What Do Bureaucrats Like Doing? Bureaucratic Preferences in Response to Institutional Reform


Francesca Gains is a senior lecturer in public policy and a senior research fellow in the Institute for Political and Economic Governance, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester. Her research interests include political management arrangements and bureaucratic involvement in policy making.

Peter John is the Hallsworth Chair of Governance in the School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, where he is a director of the Institute for Political and Economic Governance. His research interests include public policy, urban politics, and participation. He is author of Analyzing Public Policy (1998) and Local Governance in Western Europe (2001).


How do bureaucrats respond to administrative reform in relation to their overall administrative goals? The authors test the bureau-shaping thesis, which holds that bureaucrats’ preferences for certain kinds of roles and tasks motivate their support for bureau reform. Drawing on attitudinal and behavioral data from a survey of English local government officials, the findings underscore how bureaucrats with different interests and motivations sort themselves into job types. Their preferences drive support for reform, which, in turn, strengthens the executive structure of English local government. Drawing on the literature on bureaucratic responses to institutional reform, the authors offer a more nuanced portrayal of bureaucratic preferences in line with the bureau-shaping model. A key conclusion: political principals need improved empirical awareness of bureaucratic preferences when undertaking public institutional reforms.