The Researcher's View : Research news

The researcher's view

The researcher’s eye presents summaries of articles published in scientific journals devoted to public action, recently supported theses in the field of public management and forthcoming symposia.

Article review

Government-citizen relationship

The platform state and digital identification of users. The FranceConnect design process Marie Alauzen
Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Economic and Social Sciences, Télécom Paris, France

FranceConnect is an application embedded across hundreds of French government websites since 2015. The button, which is designed to reduce the administrative burden by allowing users to log in to an existing account quickly and easily, is the first achievement of a wider modernisation project known as the “Platform State”. In this article, the author examines this new user identification system in detail, seeking to draw insights into what this modernisation drive, and the design of the FranceConnect system, can tell us about the changing face of government.

The research is based on an in-depth ethnographic study conducted between 2014 and 2017 by the Secretariat General for Government Modernisation (SGMAP), the government entity responsible for implementing the system. Aside from observations and informal interviews from the study itself, the author also draws on internal documentation (memos, emails, technical documents, etc.), the personal archives of a project team member, and a corpus of publicly available information (legislation, strategy reports, press releases, and more).

The author examines the design process itself, finding that government modernisation strategy documents had no bearing whatsoever on the ultimate shape of the system. Instead, she reports that FranceConnect was conceived solely as a response to technical imperatives – in this case, identifying users and exchanging administrative data – and that its design reveals two principles of the platform state: digital sovereignty and the ergonomics of public services. The author identifies two dimensions of digital sovereignty: a physical dimension (data stored on French territory and retained for a specified number of years, with exchanges controlled by the state), and a software dimension (government agencies and departments have to develop proprietary systems based on open-source software). On the question of ergonomics, she highlights the importance of user-friendliness, accessibility, traceability and trust in simplifying the work of government.

The article was published in Réseaux – 2019/1 (no 213), pp. 211 à 239 and is available online at:


Public sector employment

High performance work systems and innovation: Testing the mediation role of knowledge sharing

Abdelwahab Aït Razouk,
Associate Professor in Human Resources Management, Brest Business School, France

This research aims to understand the intermediate mechanisms that explain the relationship between high performance work systems (HPWS) and innovation. There is a substantial body of research showing that HPWS have a positive impact on innovation in business. HPWS may be conceived as a set of practices designed to equip employees with the knowledge, skills and capabilities they need to improve organisational performance. This article focuses on the mediating effect of knowledge-sharing, which is defined as a process whereby knowledge is transferred between individuals or groups of employees within an organisation. The authors therefore sought to isolate this intermediate variable and measure its impact on innovation.

The authors fed empirical data from RESPONSE, a study covering a panel of 962 French companies between 1998 and 2005, into a series of regression models, using a control variable to account for the influence of company size, age and sector on innovation.

The authors conclude that Human Resources Management (HRM) practices can positively impact innovation in French companies, but that this effect is mediated when the index of knowledge-sharing is introduced in regression models. This mediating effect suggests that innovation performance is influenced by intermediate mechanisms rather than by HRM practices directly. According to the authors’ findings, HR strategy only has a positive impact on innovation when employees share knowledge. The authors recommend a number of ways to encourage knowledge-sharing, including promoting interaction between employees within and across departments, and having staff work together in project or multidisciplinary teams. Such practices should support knowledge transfer and foster new forms of innovation.

The article was published in Revue française de gestion – 2019/1 (n° 278), pp. 37 à 53 and is available online at:


Budget and performance

The adaptation of tax specialists to the new conditions of fiscal optimisation. An approach through dynamic capacities

Hugues Bouthinon-Dumas, Associate Professor of Law, ESSEC Business School, France

Anne Jeny, Professor of Accounting, ESSEC Business School, France

Bernard Leca, Professor of Management Control, ESSEC Business School, France

Tax optimisation is at the heart of the news. The practices of some companies have been brought to light. The institutional environment of this practice has evolved, but the practice of tax optimisation has not disappeared: it has changed. Actors, in particular the tax consulting firms that advise companies, have adapted to continue to be key elements of this tax practice. This study aims to shed light on the relationship between the evolution of the legal and institutional framework and the behaviour of actors related to these practices from the perspective of dynamic capacity theory.

This article focuses on three types of actor: multinational companies, governments and tax consulting firms that support businesses, and governments themselves. Although tax affairs are confidential, recent revelations – from whistleblowers, investigative journalists and court cases – have proved a source of valuable information. The authors also draw on public data from tax consulting firms and parliamentary reports, as well as insights from informal interviews with international tax practitioners.

The authors observe changing attitudes towards aggressive tax planning among authorities, mirroring a shift in public opinion. Meanwhile, although there has been a change of rhetoric from tax consulting firms and companies themselves (not least through concerted communication campaigns), the authors find no evidence that they have turned away from tax optimisation. What is clear, however, is that the services that tax consulting firms provide have changed. For instance, these firms employ multidisciplinary, international teams of tax specialists who constantly track and monitor changes in national tax laws and maintain proprietary databases. The authors also note that tax authorities routinely bring in specialist firms to contribute to forward-looking reviews and to take part in critical assessments of proposed tax reforms. Further evidence of this close relationship can be seen in the revolving door between tax authorities and consulting firms. The article demonstrates, from the perspective of dynamic capacity theory, how tax consulting firms have adapted their behaviour and how, as a result, the practice of tax optimisation has not declined, but has merely changed.

The article was published in Revue internationale de droit économique, 2018/4 (t. XXXII), pp. 339 à 429 and is available online at:


Philanthropy and market: A competition? Swiss tax authorities and the recognition of public utility

Philip Balsiger, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Romain Carnac, PhD candidate in Political Science, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Caroline Honegger, Research Fellow, School of Social Work and Health Sciences (EESP), Lausanne, Switzerland
Alexandre Lambelet, Associate Professor, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (HES-SO)

In this article, the authors focus on philanthropy, exploring the competitive relationship between the tax-exempt third sector and the market. More specifically, they look at how public officials set the boundaries between the state, the market and the third sector in Switzerland. The third sector can replace the state in the provision of public services. But it can equally replace the market in the provision of private goods. It is therefore interesting to examine how, and on what basis, the employees of tax administrations grant non-profit – and, therefore, tax-exempt – status to particular philanthropic organisations.

The study draws on data from an interview-based survey of tax administrations in three Swiss cantons. The survey asked officials what criteria they used to grant tax-exempt, non-profit status to certain organisations, and how they went about guaranteeing fair and equal conditions for all market participants. The authors also examined legislation and guidance issued by the Swiss authorities on granting non-profit status.

From their review of the literature, the authors conclude that, at least in Switzerland, possible competition between the third sector and the market is of primary importance for tax administration employees, i.e. the individuals responsible for granting tax-exempt status. The survey, meanwhile, reveals that tax administration employees never consider possible competition between a third-sector organisation and the state when assessing an application for tax exemption. For these officials, the principle of “competitive neutrality” takes precedence, whereas potential overlap between tax-exempt private participants and the state is never an issue. The tax administration employees interviewed by the authors seem determined to protect the for-profit private sector at all costs. In doing so, they subscribe to a neoclassical approach, based on the naturalisation of a hierarchical structure in which the market and the state are viewed as pillars of society and the third sector as an auxiliary force. Because of this prism, officials only consider granting non-profit, tax-exempt status to third-sector organisations as a secondary option – one that should only be supported when the market fails.

The article was published in Gouvernement et action publique – 2019/3 (no 3), pp. 83 à 100 and is available online at:



Evaluators and builders
General inspectors and the making of public action

Yohann Morival,
Lecturer in Political Science, University of Lille, France

Jeanne Lazarus,
Research Fellow, Centre for the Sociology of Organisations (CNRS & Sciences Po Paris), France

This article analyses the inspection of an experimental public policy mechanism by inspectors belonging to the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs (IGAS) and the General Council of Economic and Finance (CGEFI). The authors explore tensions around the inspectors’ role and their ability to adjust their prerogatives during the course of the inspection. They also look at the changing objectives of the inspection, examining the stakeholders involved in this process: the inspectors themselves, members of the ministerial cabinets, the committee managing the public policy, and the internal regulation of each inspection body.

The authors followed the conduct of the joint IGAS and CGEFI inspection from the initial engagement through to delivery of the final report. They drew their data from numerous documents produced by the inspectors, ranging from official documents (engagement letter, framework memorandum, etc.) to reports and questionnaires. The authors also sat in on meetings and held regular interviews with the inspectors.

The authors report that, far from being given once and for all, the objectives of the inspection continuously oscillated between evaluation of the system and support for implementation. They also observe that the inspectors were at times evaluators and at other times builders, and that this role changed at different points throughout the inspection process (defining the objectives, selecting the evaluation methods, drafting the report). Moreover, the authors argue that tensions around the inspectors’ role and the shifting objectives of the inspection shed light on the shaping of boundaries between the executive branch (represented in this case by the ministerial cabinet) and the administrative branch (the inspectors).

The article was published in Politix – 2018/4 (no 124), pp. 85 à 110 and is available online at:


Cooperative competition? The ambivalence of coopetition in territorial authorities

Christophe Assens, Professor of Management Science, University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France
Annie Bartoli, Professor of Management Science, University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France
Philippe Hermel, Professor of Management Science, University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France

This article explores the phenomenon of cooperative competition – or coopetition – in the sphere of territorial public management. Coopetition may be defined as “a counter-intuitive strategy whereby competitors cooperate with each other to secure mutual benefits”. The authors explore how some local authorities manage to cooperate with one another despite political rivalry between local elected representatives or competition for investment. In doing so, they seek to identify the drivers and balances that enable coopetition to emerge at local government level.

The authors draw on data from three sources: a questionnaire conducted among 252 territorial authority managers, an exploratory case study on intermunicipal cooperation in France’s Rhône-Alpes region, and an in-depth follow-up survey among 10 leaders. The research focused on public managers because they have the benefit of operating at the intersection between the administrative and political spheres and, therefore, play a central role in establishing collaborative relationships while considering political sensitivities.

The Rhône-Alpes case study and survey results confirm some of the conditions described in the literature. Successful coopetition relies on the principle of subsidiarity – in other words, not infringing on the prerogatives of each partner or of other public bodies. Cooperating in areas outside elected officials’ core powers and priorities is another way to avoid excessive rivalry between partners. Governance is one of the key challenges of coopetition. It implies the need to adhere to democratic principles, to distribute power equally among partners, and to take decisions collectively by a majority. This article forms part of wider research into possible connections between different levels of local government and disparities stemming from regional inequalities. By examining the mechanism of coopetition, the authors contribute to thinking around the role of local authorities and their distinctive dynamics.

The article was published in International Review of Administrative Sciences – 2019/3 (Vol. 85), pp. 471 à 485 and is available online at:


Formulating public action in terms of tests: European stress tests as a response to financial and nuclear crises

Brice Laurent, Researcher, Centre for the Sociology of Innovation (CSI), Mines ParisTech, France
Başak Saraç-Lesavre, Research fellow based in the Department of Social Anthropology at The University of Manchester
Alexandre Violle, Research fellow based in the Centre d'étude des mouvements sociaux de l'École des hautes études en sciences sociales

This article examines the emergence of stress tests as part of a broader movement to embed forward planning as a practice of government. Stress tests, as defined by the authors, “assess the ability of an entity to withstand adverse conditions devised by the test’s designers”. The article looks at the introduction of stress tests in Europe in two sectors in the aftermath of major events: the banking sector in the wake of the 2008 sovereign debt crisis, and the nuclear sector following the Fukushima accident in 2011. For the authors, these tests are an interesting research subject because they were introduced at a time of crisis and provide insights into the European response to these situations.

The data comes from two surveys: one on bank stress tests in 2014-2017, and another on nuclear stress tests in 2016-2017. The authors also interviewed representatives of national governments, European authorities, regulators and NGOs. In addition, they reviewed the working documents on which the stress tests were based. These documents shed light on how the stress tests were defined, organised and subsequently reviewed following criticism from academics, politicians and NGO leaders.

The authors examine how mechanisms that explicitly aim to offer an “objective and transparent” evaluation have a framing effect on risks and crises, and how this effect transforms wide-ranging issues such as banking system stability or energy policy decisions into technical objects evaluated according to well-delimited terms. By treating them as technical objects, the European response eliminates ways of conceptualising crises as systemic or explicitly political problems. Moreover, these technical stress tests have resulted in an expansion of the powers and remit of institutions such as the European Commission, whose scope of intervention in the banking and nuclear sectors was previously much narrower.

The article was published in Critique internationale – 2019/4 (no 85), pp. 63 à 83 and is available online at:

Thesis reviews

Local and regional authorities and structured finance products

Thesis by Laure Romazzotti Doctoral School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Pau and Pays de l’Adour. Supervised by Philippe Terneyre, Professor of Public Law, University of Pau and Pays de l’Adour, France. Thesis defence date: 12 October 2018.

This thesis presents legal considerations around local and regional authority borrowing and the impact of the 2008 economic and financial crisis on the relationship between these authorities and structured finance products. The author looks at the problems that structured finance products have caused for local and regional authorities, explores how central governments have dealt with the consequences, and examines the framework behind existing relationships between local and regional authorities and credit institutions.

The author notes that, at the height of the financial crisis, many local and regional authorities turned to the courts as a rapid solution to a situation that had become too complex to handle. This wave of court cases, in which authorities sued credit institutions for mis-selling, soon established a significant body of case law on toxic loans. The author recognises the effort of the courts but makes the point that judges alone cannot solve the problems faced by local and regional authorities, arguing that a sustainable solution can only come through the intervention of the state and the legislator.

The author notes that, as structured finance products have become toxic since the 2008 economic and financial crisis, the legislator “has readily adapted the law to the circumstances” by creating various instruments for credit institutions and local and regional authorities. She also observes that the legislator has sought to address the situation through a range of initiatives: enacting laws to govern local and regional authority borrowing; introducing a systemic risk tax, levied on credit institutions, with receipts going to a support fund for local and regional authorities affected by now-toxic financial products; and creating Agence France Locale, a specialist credit institution dedicated to the funding of French local and regional authorities.

The thesis is available online at:

The financialised form of the French local authorities’ credit relationship. From the crisis to institutionalisation.

Thesis by Edoardo Ferlazzo Doctoral School of Social Sciences, EHESS. Supervised by Eve Chiapello, Research Professor, EHESS, France. Thesis defence date: 30 November 2018.

This thesis focuses on the changing nature of local authorities’ credit relationship and studies the various forms it has taken over time. The author demonstrates that the 2008 financial crisis was a turning point for the institutionalisation of a “financialised” form of the credit relationship, characterised by the growing presence of market-based financing interests, representations and methods in local authorities’ debt management practices. This form, which emerged in the mid-1990s, differs from the stable form that held from the post-war period until to the early 1980s, and from the form that followed the decentralisation reforms of 1982-1983. Two types of debt practice that this paper identifies as “financialised” are at the core of this work: structured debt and bond debt. The author follows the development of each of these practices, focusing on two key events: the “toxic loan crisis” and the creation of Agence France Locale (AFL).

The thesis draws on a range of sources. The interview-based survey (n=61) and the collection of an abundant grey literature were organised mainly around the decoding of management tools, crisis management devices and regulations which structure local authorities’ credit relationship. With regard to structured loans, the research is supplemented with a statistical and econometric analysis which focused on the municipalities that have fallen into the trap of toxic loans, which enables a discussion of the determinants in the development of this type of loan.

The author shows that the period of uncertainty following the 2008 financial crisis has paradoxically seen the continuation and institutionalization of the use, by local authorities, of financial products that were appealing to markets and financial investors. This result was not given insofar as the toxic loans crisis led to a strong critique of the “financialised form” (which has spread “from the bottom”, within a context of financial liberalisation of local authorities’ loans and of decentralisation). The post-crisis institutional thinking led the actors to attempt to dissociate “bad” finance from “good” finance in order to have better access to financialised forms of debt. The author posits that the post-crisis period of 2008-2015 did not merely prompt a profound rethink of existing practices. In fact, it was during this time that the premises of the financialised form of the credit relationship – the very premises that make this form look legitimate – were shaped and fixed. This institutionalisation has two implications. First, it raises questions about growing inequality among local authorities as regards access to credit. And second, it sustains a local debt market regulation model that proved incapable of curbing pre-crisis excesses and perpetuates asymmetries of power and expertise in the credit relationship between local authorities and lending institutions.

To obtain a copy of the thesis, please write to the author at:

Territorial public management of foreign direct investment projects. A conribution to territorial intelligence.

Thesis by Olivier Coussi Doctoral School of Society and Organizations and Centre for Research in Management (CEREGE), University of Poitiers. Supervised by Evelyne Lande, Professor, University of Poitiers, France, and Alsones Balestrin, University of the Rio dos Sinos Valley (UNISINOS), Brazil. Thesis defence date: 23 January 2019.

This thesis looks at the management of foreign direct investment (FDI) projects and explores questions around the type of territorial economic intelligence to be implemented in order to facilitate the anchoring of these projects. The author examines the characteristics of territorial public management and explores its effects on FDI projects. He posits that the life cycle of an FDI project is a complex, non-linear process that involves a network of stakeholders whose relationships combine “power games”, confrontation and partnership.

The author studies two classic FDI projects at opposite ends of the world: HT Micron, a joint-venture with South Korean firm Hana Micron at the Tecnosinos technology park in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and a project by Chinese company ZTE at the Futuroscope multimedia theme park in Poitiers, France. This qualitative analysis draws on publicly available documents, stakeholder interviews and internal memos.

In the Brazilian example, the author shows that the FDI project was a success because the stakeholders demonstrated strategic agility. The ability to effectively manage a network is vital to the success of a project of this nature, which involves stakeholders of different types and with multiple objectives. As the example in France shows, failing to consider this aspect of the process can cause an FDI project to fail. Building on these two examples, the author coins the concept of “triple helix as practice” as a way to explain why some FDI projects succeed and others fail. This concept encompasses the non-linear, vortex-like nature of an FDI project life’s cycle, and neatly captures the effects of a “territorial system” arising from territorial governance practices. The author also demonstrates why it is increasingly important for stakeholders (universities and research laboratories, financial institutions and government) to align their efforts with public policy, and how doing so helps to foster synergies between actors. In many cases, therefore, success or failure rests on the suitability and performance of public support and management arrangements for FDI projects.

The thesis is available online at:




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