Reporting from Harvard

Adolphus Bush Hall

After the first six weeks in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I have finally ramped up my coffee consumption to normal, organ damaging levels again. It also took some time to get accustomed to a couple of things, such as not having severe fits of food envy whenever a squirrel hastily crosses my path clinging to a nut – which happens often. So, it seems like a good time to write a bit on my academic and personal experience so far during by fellowship at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University.

With its beautiful campus that takes up a good part of Cambridge, Harvard makes it easy to immerse into its microcosm. The Center has been very welcoming and is making a great effort to realize its usual top-notch event program despite the pandemic and the uncertainties it entails. There have been various events on the German elections, and I was also able to participate as speaker in a panel on the German 2021 national elections at Boston University. It is a great pleasure to attend the “Seminar on State and Capitalism since 1800” hosted by Peter Hall and Kathleen Thelen, which features highly interesting presentations and discussions.

View on Cambridge from Charles River at sunset

Among us Kennedy fellows, we are also planning to have our own seminar in which we can present and discuss our work from different perspectives – which promises to be interesting, as our backgrounds are economy, history, and political science. There is no hurry, though, as we are all still busy with various other things. Of course, current projects do not simply end when going abroad but continue to take their toll. Nonetheless, the fellowship is a fantastic opportunity to concentrate on a research project and provides the space to go down some rabbit holes one would perhaps not consider otherwise.

Walden Pond

Gladly, besides settling in and getting to work on my research project, there has been enough time to get some impressions of Boston and other parts of New England. A trip to Walden Pond and the remnants of Henry David Thoreau’s hut is clearly a must when in Boston – especially for the aficionado of simplistic home furnishings. His temporary home there really was quite small and frugal – certainly not much do to there even for Marie Kondo – and one can easily imagine his mother and his sisters feeling the need to bring him sandwiches to support his contemplation about a free and independent existence in harmony with nature.


As a group of Kennedy fellows, we also went further north to the beautiful Lake Sunapee (New Hampshire) for a hike and to see a bit more of Indian summer. Fortunately, we were blessed with great weather until the end of October. Now, I am waiting to see if the winter really is as cold as a number of people have remarked and whether it will be the ideal occasion to stock up on Harvard hoodies as that extra layer to keep me warm. But first, I am preparing to fend off possible imminent attempts of sugar-crazed youngsters to decimate my candy stash. Happy Holloween!

Pascal König

Prof. Dr. Peter Starke talks about diffusion mechanisms at TUK

As part of the project “Linking Borderlands”, Prof. Dr. Peter Starke who teaches at the University of Southern Denmark held a presentation on diffusion mechanisms at TU Kaiserslautern. Participants were able to join in presence as well as on Zoom on Friday, October 15th.

Diffusion research focuses on how and why policies spread between states, regions, and cities. In doing so, researchers differentiate mainly between the mechanisms learning, emulation and competition. For example, a state can be interested in solving domestic problems by looking for solutions abroad, thus learning from others. However, states can also be inclined to engage in competition with others, for example by adjusting their tax levels. While theoretically, this distinction is shared by most researchers, the operationalization proves difficult: Looking at past studies, different mechanisms are often measured with the same indicators, while different indicators are used to measure the same mechanism. For example, geographical proximity and structural similarity have been used as indicators for all three mechanisms.

Hence, Peter Starke proposes a different strategy by employing the mechanistic philosophy of science by Machamer, Darden and Craver. In this perspective, causality is no longer operationalized by a set of independent and dependent variables but in a more organic way. The focus here lies on ‘causally productive’ entities and activities which lead to a certain outcome. Empirically, this implies a shift towards paying closer attention to the actions of actors which engage in policy diffusion processes. One possible strategy lies in using text analytical methods to extract those activities – are political actors drawing lessons, observing, and learning or are they improving a country’s international position, developing an advantage, and competing?

While research is only just now starting to think about such alternative ways to classify and measure diffusion mechanisms, it surely is a promising start to exit the methodological impasse it has entered long ago.

Stefanie Thurm

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