Frequently asked questions about participating in fieldwork Frequently asked questions about participating in fieldwork

On this page you'll find responses to some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about participating in the fieldwork.

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Project description
1. Who are we?
2. Why do we want study the European Commission?
3. Didn't the same team only recently complete a project on the European Commission? Is this project really ‘new'?
4. Why an online survey?
5. Who has been asked to complete the online survey?
6. Has the survey been tested?
7. Why should I complete the online survey?
8. How will the data be used?
9. Will my responses be anonymous?
10. How will confidentiality be protected?
11. What is your data protection policy?
12. Who is funding the research?
13. How can I find out about the results of the study?
14. Further questions?


Project description

Following the election of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014, the European Commission designated itself a ‘political Commission’ and introduced new ways of working. This project assesses the impact of those changes. It investigates what Commission staff understand by the ‘political Commission’ and how they regard the operation of the new methods, including the introduction of policy teams led by Commission Vice Presidents. In order to assess how the Commission has changed over the last three administrations and how the Juncker Commission compares with its predecessors, it investigates three further areas:

  • what attracts staff to work in the Commission, their careers before and after they joined the organization, and their experience of the Commission as a workplace
  • how staff view the success of the Commission’s gender action plan and talent management policy
  • the attitudes, beliefs and values, and the motivation and expectations of personnel, with a view to assessing the extent to which, if at all, they have changed or evolved since 2008 and 2014, and how they differ, if at all, by gender, age group, cohort, nationality and staff grouping.

Although the European Commission is an important institution, many aspects of its operation, as well as the backgrounds, beliefs and attitudes of the people who work for it, are poorly understood. In our research, we aim to develop an understanding of the organization and its staff that is informed by the latest empirical evidence. Drawing on the experience and insights of staff from across the organization, our work is based on original primary source material that we collect.

1. Who are we?

The researchers are:

Professor Hussein Kassim, Professor of Politics, School of Political, Social and International Studies, University of East Anglia. Principal Investigator

Professor Sara Connolly, Professor of Personnel Economics, Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia, Main Co-Investigator

Professor Michael Bauer, Professor of Public Administration, German University of Administrative Sciences, Speyer

Professor Renaud Dehousse, President European University Institute, Florence Professor

Professor Brigid Laffan, Director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, of the Global Governance Programme and of the European Governance and Politics Programme, European University Institute

Professor Andrew Thompson, Professor of Public Policy and Citizenship, Politics and International Relations, University of Edinburgh

Dr Pierre Bocquillon, Lecturer in EU Politics and Policy, School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication, University of East Anglia

Additional research staff include:

Dr Vanessa Buth, School of Political, Social and International Studies, University of East Anglia

Kristina Ophey, PhD student, Faculty for Management, Economics and Social Science, University of Cologne

Louisa Bayerlein, PhD student, European University Institute

Josefine Lynggaard, MA student, University of Edinburgh

Martin Weinreich, PhD student, European University Institute

Dr Nicholas Wright, UCL and UEA

Administrative assistance will be given by:

Dr Pippa Lacey, School of Political, Social and International Studies and Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia

2. Why do we want to study the European Commission?

There are several reasons. The first to assess the impact of the internal reforms introduced by the Commission in 2014. The creation of project teams, headed by Vice Presidents, was intended to promote new ways of working within the College, but also between the College and the services. The project will enable us to investigate the impact of the changes and how they are perceived by staff in different roles and at different levels of the organization.

Second, the European Commission is an important international administration and a major influence on policy. In carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to it under the treaties, the Commission takes actions that affect the lives of European citizens and have consequences for the governments and populations of countries far beyond its borders.

Third, political debate and press coverage in some of the member states does not necessarily offer an accurate portrayal of the European Commission or the people who work for it. This project will use the data it collects to test accepted wisdoms about the organization and its staff, and to present a more informed view.

Finally, although there is a sizeable academic literature on the Commission, existing scholarship is limited in a number of important ways: it focuses on the Commission as a decision-making actor rather than an administration; it looks at particular structures or offices within the Commission rather than the organization as a whole; and it draws on limited and often outdated data rather than original source material that is regularly updated. Our ambition is to address the Commission as an administration, to look at structure, processes and staff experience across the whole organization, and to gather and to use the data to inform our publications.

3. Didn't the same team only recently complete a project on the European Commission? Is this project really ‘new'?

Most of the researchers and one of the research assistants were involved in two earlier projects on the European Commission, ‘The European Commission in Question' and ‘European Commission: Facing the Future’. The first project is regarded as a milestone in the study of the Commission. It was based on an online survey administered to 4000 officials in 2008 and completed by 1901 respondents. The book, The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century, published by Oxford University in 2013, which showcased the findings from that project, has been highly acclaimed. Professor Edward C. Page, Professor of Public Policy at the London School of Economics, welcomed it as ‘a landmark in developing our understanding of how policy-making bureaucracies work and how such bureaucracies should be studied', while one Commission staff member described it as ‘the first book on the Commission where I recognized the organization I work for'. The policy briefings have been especially popular.

European Commission: Facing the Future’ was carried out in 2014 towards the end of the Barroso II Commission. As well as looking at the backgrounds, careers and beliefs of staff in order to identify changes since 2008, it investigated a number of new themes. It asked about staff experience of the Commission as a workplace and the interactions necessary to get their jobs done. It also sought to gauge staff responses to the 2014 reform of the Staff Regulations.

In the current project, we are interested in finding out what the ‘political Commission’ means to you. Also, to get a sense of how the Commission has changed since 2008, we will ask what attracted you to the Commission, and about your career and your views on the Commission as a workplace. We are also interested in your wider reflections on a range of other issues. Your answers will allow us to compare views across the organization, to look at the range of career experience, and to get a sense of the internal operation of this Commission, as well as to assess staff opinion on changes in the working of the European Commission since 2014.

4. Why an online survey?

An online survey is an efficient, flexible and versatile research instrument. It enables researchers to reach a large number of respondents, to secure a genuinely representative sample of the organization surveyed, and to collate responses quickly. It permits respondents to complete the survey at a time of their convenience, to resume the survey if they are interrupted, and to submit the finished survey with a simply click of a keyboard button.

5. Who has been asked to complete the online survey?

The online survey has been circulated to all major staff groupings in the Commission, including officials, temporary agents, contract agents and seconded national experts.

6.Has the survey been tested?

Yes, the survey has been piloted by Commission staff members. As a result of their feedback, some questions have been dropped, the phrasing of some questions has been changed, and the length of the survey has been reduced. We are aware that it is long and wide-ranging, but piloting suggests that it can be completed in a maximum of 30 minutes.

7. Why should I complete the online survey?

We appreciate that completing the survey takes time, but there are three reasons why we would urge you to spend the 30 minutes that it should take.

First, we want the picture that we present of the Commission in our publications to be genuinely representative. We want to learn from the experience and hear the views of all staff members from across the organizations.

Second, the higher the response rate, the greater will be the statistical power of the survey and, as a result, the more robust will be our findings.

Third, we believe that everybody in the Commission should be able to express their views and have their opinion recorded.

8. How will the data be used?

The data collected from the survey will be analyzed for scientific purposes. It will be used to inform a series of articles on aspects of the European Commission to be submitted to top academic journals in political science, public management, business studies, EU studies and personnel management, as well as a book on the EU administration.

These examples of how we discuss data from the survey are taken from our report on the findings from our project in 2014:

Summarising evidence across all staff groups: 'In the survey, respondents were asked about the level and the subject of their highest educational qualification. The findings confirm that the Commission has a highly educated workforce. Nearly 90 per cent of the workforce have attended University and no fewer than sixty per cent hold a postgraduate qualification

Illustrating differences between managers and non-managers: 'The leading motivation for administrators - both managers and non-managers - is ‘commitment to Europe’. For assistants, both ‘job stability’ and ‘international experience’ are more important than ‘commitment to Europe’, while for contract agents, and temporary agents, ‘international experience’ is cited more frequently than ‘commitment to Europe’. For seconded national experts, ‘international experience’ is also the most important motivation, but ‘commitment to a particular policy area’ is second and ‘commitment to Europe’ a close third.’

'The survey asked staff for their views on whether cabinets respect the technical expertise of the services. Thirty per cent of respondents from all staff groupings agreed that they did, while 23 per cent disagreed. Among non-management administrators, 35 per cent agreed and 26 per cent disagreed. Among managers, 42 per cent agreed and 30 per cent disagreed. Staff were then asked whether the political role of the cabinets is widely understood within the services. Forty-one per cent of respondents from all staff groups agreed, 20 per cent disagreed. Among non-management administrators, 48 per cent agreed and 19 per cent disagreed, while among managers 58 per cent agreed and 22 per cent disagreed’.

Illustrating differences by nationality: 'Although the views of respondents from the EU13 are near-convergent with those of from the EU15 on who should hold power within the EU, there are three issues on which positions diverge. First, respondents from the EU13 are much more likely to be optimistic about the future of the EU. Fifty-two per cent declared themselves to be optimistic and 21 per cent pessimistic compared with figures of 35 per cent and 38 per cent respectively for respondents from the EU15. Second, EU13 staff are less likely to believe that the Commission is losing power to national capitals, to the European Parliament or to the European Council. Third, EU13 respondents are much less likely to offer a negative interpretation of the impact of the financial and economic crisis on the Commission’.

Illustrating differences by gender: 'Analysis of responses to a series of questions used in surveys of national administrations to investigate the extent to which men and women are treated differently by their managers produced findings that were somewhat surprising given the contrasting responses to the ‘as-easy-for-women-to-advance-their-careers as-men’ question given by men and women. Either male or women respondents gave roughly similar answers, or women did not report experience of negative treatment. The exception was on visibility where 66 per cent of men, but only 59 per cent of women, agreed with the proposition, ‘I am assigned tasks or projects with high visibility by my manager’. 

And here's an example from the interviews: 'In many face-to-face interviews, managers and non-managers alike reported that management in the Commission tends to be rigid, conservative and hierarchical. Several described a management culture that is strongly and stiflingly risk-averse. Others pointed to what they considered rare examples of outstanding managers.’

9. Will my responses be anonymous?

We appreciate the importance of anonymity and can assure you that we will ensure that we will respect yours and that we will never identify you or make it possible for you to be identified. How?

First, that from the moment you press ‘submit’ at the end of the survey, you become invisible. We will not know who you are, and nor will anyone else. Ever. The survey software does not record your IP address or anything else about you. All it retains is your responses to the survey questions. Your answers will be forever anonymous.

Second, we only ever report aggregate data in our publications. For a typical example, click here.  We are interested in producing and testing generalizations, identifying trends, and comparing groups. The views of individuals may be fascinating, but they hold little interest in the scientific study of an organization.

Third, as a team of outside researchers, we do not have access to staff email addresses. We rely on the Commission administration to send out the link to the survey on our behalf. The data is collected on the system of a commercial software company that provides similar services to institutions and corporations across the globe. A key part of the company’s commercial strategy is that it operates on the basis of strict confidentiality. Moreover, the research team is the client -- not the European Commission.

Fourth, the data belongs to the research team and will do so in perpetuity. The data will be stored securely and will only be accessed by members of the team, who have all signed a confidentiality agreement. Data will never be copied, reproduced or transferred to any other body -- including the Commission -- in any form where it is possible for individuals to be identified.

Finally, we are professional researchers. The project had to pass an ethics approval process when we made the initial funding application, but, as importantly, our word, work, and independence is a matter of honour. We will never provide information about groups of fewer than five or present information in such a way that it is possible to know who has said what.

10. How will confidentiality be protected?

Confidentiality will be protected in several ways.

First, the project will comply with the General Data Protection Regulations, introduced on 25 May 2018. Please see the University of East Anglia's General Information Security Policy and the survey provider Qualtrics' GDPR. Please click here to see our data management plan.

Second, all members of the research team have signed a confidentiality agreement, in which they have undertaken to respect the anonymity of respondents, to use the data to inform the preparation of academic articles and a book on the EU administration only, and not to share the data with, or to show it to, any unauthorized individuals or parties.

Third, the responses to the survey are anonymised from the moment that the ‘submit’ button is pressed. No email, IP address or other information about you – except for your answers to the survey questions – is retained.

Fourth, although the team will be open to requests from researchers for specific information, it will not share the dataset with other individuals or parties in a form where it is possible to identify a particular individual or particular individuals, the European Commission included.

Fifth, in the event of Freedom of Information requests, the project will seek exemption under Section 40 (personal data) or Section 41 (confidentiality) of the Freedom of Information Act. Exemption for correspondence received by the research team from participants will be sought under Section 41 (confidentiality).

11. What is your data protection policy?

Please follow the link here to the document outlining the project's data protection policy. This document has been approved by the University of East Anglia's Ethics Committee. Please see the letter of approval. Please follow the link here to view the Qualtrics security assurance statement.

12. Who is funding the research?

The project is funded by the Universities themselves, with no financial contribution on the part of the European Commission. Its findings will be made available through briefings on the project website, presentations at meetings open to all Commission staff, and academic publications.

13. How can I find out about the results of the study?

We will create a project website once the online survey has closed where we will post information and news about the project. Key findings will be presented in policy briefings that can be downloaded from the project website. We also plan dissemination events in Brussels and in London, where we will present an overview of our findings. Details will be posted on the project website.

14. Further questions?

You are invited to contact us by email – newways.psi@uea.ac.uk or on the project hotline – + 44 (0) 1603 593626 – if you have any questions or queries concerning the research.