The political means and social service ends of decentralization in Poland: The story of Poland's mid-level public administration reform and its effect on social service delivery

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Mitchell Orenstein


Decentralization, Poland, Public administration reform, Social service delivery

Subject Categories

Political Science | Public Administration | Social Policy


This dissertation analyzes the politics and social service outcomes of governmental decentralization in Poland. Poland's 1999 public administration reform reduced the number of provinces from 49 to 16, restored 373 counties, and decentralized public programs and services to these two levels. In the process it dramatically altered many social service programs previously administered on higher levels and provided potential for increased citizen participation in social service programming. While the reform intended to improve services and participation, a detailed study of its impact on social service delivery shows decentralization often failed to meet expected goals. Unsatisfactory outcomes can be traced back to the politics of reform development. Conflicting ideologies and pressures on policy actors stemming from historical, institutional, political, and international sources often resulted in compromises that led to unfavorable public service outcomes. This study uses focused interviews with leading reform actors and a nation-wide, representative survey of 200 public social service institutions to connect the politics of the decentralization process with social service outcomes. It develops a model of different types of reform politics and their corresponding policy outcomes for decentralization in Poland. In so doing it bridges a divide in the decentralization literature between politics of decentralization and outcomes. This dissertation not only outlines how politics contributed to failed decentralization policy, but shows more generally that attention to politics is needed when approaching policy reform.


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