Dr Koen P.R. Bartels

Dr Koen P.R. Bartels

Institute of Local Government Studies
Senior Lecturer in Public Management

Contact details

INLOGOV - School of Government
Muirhead Tower
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Koen Bartels joined INLOGOV in October 2018 as Senior Lecturer in Public Management. He holds a BSc and MPhil in Public Administration from Leiden University (the Netherlands) and a PhD in Politics from the University of Glasgow.

His research focuses on public encounters between front-line workers and citizens in an urban context. He takes an interpretive approach to understand and improve the relational dynamics in and around these encounters in social and democratic innovations. He has conducted grant-funded research projects involving co-production, knowledge exchange and impact generation in the UK and abroad. His research has been published in leading international journals, including Urban Studies, Environment & Planning C, Public Administration, Public Administration Review, and International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. His book 'Communicative Capacity: Public Encounters in Participatory Theory and Practice' was published by The Policy Press in 2015. The book he co-edited with Julia Wittmayer, ‘Action Research in Policy Analysis: Critical and Relational Approaches to Sustainability Transitions’, was published by Routledge in 2018.

At INLOGOV, Koen teaches courses in leadership, performance, participation, and public management. He is also co-convener of the ECPR Standing Group on Theoretical Perspectives on Policy Analysis and editorial board member for Administrative Theory & Praxis.


  • PhD in Politics, University of Glasgow, 2012
  • Mphil in Public Administration, Leiden University, 2008
  • BSc in Public Administration, Leiden University, 2006
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy


Dr Bartels' background is in public administration and policy analysis, to which he owes my interdisciplinary outlook on local governance. He was awarded my BSc (2006) and MPhil (2008) in Public Administration at Leiden University (the Netherlands). Here he developed an interest in urban governance and gained experience in interpretive research.

He obtained his PhD in Politics (2012) at the University of Glasgow.  He conducted a comparative study of community participation projects in three European cities. By focusing on encounters between public professionals and citizens, he developed a theory of communicative capacity. Methodologically, he took an interpretive approach to qualitative interviewing, narrative analysis and grounded theory analysis.

Over the next six years, Dr Bartels worked as a Lecturer in Management at Bangor Business School. Here he shifted focus to social innovation and specialised more in action research.  He also got increasingly fascinated by practice theory and relational philosophy. He taught courses in public sector management and innovation, comparative public administration, and research methods. And he was responsible for organising weekly PhD seminars and ran a discussion group on qualitative research.


  • Governance, participation and democracy distance learning module for MPA
  • Managing in a Political environment distance learning module
  • Performance strategy and challenge
  • Leadership in Public Services weekly module

Postgraduate supervision

  • External supervisor at Bangor University for Mr. Owen Powell. PhD project: Sensemaking in Worker Cooperatives.
  • External supervisor at Bangor University for Ms. E. Woodcock. PhD project: Developing Conditions for Regional Public and Third Sector Collaboration.


Research interests

Dr Bartels' research focuses on public encounters between public service professionals and citizens in urban governance.  He examined the nature of their interactions, relationships and communication as these are enacted ‘in-between’ and around them. He also critically explore the implications of these relational dynamics for democracy, justice and sustainability. His research is steeped in an interpretive methodology and action research in order to co-produce knowledge and actions with local actors and generate learning and change.

His current research explores the relational dynamics of sustaining social innovation in local governance. In this age of austerity it has become increasingly the responsibility of local authorities and communities to take charge of local well-being. But while many initiatives have successfully developed socially innovative ways for meeting local needs, these are constantly contested and fundamental transformations are resisted. He has conducted action research with innovative approaches to neighbourhood governance in Amsterdam and community organising in Liverpool to help understand and improve the relational dynamics through which social innovations are enacted.

His PhD research explored what happens when public professionals and citizens encounter each other in participatory practice. Through a comparison of community participation in three European countries, he developed a theory of communicative capacity. His book on this topic (published with The Policy Press, 2015) explains how they communicate, why this is so difficult, and what could lead to more productive conversations. 

His broader research agenda is focused on developing approaches grounded in relational philosophy and practice theory for transforming dominant governance theories and practices. Empirically, he has for example been exploring how social innovations can be sustained through experiential learning and transitions in neoliberal urban governance. He's also at the forefront of conceptual efforts at understanding policy as practice and promoting relational thinking in public administration and policy analysis. Finally, he has been stimulating methodological innovation in learning and teaching qualitative research and in taking up critical and relational approaches to action research.

Other activities


  • ESCR Impact Acceleration Account Knowledge Exchange Fellowship. October 2016              
  • ESCR Impact Acceleration Account Small Grant. October 2015
  • Research grant from Municipality of Amsterdam. July 2013
  • University of Glasgow Social Sciences Faculty Scholarship. April 2008


  • ‘Jan van Hout’ Thesis Award for best Master thesis academic year 2008-2009. Awarded by the Institute of Public Administration, Leiden University.
  • Sage Prize for best postgraduate paper at the Annual Public Administration Committee Conference. Awarded by the Editors of Public Policy and Administration.

External roles

  • Co-convener ECPR Standing Group on Theoretical Perspectives on Policy Analysis.
  • Editorial board member of Administrative Theory & Practice
Peer reviewer for Oxford University Press, Edward Elgar, Emerald, Century Process Press; Urban Studies, Public Administration, Public Administration Review, American Review of Public Administration, Administrative Theory & Practice, International Review of Administrative Sciences, Politics, Evidence & Policy, Local Government Studies, Voluntary Sector Review, Social Policy & Administration, Administration & Society, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, International Journal of Public Sector Management.


Recent publications


Bartels, K & Wittmayer, J (eds) 2018, Action Research in Policy Analysis: Critical and Relational Approaches to Sustainability Transitions. Routledge Advances in Research Methods, 1st edn, Routledge, London. <https://www.routledge.com/Action-Research-in-Policy-Analysis-Critical-and-Relational-Approaches/Bartels-Wittmayer/p/book/9781138553828>


Closs-Davies, S, Merkl-Davies, D & Bartels, K 2021, 'Tax Credits as an accounting technology of government: “Showing my boys they have to work, because that is what happens”', Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAJ-12-2018-3798

Bartels, K, Greenwood, DJ & Wittmayer, J 2020, 'How Action Research Can Make Deliberative Policy Analysis More Transformative', Policy Studies, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 392-410. https://doi.org/10.1080/01442872.2020.1724927

Bartels, K, Wagenaar, H & Li, Y 2020, 'Introduction: Towards deliberative policy analysis 2.0', Policy Studies, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 295-306. https://doi.org/10.1080/01442872.2020.1772219

Bartels, K 2020, 'Transforming the relational dynamics of urban governance: how social innovation research can create a trajectory for learning and change', Urban Studies, pp. 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098019889290

Closs-Davies, S, Bartels, K & Merkl-Davies, DM 2020, '“The frog in the pan”: Relational transformation of public values in the UK tax authority', Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, pp. 1-29. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-11-2019-4280

Bartels, K & Turnbull, N 2019, 'Relational public administration: a synthesis and heuristic classification of relational approaches', Public Management Review. https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2019.1632921

Bartels, K 2018, 'Collaborative dynamics in street level work: Working in and with communities to improve relationships and reduce deprivation', Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, vol. 36, no. 7, pp. 1319-1337. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654418754387

Bartels, K & Wagenaar, H 2018, 'Doubt and excitement: An experiential learning approach to teaching the practice of qualitative research', Qualitative Research, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 191– 206. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794117713056

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Bartels, K 2020, Fitting In: The Double-Sided Work of Intermediating Social Innovation in Local Governance. in H Sullivan & H Dickinson (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of the Public Servant. Palgrave.

Bartels, K 2019, Connecting: a relational approach to re-rooting communities, public services and politics. in M Stout (ed.), The future of progressivism: applying Follettian thinking to Contemporary Issues. Process Century Press, Anoka, MN, pp. 317-354.

Stout, M, Bartels, K & Love, JM 2018, Clarifying Collaborative Dynamics in Governance Networks. in M Stout (ed.), From Austerity to Abundance?: Creative Approaches to Coordinating the Common Good. Emerald, Bingley, pp. 91-115. <https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/S2045-794420180000006005>

Wittmayer, J & Bartels, K 2018, Conclusion: Critical and Relational Action Research for Policy Change and Sustainability Transitions. in K Bartels & J Wittmayer (eds), Action Research in Policy Analysis: Critical and Relational Approaches to Sustainability Transitions. Routledge, London, pp. 247-259.

Bartels, K 2018, Encounters with an Open Mind: Relational Neighborhood Working in Amsterdam. in M Stout (ed.), From Austerity to Abundance?: Creative Approaches to Coordinating the Common Good. Emerald, Bingley, pp. 181-200. <https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/S2045-794420180000006009>

Bartels, K & Wittmayer, J 2018, Introduction: Action Research in Policy Analysis and Transition Research. in KPR Bartels & JM Wittmayer (eds), Action Research in Policy Analysis: Critical and Relational Approaches to Sustainability Transitions. Routledge, London, pp. 1-17.

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