lean and simple organizational structures may make government efficient, but Hendrik Ewens and I find evidence that complex and large public organizations are more innovative.

In a new article (published open access in Public Management Review), we examined the relationship between organizational complexity and the adoption of participatory innovation in German municipal government. We proposed that organizations with more complex organizational structures are more likely to adopt participatory innovation. We investigated municipalities (N = 394) of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and used participatory budgeting as an indicator for innovation. Our results indicate that organizational complexity expressed by functional differentiation has a positive relationship with the occurrence of participatory innovation. The results inform a debate about the value trade-offs that are inherent to the structural design of public organizations: simple and lean organizational structure may make public organizations more efficient, but complex and large public organizations are more innovative.

The thesis is based on Hendrik Ewens’ master thesis for the completion of the Public Management and Leadership specialization in the MPA program at Leiden University.