Governance of Complex Semi-Public Goods

Many goods provided by public and private sector are neither public or private. Instead they can be considered semi-public or semi-private depending on the preferences of labeler. Often such goods are also complex as understanding the nature of goods and governance of provider of goods is not as straightforward as it seems. Examples of such goods can include but are not limited to pension systems, housing associations, open source software development, digital governance, digital platforms, government venture capital, artificial intelligence and international trade. This project investigates governance of complex semi-public goods from a political economy perspective by focusing on institutional frameworks and entrepreneurial discovery processes. It focuses on institutional arrangements of good governance practice as well as trade-offs between institutional complexity, entrepreneurial discovery and rent-seeking. At least but not least, the project values societal relevance by investigating whether good governance practices can be transferred from one area to other areas as well as across different countries.


Keywords: Public goods, private goods, complex semi-public goods, governance, political economy, institutions, institutional complexity, entrepreneurial discovery, rent-seeking


Many goods provided both by private and public sector are not clearly private or public, but semi-public or semi-private as well as quite complex. Investigation of the governance practice of what can be called complex semi-public goods requires going beyond traditional public administration, economics and management literature. Particularly, as dynamic of governance is strongly influenced by political economy where ideas, institutions and interests constantly interact.


The goal of this PhD project is to investigate governance of complex semi-public goods from a political economy perspective in multiple areas and countries. Supervisor provides a framework based on the earlier work which has investigated governance of open source software projects globally, network neutrality in Europe, smart specialization, digital public governance and government venture capital and government grants in Estonia. The approach combines institutionalist theories as well as scholarship on entrepreneurial discovery as well as rent- seeking.


Choice of areas and countries depends on the interests of PhD Candidate. The choice of areas may include but are not limited to:


  1. 1) Pension systems where governance is heavily dependent on public sector rule-making and private sector organizational capabilities. Underperformance of current systems as led to new governance models which have disregarded traditional governance models.
  2. 2) Housing associations which face significant collective action dilemmas as their members have different educational and socio-economic backgrounds.
  3. 3) Digital platforms which play increasingly important role in social, economic and political life. Private digital platforms increasingly perform public function as their services deliver much more than basic private goods and facilitate co-creation of public goods.
  4. 4) International trade where private actors depend on rule-making on global and regional level by public sector. While the nature of international trade has changed significantly during the last decades, the governance has stayed stagnant. The rise of intra-industry trade and global value chains imply need for changes in the governance.

Research questions

Main research questions to address are following:

  1. 1) What are different institutional arrangements which led to good governance of complex semi-public goods?
  2. 2) What are trade-offs between institutional complexity and facilitation of entrepreneurial discovery in governance of complex semi-public goods?
  3. 3) How do different governance arrangements of complex semi-public goods mitigate the risks of rent-seeking which emerges from blurring distinction between public and private goods?
  4. 4) If and how can governance models of complex semi-public goods transferred from one area to other areas for the improvement of governance?


The choice of research methods depends on availability of data and issue areas to be investigated. In some areas such as pension funds and international trade probability of combining both quantitative and qualitative methods is high. In other areas, the research may rely on qualitative methods and employ Qualitative Comparative Analysis (a la Ragin) or other appropriate methods. In any case, the research will be based on multimethod approach, and possibly, also on mixed methods.

PhD candidate profile

Candidates should have completed Master’s degree in Economics, Political Science, Sociology, Public Administration or other relevant discipline. They should have sufficient background in both quantitative and qualitative research methods. The necessary skills for research project can be also learned during the first year of PhD studies where both course on research methods and institutional economics are offered.

Expected output

The output will consist papers and/or manuscript that will form the contents of doctoral dissertation. The project is designed to lead to a number of publications in high quality journals and conference proceedings.


Depending on the research area, it would be possible to collaborate with other professors at EBS and other universities in Asia, Europe and the United States.


Societal relevance

The project has a high degree of societal relevance as it will investigate various governance practices in different fields and will try to find out why some institutional arrangements deliver good governance while others deliver bad governance. Governance is an important issue also in Estonia where improvements of public and private sector governance could give a boost to country’s productivity and well-being. Governance of different fields have important public policy implications which can serve as an important input for policy-making.


Scientific relevance

The project contributes to social science literature on governance where various gaps in literature of different disciplines exists. Economists divide goods neatly into private and public. Perhaps also into club goods and other categories if they are more sophisticated. At the same time, governance of these goods are either treated as black box at worst case scenario or overly stylized manner in the best case scenario. Management and public administration scholars can come to rescue but the former focus primarily on delivery of private goods by firms while the latter discuss how governments provide public goods.


Public administration scholarship has increasingly borrowed from management literature during the last decades. Emphasis have been increasingly on new public management (NPM) and network based governance (NBG) instead of traditional, hierarchical governance models. However, the NPM naively assumes that private sector practices can be transferred into public sector. Public goods can be delivered on the basis of same logic as private goods. While there are many interpretations of what these governance models imply and how they can be applied, they are best treated as ideal types, perhaps even as extreme ideal types.

Existing publications

Kitsing, Meelis (2017). Internet Banking as a Platform for E-Government. Annual International Conference Proceedings: 7th Annual International Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Ed. Geibel, Richard C. Singapore: GSTF, 99−107.


Kitsing, Meelis (2017). Political Economy of Government Venture Capital in Estonia. Annual International Conference Proceedings: 7th Annual International Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Ed. Geibel, Richard C. Singapore: GSTF, 115−124.


Kitsing, Meelis (2015). Nutika spetsialiseerumise analüüs. Majandus- ja Kommunikatsiooniministeerium.


Kitsing, Meelis (2011). Success Without Strategy: E-Government Development in Estonia. Policy & Internet, Article 5.


Kitsing, Meelis (2011). Network Neutrality in Europe. Proceedings: ICEGOV 2011. 5th International Conference on Theory and Practice of Electronic Governance. Tallinn, Estonia. September 26-28, 2011.. Toim. Elsa Estevez and Marijn Janssen. New York: ACM, 313−316.


Schweik, Charles M. ; Kitsing, Meelis (2010). Applying Elinor Ostrom's Rule Classification Framework to the Analysis of Open Source Software Commons. Transnational Corporations Review, 13−26.


Schweik, Charles M.; Kitsing, Meelis (2012). The OSGeo Case: An Example of the Evolving OSS Ecosystem. Schweik, Charles M., English, Robert C.. Internet Success: A Study of Open-Source Software Commons (103−128).. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.


Vicente, Ricardo; Kitsing, Meelis (2015). Picking Big Winners and Small Losers: An Evaluation of Estonian Government Grants for Firms. Industry Studies Association Annual Conference, Kansas City, MO, USA, May 26-28.


Supervisor: Associate Professor Meelis Kitsing