New article on the legitimacy gap of algorithmic decision-making in the public sector

A new article by Georg Wenzelburger and Pascal König has just been published in Technology in Society.

Adding to the literature on challenges of algorithmic decision-making systems, the authors draw attention to how a legitimacy gap of algorithmic decision-making in the public sector arises and how it can be addressed through stakeholder involvement.

The paper starts from the widely discussed observation in the literature that even though ADM systems in the public sector promise to enhance the performance and efficiency of government, specifically in operative or front-line decision-making, they introduce a range of challenges regarding opaqueness, unfairness, and value trade-offs. However, and moving beyond this vivid discussion on how fair, accountable and transparent ADM systems, the paper emphasizes that the advent of algorithmic decision-making in the public sector rises a much more fundamental challenge which cannot be solved by the current proposals of ethical AI: In fact, as the introduction of ADM systems enables us to obtain certain outcomes of decisions by changing decision parameters ex ante, the epistemic basis of decision-making and therefore the foundation of legitimacy of ADM systems in administrative decision-making is put into question. The authors argue that the traditional basis of legitimacy, which has guided decision-making in public management and administration so far, therefore no longer suffices.

To close this legitimacy gap, the authors propose a model for stakeholder participation in ADM system adoption and design choice, based on a critical civic society, journalism and an algorithmic literacy in the populace. The model identifies the cornerstones of a participatory stakeholder involvement process and addresses the challenges involved in this process.

Louisa Prien

John Peterson Best Paper Award


We are happy to announce that the article “Bomb or Build – How party ideologies affect foreign aid and defence spending”, published last year in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations has earned the John Peterson Best Article Award for the best article published in BJPIR in 2020. The paper has been written jointly by Georg Wenzelburger and Florian Böller, our colleague from the TUK political science department. To read the paper, just click here.

Georg Wenzelburger

New article explains the introduction and termination of algorithm-based university admission in France

In their newest article published in the journal Policy Studies, Georg Wenzelburger and Kathrin Hartmann analyze why an algorithm-based university admission system in France, Admission Post Bac (APB), was introduced in 2008 but already has been abolished ten years later without having a proper alternative at hand. In order to study both, the rise and the fall of APB, they combine the theoretical assumptions of the Multiple Streams Framework (MSF) with the literature on policy formation.

The base of the empirical analysis is formed by the use of process tracing, developing an “event history map” (see figure below) in order to connect empirical evidence from the case study with the theoretical assumptions. The empirical evidence in this case was delivered through primary documents (official ministerial reports, different publications of auditing boards and parliamentary documents), confidential documents and the conduction of ten semi-structured expert interviews with actors being involved in the policy process.

The results of the analysis show that the problem stream and the political stream were ripe and facilitated policy change in both cases, a policy entrepreneur coupling a policy solution with the open window could only be found for the introduction of APB. Termination was instead characterized mainly by enormous problem pressure.

These findings do not only contribute to the theoretical refinement of the MSF but also to the scarce empirical literature on political dynamics in the field of algorithmic governance.

Kathrin Hartmann

New project ‚Linking Borderlands‘

Over the next three years, the BMBF funded project ‘Linking Borderlands’ will bring together researchers from Saarland University, University of Kaiserslautern, European University Viadrina Frankfurt and Brandenburg University.

From an interdisciplinary perspective we will look at the specific dynamics of EU border regions by comparing the Saar-LorLux+ and the Brandenburg/Lebus area. Starting from a classical border studies approach, we hope to contribute to the growing field by adding a stronger policy-oriented perspective.

The results of the project will also be shared with decision makers in politics and society.

Stefanie Thurm

Welcome to Marie-Louise Hauch

We are looking forward to Marie-Louise Hauch joining our team as an additional student assistant (Wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft) this month.

Marie-Louise currently studies Integrated Social Sciences with a specialization in politics (Bachelor’s program) at the TUK.

Welcome to the team!

New article on welfare state reforms and mass media attention

In their new article, published in the European Journal of Political Research, Georg Wenzelburger and Carsten Jensen take a closer look at mass media reporting on welfare state reforms. Building on news value theory and the welfare state reform literature, they argue that mass media attention is conditioned by the direction of reforms, the election platform that the incumbent party ran on in the last election and by the policy reputation of the government. Drawing on a new dataset including about 4,800 news articles in British, Danish, and German quality newspapers from 1995 to 2014, they find supporting evidence for their hypotheses.

First, it shows that articles on cutbacks are generally longer than those on expansions. Second, newspapers tend to cover reforms more extensively if they are implemented by governments which campaigned on a pro-welfare position, especially if the welfare state is cut. This effect can be seen in the figure below. Lastly, more reporting tends to take place when right-of-center parties implement reforms compared to left-of-center governments.

The article presents a systematic analysis of the underlying patterns of newspaper reporting on welfare state reforms and paves the way for future research on the relationship between public policy making and media attention.

Figure: Predicted number of words per article for cutbacks (hollow circles) and expansions (black circles).

Stefanie Thurm

Welcome to Nora Fritz

We are happy to anounce that Nora Fritz has joined our team as student assistant (Wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft).

Nora currently studies in the Bachelor’s program Integrated Social Sciences and, after having submitted her Bachelor’s thesis this summer, she will continue her studies in the master’s program at the University of Kaiserslautern. During the last winter term, she has taught a student course (Tutorium) to Georg’s lecture ‘Introduction to Political Economy’.

Welcome to our team!

New article: A multi-dimensional analysis of the migration policies in the German Länder

After Jonas Philipp and I had written our master’s thesis together under the supervision of Georg Wenzelburger in February 2020, the idea to publish an article about this topic came up over the course of last year. Together with the expertise of Georg Wenzelburger, the essay “The Migration Policy of the German States – A Multi-Dimensional Analysis” was published in the Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft – Comparative Governance and Politics (ZfVP). We examined to what extent there are differences in the design of migration policy at the sub-national level in the Federal Republic of Germany and what explains the policy variance between the German Länder.

In order to be able to examine the research question as precisely as possible, we considered the following six competences of the federal states:

  • the type of accommodation for refugees,
  • the benefits they receive,
  • their integration into the health system,
  • the establishment of “Ankerzentren“,
  • the practice of deportation to Afghanistan of the federal states and
  • their positioning regarding the topic of safe countries of origin.

To analyse possible paths to explain the differences between the federal states, we use a fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) with party politics, socioeconomic context and population attitudes as conditions.

Our results show that there are indeed substantial differences between the German Länder. We also find that the partisan composition of the government is an important condition in different paths for the existence of restrictive or permissive migration policies, respectively.


The figure above, an XY plot, corroborates our finding that Land governments with a liberal ideological position (horizontal axis) implement more permissive migration policies (vertical axis) than Land governments with a conservative ideological position.

Daniel Meyer

New article on the implementation of algorithmic decision-making systems

In their new article “Uncertainty, risk and the use of algorithms in policy decisions: a case study on criminal justice in the USA”, Kathrin Hartmann and Georg Wenzelburger investigate (1) how risk assessment tools, based on machine learning (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions, COMPAS) are implemented in daily public administration decision-making and (2) how legal officials in the local criminal justice system of Eau Claire County, Wisconsin experience the changes the use of risk assessment tools bring to their individual working routines.

Through qualitative expert interviews we conducted with legal officials in the local criminal justice system of Eau Claire County, Wisconsin as well as carefully analyzed insight documents provided by them, we could show that especially the individual notion of uncertainty in decision-making processes has changed through the introduction of COMPAS. While, before, a fundamental uncertainty concerning the outcome of proceedings seemed to be dominant, the introduction of the risk assessment tool generated a notion of statistical prediction to a situation. This, consequently, shifted the actors’ decision-making from a state of using incarceration when in doubt to a strong reliance on the risk score of COMPAS.

As a result, we see a need to carefully think about the consequences the use of algorithms might have in decision-making processes.

The article was published in Policy Sciences and can be accessed through:

            Kathrin Hartmann