Success nonetheless: Making public utilities work in small-scale democracies despite difficult capital conditions

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 3 (Research UU / Graduation NOT UU)


A large part of the study of politics is dedicated to identifying the circumstances under which democracy will flourish. Putnam made a major contribution to this field through his concept of social capital as developed in Making Democracy Work. Putnam found that communities with a high number of civic associations –i.e. social capital- had a better chance of developing an effective style of democratic government.

This definition of social capital sparked much subsequent research and policy activity. It is argued here, however, that this work ignored the immediate needs of societies which do not have the required stock of social capital. There is still little guidance available on how effective government can be achieved even if the right societal circumstances are absent.

This thesis hopes to find inspiration from government agencies that were successful despite their challenging social capital conditions. It specifically looks at sixteen public utilities on the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao and St. Kitts between 2005 and 2009. The thesis then systematically investigates the relationship between the performance of the agencies and the behaviour of their senior officials.

It emerges that in the absence of social capital, governance is in these cases mainly hampered by a deluge of irrelevant data. Successful utilities overcame this flood by constantly upgrading the quality of information, implementing a strict yet inclusive style of governance, and allowing strong leaders the space to translate words into actions. These outcomes suggest that social capital forms an important tool for ordering
information, and that, in its absence, there are still alternative strategies available to secure success nonetheless.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Oxford
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • social capital
  • public value management
  • small societies
  • islands
  • Caribbean
  • public utilities


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