The diversity of activation markets in Europe

Rik van Berkel (School of Governance, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
Fritz Sager (Center of Competence for Public Management, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland)
Franziska Ehrler (Swiss Conference for Social Aid and Welfare (SKOS), Bern, Switzerland)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Publication date: 15 June 2012



The purpose of this article is to analyse the diversity of markets for the provision of activation services.


The article is based on the outcomes of a project involving nine European countries. The project investigated changing forms of governance of income protection schemes and activation services for unemployed people. Diversity is investigated by focusing on five dimensions of diversity derived from the quasi‐market concept as developed by Le Grand: the purchasers, the providers, the customers, the purchaser‐provider split and the purchaser‐customer split.


The paper finds considerable diversity in the design of markets for the provision of activation. Diversity is visible in all dimensions involved in the analysis. One interesting finding is that a full split between purchasers and providers hardly exists, although some countries have introduced a stricter split than others. Another finding concerns the voice and choice of service consumers, which seems hardly affected by the introduction of market mechanisms in the provision of activation. Finally, marketisation does not seem to be an irreversible project, as de‐marketisation processes were identified as well.


Most current research into activation markets and their effects pays little attention to the issue of diversity in the design and functioning of markets. This article argues in favour of more systematic research of market diversity and of the variety of effects of various market models. Rather than comparing marketised with public service provision, a stronger focus on various market models may strengthen our insight into how service provision models affect the effectiveness of activation services.



van Berkel, R., Sager, F. and Ehrler, F. (2012), "The diversity of activation markets in Europe", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 32 No. 5/6, pp. 273-285.

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