Independent public supervision is one of the crucial elements of our constitutional state. Inspectorates exercise this supervision in the Netherlands. Researchers from the Public Administration departments of the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) and Utrecht University (UU) have received a grant of 1.2 million from NWO for a joint research proposal on the reputation of inspectorates in the framework of the Renewal and Supervision Programme of the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA).
Inspectorates are increasingly under the magnifying glass. Whereas their position used to rest mainly on their expertise and the legal rules based on which they carried out their inspections, nowadays, they increasingly have to work in a media-driven and pluralistic network society. And they have to prove their social value. For example, inspectorates' judgements (and thus their authorities) have become increasingly competitive when judging products or services from all kinds of Internet sites. Opinions on restaurants, for example, are no longer issued by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) alone but also by all kinds of (commercial) websites. This development means that inspectorates authorities' social position and legitimacy are no longer as self-evident as in the past. As a result, the focus is shifting from legislation and regulations to safeguarding public interests and contributing to added value for society.
Authority of an inspectorate is essential
The authority of an inspectorate is essential for the acceptance of decisions by supervised institutions and citizens. As mentioned, inspectorates derive their authority primarily from their expertise. However, their reputation is increasingly determined by their performance, how they are portrayed in the media, and how they conduct their supervision (the procedures). For example, the media tend to publish mainly sensational and critical reports. The Fipronil case, in which the disinfectant Fipronil ended up in eggs, shows how strongly the supervision is dramatised in media attention and how polarising interventions by the inspectorates can be, for example, resulting in lengthy court cases.
The research project investigates how inspectorates can base their reputation on effectiveness, empathy, and justice in addition to expertise. Central questions are: what is the effect of inspectorates' reputation on enforcement behaviour; how is reputation created, among other things, by media attention; and what do inspectorates' authorities do to influence their reputation (and the images of it among other parties)?
Erik Hans Klijn, one of the EUR applicants: "At the EUR, in close cooperation with the UU, we will mainly focus on how media attention affects reputations, but also what the effects are of inspectorates authorities' reputations on enforcement behaviour of supervised parties, such as businesses, citizens, etc."
About the research
The awarded research proposal 'The authoritative reputation of inspectorates in turbulent times' was submitted by public administration experts Prof.Judith van Erp (principal applicant, UU), Prof Erik Hans Klijn & Prof Martijn van der Steen (EUR), and Dr Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen (UU). At both universities, several PhD. candidates and a postdoc will be appointed. The project will involve intensive cooperation with several key inspectorates' authorities: the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), the Authority for the Consumer and Market (ACM), the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ITL), the State Supervision of Mines (SODM), and the Rijnmond Environmental Protection Agency (DCMR).
This NWA programme has been realised as a collaboration between the Inspection Council, the 21 inspectorates and public regulators, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the Ministry of Justice and Security, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.