Department of Government
Research Group

Knowledge, politics and organization (KPO)

The research group's aim is to study and explain the relations between knowledge, politics, and organization. We study these connections at various levels, from the local to the global.

Illustrasjon av kunnskap, politikk og organisasjon

Main content

Knowledge has become an increasingly important aspect of policy formation, administration, and social life in general. This is a global tendency, in particular in modern affluent societies with a comprehensive public sector. The importance of knowledge can be grasped through three key connections: The knowledge base of policy making, knowledge institutions, and democracy.

Research Profile

The knowledge base of policy making

 It is generally recognized that policy makers increasingly should rely on knowledge. New knowledge is expected to solve political problems and legitimize policy solutions. Recently an increasing number of intermediary institutions and organizations for the production, application and dissemination of research-based knowledge have been formed to facilitate the transmission of information into politics, policies, and practices. New networks, organized actors, interest groups, social movements, institutions, and experts contribute to an abundance of various types of knowledge. New intermediary organisations have developed at the intersection between state administration, the academic sector and society, creating new conditions for the provision of information and policy advice. 

Relations between knowledge, politics and organization are continuously subjected to politicization processes. Partisan political interests will try to define issues as political. At the same time, depoliticization processes move issues in the opposite direction, towards bureaucratization, professionalization and corporativization, reducing the space for politics and expanding room for the exercise of discretion by bureaucrats, experts and interest groups. Furthermore, state modernization has expanded the organizational basis for policymaking and reshaped the provision of policy advice. The interaction of politicization, depoliticization and organizing are played out in different ways in different policy subfields, in different political-administrative systems, in different countries as well as in transnational or multilevel contexts.

Knowledge institutions

Formal knowledge institutions, from kindergartens to schools, colleges, universities, and research institutions have expanded in ways that were unimaginable after the second world war. In that process, modern society has been thoroughly transformed. Today these institutions are not just regarded as important characteristics of modern, democratic societies, but also as strategic devices and productive forces for the development of competitive strength and maintenance of advanced knowledge-based economies and welfare societies. The shift towards perceiving our societies as knowledge-based has several implications. Many actors have developed strong vested interests in how knowledge institutions are organized and governed, the resources they have and how priorities are made. 

Knowledge and democracy

Free research and knowledge development, and open public discussions about scientific knowledge are inextricably linked to democracy as a form of government. It is also tightly related to making effective policies dealing with a variety of societal challenges, such as climate change, migration, sustainable economic growth, clean energy, as well as ageing and health. At the same time research-based knowledge and its trustworthiness is increasingly challenged. Contemporary labels such as “fake news” and “alternative truth” point to strategic and opportunistic use of knowledge, including the (ab)use of knowledge claims (be they scientific or not) by various actors to legitimize particular interests or ideologies, activating core tensions between democracy and citizenship.

Research agenda

To shed light on knowledge, politics and organization, group members focus on a broad range of topics, studies of the use and abuse of knowledge in administration and governance highlight various policy sectors (e.g., health, climate, and environmental policies), and how politics and administration contribute to knowledge development and transmission – from kindergarten, via the school system and vocational education to higher education and research. Attention is also given to tensions between expertise and representativeness of policymakers (in elected office as well as the civil service), as well as between, on the one hand, institutional autonomy, and professional discretion and, on the other, demands from superior authorities and government control.  Group members ground their work on theories on public policy and administration, such as organization theory, theories of democracy, bureaucracy, corporatism as well and theories of professions, political expertise, policy advisory systems and political-administrative systems at large. They investigate such issues as the tensions between institutional autonomy and professional discretion on the one hand and demands from superior authorities and government control on the other. Empirically their focus may vary from the national Norwegian context to cross-national comparative studies and studies of international organizations.

Ongoing Projects

  • Re-structure: Redesigning the Norwegian higher education landscape. Med støtte fra Forskningsrådets FINNUT-program skal NIFU i samarbeid med nasjonale og internasjonale forskningsmiljøer undersøke strukturreformen. Hensikten med reformen er å fremme generelle mål om høy kvalitet i utdanning og forskning, regional utvikling, verdensledende fagmiljø og effektiv ressursbruk. Evalueringen skal undersøke i hvilken grad reformen fører norsk høyere utdanning nærmere disse målene og hvilke faktorer som realiserer dem. Analysen av resultatene er basert på relevante indikatorer, mens analysen av fusjonsprosessene fokuserer på muligheter, spenninger, løsninger og ikke-intenderte konsekvenser. Read more about the project by clicking here.
  • POLCAP: Policy capacity of interest groups. Interest groups in the public sector are organizations which represent various stakeholders - workers, professions, providers and users of public sector services. They are expected to contribute to governing the public sector by contributing information, expertise and legitimacy. However, we know surprisingly little about the overall capacity of these organizations to fulfill these expectations, whether some interest groups have more capacity than others, how they go about building such capacity internally and what trade-offs they might be facing. This project focuses on a part of the public sector in which there is a strong presence of interest groups: education. The main goal is to identify how much and what kind of policy capacity interest groups in education possess, how can this be explained and what are the implications for the overall capacity to govern education. Read more about the project by clicking here.
  • Decolonising epistemologies, disciplines and the university.
  • Coupling: Organisational coupling of higher education institutions. Universities are core knowledge organisations in our societies and there is considerable public interest in how to facilitate high quality education and research. External policy initiatives in this often seem to lead to unintended consequences or limited changes. This is often explained by the unique and specific characteristics of universities, as complex, bottom-heavy and loosely coupled organisations. Yet, some of these claims of universities have hardly been explored empirically. For example, “loose coupling” of higher education organisations is more often assumed rather than analysed. This leaves significant gaps in our current understanding of intraorganizational dynamics of the university, and the relationship between formal organisation and work processes within. Rather than assume that universities as institutions were and/or are loosely coupled in a static sense, we ask what loose coupling entails; whether, and if so, how, coupling patterns in universities change over time; and how this all matters for work processes. Read more about the project by clicking here.
  • Universitetet i Bergen sin historie 75 år. 
  • Longitudinal perspectives on local, central and supranational public bureaucracies. While the majority of public administration scholarship continues to rely on cross-sectional research designs (i.e. comparing multiple staff members or public agencies at one point in time), a growing group of scholars is pushing for the study of public administrations from a dynamic perspective. This project’s network activities aim at bringing together this fragmented landscape of international research groups. By providing a framework to establish links and connections between existing individual efforts – in terms of datasets, methodological tools and theoretical perspectives – the project will enable crucial strides towards comparative research, the generalizability of empirical findings, and novel theoretical developments. As such, it provides a critical push towards a ‘temporal turn’ in public administration research. Read more about the project by clicking here.
  • DemoTrans: The Interchange Between Democratic Institutions and the Globalisation of the Economy. Following World War II, globalisation and market liberalisation triggered a period of unprecedented growth. Recently, these trends appear to reverse, whereby globalisation and corporations started to pose challenges for liberal democracy, social cohesion and environmental sustainability. The EU-funded DemoTrans project will provide theoretically and empirically robust recommendations on how to reinvigorate democratic governance by improving the accountability, transparency, effectiveness and trustworthiness of rule-of-law based institutions and policies. Moreover, it will provide robust recommendations on strengthening democratic governance through the expansion of active and inclusive citizenship empowered by the safeguarding of fundamental rights, thus showing pathways to a secure, open and democratic European society. Read more about the project by clicking here.
  • Bergen-to-Bratislava: Knowledge and Human Capital Exchange. The project ‘Bergen to Bratislava: knowledge and human capital exchange’ focuses on bilateral cooperation between the Applicant and the Partner in order to support the educational, academic, and professional development of students, teachers and researchers of both Parties, as well as the administrative staff of the Applicant. The project aims to increase the international cooperation potential of both Parties, which reflects the globalization trends within the academic community. The development of human and knowledge capital of both Parties will be based on mutual, bilateral cooperation and on the creation of avenues for knowledge transfer and mobilities. The direct cooperation of DG/UiB and IPP will be an opportunity for pedagogical and scientific development in the field of public policy, including public policy related to social and green topics, leading to impacts on policy-making as described in the main focus area of the project. Gender equality is already relevant during the creation of the plan and activities - there was a focus of at least 50% involvement of women in all of the activities and mobilities that are part of this project. Gender equality and Roma inclusion and empowerment will also be factors considered in setting up selection criteria by both universities in case of mobilities. Read more about the project by clicking here.

Finished Projects

  • PROSEPS: Professionalization and Social Impact of European Political Science COST Action CA15207. The project aims to build a broad network of scholars studying internationalization and social impact of political science. The innovative nature of the project lies in its multidimensional focus: moving from the key concepts of Professionalization and Social Impact , the working groups included in the network will discuss data and interpretations of the recent transformation of Political Science, looking to four areas of study: 1) the transformation of the academic subject (size of the community, internal articulations, research areas, PhD programmes), 2) the social and media visibility of the subject and its research outcomes, 3) the impact of reforms on the rates of international mobility and international circulation of research outcomes, 4) the applicability and application of the products of political science, and the social impact of the work of political scientists. Read more about the project by clicking here.
  • TRUE: Transforming Universities in Europe. The Collaborative Research Project TRUE is funded by the European Science Foundation under the programme Higher Education and Social Change (EuroHESC). The project is a comparative study of higher education reforms in eight European countries that aims to clarify how steering and governance affect essential organizational characteristics of higher education institutions and how this in turn affects the differentiation of the higher education landscape. This will help understand how consciously designed European and national reforms affect national systems and presumably their basic functions: education, research and innovation and individual institutions. Read more about the project by clicking here.
  • HELO: Higher Education Learning Outcomes transforming higher education? The primary objective of the project is to analyse how learning outcomes are understood, interpreted and practiced in varying higher education contexts, most notably across different fields of science and types of higher education institutions, and to clarify to what extent, and under what conditions, learning outcomes result in changes in administrative arrangements, or in teaching and learning activities. The secondary objective of the project is to use these insights to contribute to the development of more sophisticated, contextualised and valid performance indicators, which convincingly reflect higher education learning outcomes. Read more about the project by clicking here.
  • Kvalitet og samspill: UH-sektoren og samfunnet. 
  • Kvalitet i fag- og yrkesopplæringen. Prosjektet har to hovedformål. For det første skal det fremskaffe mer forskningsbasert kunnskap om ulike deler av fag- og yrkesopplæringen. For det andre skal det undersøke og analysere hvordan kvalitet i fag- og yrkesopplæringen kan vurderes og uttrykkes. Prosjektet har seks hovedtemaer: 1) Læringsmiljø, 2) Innhold og vurdering, 3) Kvalitetsarbeid, 4) Gjennomføring og frafall, 5) Fagopplæring som port til arbeidslivet, 6) Helhetlig kvalitetsstyringssystem for fag- og yrkesopplæringen. Prosjektet gjennomføres av et konsortium ledet av NIFU. I tillegg deltar Fafo, Universitetet i Bergen og Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus. Fra NIFU deltar i tillegg til Håkon Høst, Asgeir Skålholt og Hilde Karlsen. Read more about the project by clicking here.
  • The future of VET: Learning from the Nordic countries. Funded by NordForsk programme 'Education for tomorrow'The purpose of the project is to generate significant new knowledge on the strengths and weaknesses characterizing the different models of vocational education and training (VET) at higher secondary level in the Nordic countries. This knowledge will increase the opportunities for systematic policy learning in relation to key dilemmas in the development of VET in the future in these countries.the project has a special focus on how the systems handle the double challenge of qualifying for employment and providing access to HE? The revitalisation of modern forms of apprenticeship programmes in a number of Nordic countries has drawn attention to the risk that these programmes become ‘dead-ends’ in the educational system, with weak linkages to the tertiary level of education. Comprehensive education on the other hand often suffers from weak linkagess to the labour market and difficult transitions to employment. What are the experiences of programmes for double or hybrid that provide access to higher education as well as work-based learning and skilled employment? Read more about the project by clicking here.
  • Styring, organisasjon og ledelsesutfordringer i barnehagen.
  • Leiing for læring.
  • Autoriserte samfunnsbilete.