Dr. S. Merkus



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Struggling for meaning within an infrastructural venture:  A narrative approach to the administrative culture of decision-making

Decision-making processes in complex infrastructure development in the Netherlands are said to be unnecessary long-winding and of poor quality. Especially the policy phase, involving public administrators - such as ministers, provincial deputies and aldermen - is perceived as tediously slow. According to the Elverding committee's report on decision-making, this is caused mainly by a 'deficient' administrative culture; however, what this culture really entails and how it influences decision-making remains an underresearched 'black box'. Following a social-constructionist approach, this study unravels and investigates this notion of administrative culture by conceptualizing it as a process of meaning-making. Each actor makes sense of the experienced infrastructural problem and the desired solution according to his/her own perspective. Consequently, each actor strategizes to give sense to the venture - in other words, to influence the perception of other actors. The result is a struggle between actors who use power to enact their own interpretation as the dominant meaning of the venture. During these struggles - also called ‘politics of culture’ - actors use stories as primary mechanisms for sensemaking and sensegiving. Subsequently, the decision-making process is steered by the story that dominates the struggle for meaning. This study provides insight in the politics as culture - the struggle for meaning - leading to valuable handholds for improving the decision-making process; consequently, this will improve infrastructural development in the Netherlands.

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