Soft governance, hard consequences: The ambiguous status of unofficial guidelines

Taco Brandsen*, Marcel Boogers, Pieter Tops

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Soft governance is an approach to policy implementation in which the central government relies less on hierarchy than on information to steer local organizations. This allows for a combination of formal accountability and professional autonomy that improves the quality of public services in both the short and the long term. Guidelines of an advisory, unofficial status are one tool that central government can use for this purpose. However, an inherent problem with this approach is that even though guidelines have no official legal status, in practice, they can take on the character of formal regulation when local organizations suspect that they cannot choose alternative courses of action, however well reasoned, without being sanctioned. It is a situation that encourages conformist behavior and diminishes the long-term potential for innovation. This phenomenon is illustrated with an analysis of disaster management in the Netherlands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)546-553
Number of pages8
JournalPublic administration review
Issue number4
Early online date4 Jul 2006
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2006


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