Professor Skelcher's research examines how ideas about democracy and governance interact with the institutions of contemporary governance. It has involved extensive collaboration with European, US and Australian academics, including co-authored papers and conference panels, as well as knowledge transfer events for policy makers and practitioners in the UK and Australia and capacity building events for the PhD/early career research community.
His primary research focus is on the implications for democracy of the fragmentation of government into multiple agencies/partnerships operating at arm’s-length to elected political authority. Initial research into quangos in mid 1990s (funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation) investigated the membership and attitudes of board members, using a large scale postal survey and semi-structured interviews. A subsequent study of community regeneration partnerships (also JRF) undertaken with Prof. Vivien Lowndes, generated a Public Administration article (1998) which is one of the most cited articles in PA over the past two decades and continues to be widely cited. In 1998 I published a substantial research monograph - The Appointed State: Quasi-governmental organisations and democracy (Open UP). This resulted in invitations to give evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee and the Committee on Standards in Public Life. In 2000, Stuart Weir (Democratic Audit) and Professor Skelcher were commissioned by the Local Government Information Unit to undertake an analysis of quangos under New Labour (with Lynne Wilson).
In the 2000s, his research migrated from the democratic analysis of ‘quangos’ into public private partnerships and single purpose boards (e.g. regeneration partnerships, business improvement districts, and the variety of local level special purpose agencies). He was PI on 2 ESRC research awards and an ESRC / EPSRC Public Service Fellowship at the Advanced Institute for Management Research, and held a number of ESRC PhD studentships and an ESRC Follow-on Grant. Further research was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and a Danish Research Council international collaborative PhD scholarship.
These studies have involved methodological development, including a recent web-enabled and cross-national Q methodology study of Dutch and English public managers’ understandings of democracy (published in Public Administration, December 2011). His recent book with Stephen Jeffares (Birmingham) and Helen Sullivan (Melbourne) - Hybrid Governance in European Cities (Palgrave, 2013) - reports the results of our analysis of changing forms of urban governance.
During 2010-2012 he collaborated on a successful ESRC seminar series award on Beyond the State: Third party Government in Comparative Perspective (with Dr. Catherine Durose, de Montfort University, and Dr. Jonathan Justice, University of Delaware). In 2011 he was awarded a Nuffield Foundation small grant to undertake a pilot project on Political Commitment to Quango Reform (with Dr. Chris Moores, School of History, University of Birmingham), comparing the politics of quango reform under the 1979 Thatcher and 2010 Coalition governments. This developed into a cross-national comparative context supported by an ESRC award (with co-Is Professors Matthew Flinders [Sheffield] and Anthony Bertelli [New York University] called Shrinking the State: Reform of Arm's-length Bodies in Comparative Perspective, which ran from 2012-2016. This project involved close interaction with Cabinet Office and government departments, the Public Chairs Forum, the chairs and chief executives of public bodies, and a range of other stakeholders - including evidence to committees of the House of Commons and House of Lords.
Outputs from this research have been recognised through the UK Public Administration Consortium Prize for best paper in Public Administration 2005 (co-authored with Mathur/Smith) and a ‘commendation’ in 2008 (co-authored with Munro/Roberts, 2 PhD researchers), and the Jan Kooiman Prize for best paper in Public Management Review 2008 (co-authored with Helen Sullivan). My 2002 research monograph on collaborative governance with Prof. Helen Sullivan (Working Across Boundaries, Palgrave), the 2007 article with Professor Erik-Hans Klijn on the theoretical relationship between network governance and representative democracy, and a 1998 paper on the dynamics of multi-organisational partnerships are all widely cited.
He is now supervising a PhD study of the network governance of the transition to low carbon in European cities, funded by the EU’s Climate Knowledge and Innovation Centre, and developing ideas on the relationship between institutional flexibility and democracy with colleagues at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In parallel to this academic research, Professor Skelcher has been commissioned by government to undertake a large number of studies, evaluations, and policy advice projects. Sponsors include Communities and Local Government (formerly, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister), Local Government Association, National Assembly for Wales, Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, and a number of local authorities. In 2000 I led a team of political scientists, constitutionalists, and lawyers to draft an English equivalent to the US Model Cities Charter, a model set of constitutional documents for local authorities following the replacement of the committee system with cabinets and elected mayors. The outputs form the basis of the political management procedures adopted by almost all England’s 400+ local authorities.
Later, he directed a 3 year evaluation of turnaround by poorly performing local authorities, generating policy advice for HM Treasury, ODPM/CLG, Audit Commission, and other departments/local government bodies. This research led into a 2007 ESRC Public Service Programme research award (as co-I with PI Prof Kieran Walshe, Manchester Business School), again associated with close interaction and knowledge transfer with policy makers and practitioners.