Organizing immigration – German ministerial bureaucracies in a dynamic policy field

Immigration constitutes a dynamic policy field with – often quite unpredictable – dynamics. This is based on immigration constituting a ‘wicked problem’ meaning that it is characterized by uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity. Due to the dynamics in the policy field, expectations towards public administrations often change. Following neo-institutionalist theory, public administrations depend on meeting the expectations in the organizational field in order to maintain legitimacy as the basis for, e.g., resources and compliance of stakeholders. With the dynamics in the policy field, expectations might change and public administrations consequently need to adapt in order to maintain or repair the then threatened legitimacy. If their organizational legitimacy is threatened by a perception of structures and processes being inadequate for changed expectations, an ‘institutional crisis’ unfolds. However, we know little about ministerial bureaucracies’ structural reactions to such crucial momentums and how this affects the quest for coordination within policy-making. Overall, the dissertation thus links to both policy analysis and public administration research and consists of five publications. It asks: How do structures in ministerial bureaucracies change in the context of institutional crises? And what effect do these changes have on ministerial coordination?

The dissertation hereby focusses on the above described dynamic policy field of immigration in Germany in the period from 2005 to 2017 and pursues three objectives: 1) identifying the context and impulse for changes in the structures of ministerial bureaucracies, 2) describing respective changes with regard to their organizational structures, and 3) analyzing their effects on coordination. It hereby compares and contrasts institutional crises by incremental change and shock as well as changes and effects at federal and Länder level which allows a comprehensive answer to both of the research questions.

Theoretically, the dissertation follows neo-institutionalist theory with a particular focus on changes in organizational structures, coordination and crisis management. Methodologically, it follows a comparative design. Each article (except for the literature review), focusses on ministerial bureaucracies at one governmental level (federal or Länder) and on an institutional crisis induced by either an incremental process or a shock. Thus, responses and effects can be compared and contrasted across impulses for institutional crises and governmental levels. Overall, the dissertation follows a mixed methods approach with a majority of qualitative single and small-n case studies based on document analysis and semi-structured interviews. Additionally, two articles use quantitative methods, (quantitative content analysis and a path analysis with OLS regressions) as they best suited the respective research question. The rather explorative nature of these quantitative articles however fits to the overall interpretivist approach of the dissertation.

Overall, the dissertation’s core argument is: Within the investigation period, varying dynamics and thus impulses for institutional crises took place in the German policy field of immigration. Respectively, expectations by stakeholders on how the politico-administrative system should address the policy problem changed. Ministerial administrations at both the federal and Länder level adapted to these expectations in order to maintain, or regain respectively, organizational legitimacy. The administration hereby referred to well-known recipes of structural changes. Institutional crises do not constitute fields of experimentation. The new structures had an immediate effect on ministerial coordination, with respect to both the horizontal and vertical dimension. Yet, they did not mean a comprehensive change of the system in place. The dissertation thus challenges the idea of the toppling effect of crises and rather shows that adaptability and persistence of public administrations constitute two sides of the same coin.

(Changed: 2020-12-18)