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Does local autonomy facilitate local government reform initiatives? Evidence from Switzerland

Nicolas Keuffer (Institut de Hautes Etudes en Administration Publique (IDHEAP), Université de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 14 May 2018




The purpose of this paper is to investigate to what extent the initiatives of local governments to launch modernisation processes are facilitated by local autonomy, which is increasingly important in both the theory and practice of public policy and management.


Local government reforms are distinguished according to the institutional structure at which they are directed and local autonomy is assessed as a multidimensional concept. Drawing on a multilevel analysis of the Swiss case, this paper combines data stemming from a survey conducted at the local tier with secondary data from the regional tier.


The main empirical findings are threefold. First, when local governments undertake managerial or political reform initiatives, their autonomy with respect to higher levels of government matters. Second, it is not local autonomy but rather the perception of structural problems that is the force driving territorial reforms. Third, it is not the autonomy enjoyed by local governments vis-à-vis local factors, but rather the pressures stemming from that context that may lead to reforms.


By adopting a comparative approach to local autonomy, this paper shows that local governments which have sufficient latitude for local policy making are likely to take initiatives to improve service delivery in accordance with local preferences.



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the IRSPM conference 2015 in Birmingham, England. The author would like to thank Andreas Ladner, Boris Wernli and the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


Keuffer, N. (2018), "Does local autonomy facilitate local government reform initiatives? Evidence from Switzerland", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 31 No. 4, pp. 426-447.



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