Enhancing democracy via bureaucracy: Senior managers' social identities and motivation for policy change

Sharon Gilad, Saar Alon-Barkat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article challenges the depiction of bureaucracy as a hurdle to democratic responsiveness. It proposes that senior civil servants' (SCSs) dual position as professionals and citizens may enhance government permeability to salient public agendas. Building on social identity theory, we argue that salient public agendas may arouse SCSs' social identification with in-groups and thereby elicit their motivation for policy change within their task domain. Employing a mixed-methods design, we analyze SCSs' social identification with the participants of the large-scale social protests that took place in Israel during the summer of 2011, and their motivation for policy change in response to the protest agenda. We find that SCSs' social identification with the protesters enhanced their motivation for policy change. In addition, SCSs' perception of a conflict between responsiveness to the protest agenda and their organizational or professional identities shaped their preferences for policy solutions more than their motivation for policy change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-380
Number of pages22
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Israel Science Foundation, Grant Number: 538/13

Funding Information:
We are grateful to 73 Israeli senior civil servants for their time and invaluable insights. Early versions of this paper have been presented at the Halbert Center Israeli-Canadian Workshop on Institutions and Individual, Organizational and Field Level Identities, the Jerusalem Law School seminar, the 2016 Midwest Political Science Association annual conference, the 2016 Public Management Research Association conference, the 2016 SOG-IPSA conference, the Jerusalem School of Business Administration seminar, and at the Utrecht School of Governance seminar. We thank the participants of these events, as well as Eran Vigoda-Gadot, Kenneth Meier, Michael Shalev, Perri 6, Paul T'Hart and three anonymous reviewers, for their instructive comments. We thank Chagai Weiss and Arnon Spiegel for research assistance. We also thank the Harry and Sylvia Hoffman Leadership and Responsibility Program for their support of the second author. This research was supported by THE ISRAEL SCIENCE FOUNDATION (grant number 538/13).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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