Giving Shape to Invitational Governance

Plea for a design-led approach to public administration theory


Arwin van Buuren




Public administration theory can and must contribute more to solving societal issues. This can only be achieved if public administration theory becomes a design science. In this oration Arwin van Buuren elaborates on this.

Design-led approaches to public administration theory do justice to the complexity of current societal challenges. By exploring potential solutions in an experimental manner a design-led public administrator gains insights about both the problem and the solution. As such, a design-led approach to public administration theory has the potential to deal with societal valorisation on the one hand and scientific innovation on the other.

In complex situations not all knowledge is at hand and a researcher therefore has to gain understanding of this complexity through a process of systematic trial-and-error and hereby work towards a solution. In his oration, Arwin draws the contours of such a design-led approach to public administration theory.

One of the current challenges for public administration is finding suitable ways to respond to and give room for bottom up initiatives. In other words: how can administrations adopt a responsive and invitational stance to these initiatives? This calls for a certain role, arrangement and mix of instruments. It also calls for ambidexterity: to flexibly and appropriately switch between exploiting the existing repertoire of a performing administration and exploring the emerging repertoire of a responsive administration. In his oration, Arwin further explores this notion of invitational governance and explains how a design-led approach can lead the way further.