Dr Emanuele Lobina

ISRF Political Economy Fellow 2017-18

Dr Emanuele Lobina

ISRF Political Economy Fellow 2017-18

ISRF Emanuele Lobina

Emanuele Lobina is Principal Lecturer in the Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) at the University of Greenwich Business Faculty. Emanuele joined PSIRU in 1998 to further PSIRU’s research and policy work on water service reform. Taking the urban water sector in developed, transition and developing countries as reference, his research connects two separate but interrelated themes: the relative efficiency of public and private enterprise; and the policy process of water service reform. He has regularly acted as a consultant for and policy advisor to international organisations, central and local governments, professional associations, trade unions and social movements. His work has been translated into Catalan, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian. His experience with applied research has led Emanuele to growing dissatisfaction with the dominant rational choice theories of government failure, such as public choice and property rights theory, and competing perspectives such as market failure theory. In fact, the evidence does not support the predictions of all these theories. This dissatisfaction constitutes the motivation for Emanuele’s current theoretical work.

His ISRF-funded project aims to address the explanatory limitations of the conventional theory of the economics of organisation. While government failure and market failure theories respectively predict the necessity of private and public efficiency, both fail to predict the public and private inefficiencies which are empirically pervasive. This failure of prediction is due to deductive reasoning that insulates explanatory claims from the real-world duality of agency and institutions. Oliver Williamson lays the foundations for recognising organisational failures of all kinds, by acknowledging this duality, but remains hamstrung by the limits of deductive reasoning.

To resolve this impasse, the project develops a theory of organisational failure that illuminates the multiplicity of the possible organisational efficiency outcomes, explaining how public and private water utilities become more or less efficient under varying circumstances, and reveals the social and economic factors leading to these outcomes. It does so by revisiting Williamson’s comparative institutional analysis from a critical realist vantage point, using inductive reasoning as a method of theorising, adopting multiple rationality as agency model and the duality of agency and institutions as the key to explanation.

Reorienting Industrial Organisation Theory: From Necessary to Possible Outcomes

While government failure and market failure theories respectively predict the necessity of private and public efficiency, both fail to predict the public and private inefficiencies which are empirically pervasive. This failure of prediction is due to deductive reasoning that insulates explanatory claims from the real-world duality of agency and institutions. Oliver Williamson lays the foundations for recognising organisational failures of all kinds, by acknowledging this duality, but remains hamstrung by the limits of deductive reasoning. To resolve this impasse, this project develops a theory of organisational failure that illuminates the multiplicity of the possible organisational efficiency outcomes, explaining how public and private water utilities become more or less efficient under varying circumstances, and reveals the social and economic factors leading to these outcomes. It does so by revisiting Williamson’s comparative institutional analysis from a critical realist vantage point, using inductive reasoning as a method of theorising, adopting multiple rationality as agency model and the duality of agency and institutions as the key to explanation. The theory is developed through a new “remediable institutional alignment” framework, which operationalises the duality of agency and institutions by exploring the interplay of actors’ motivation, power, organisational arrangements and institutional environments. This framework is used to analyse the evidence from 30 qualitative case studies produced in 15 years of research on water service reform. Each case illustrates how path-dependency causes the temporary lock-in of organisational efficiency. The cases are then compared to formulate hypotheses on the causality of variations in relative efficiency. Throughout this process, inputs from industrial organisation, economic sociology, and political and policy sciences contribute to the emergence of socialised, historical and nonreductionist accounts of relative efficiency. The enhanced explanatory power of this theory promises to better support organisational reform and serve social justice in a sector vital to social and economic development.

Research Outcomes

Contacting Fellows

If you would like to contact any of our Fellows to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at lars.cornelissen@isrf.org.