Koen Bartels


Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

Public encounters, social innovation, democratic innovation, urban governance, communication, action research, interpretive and qualitative research, relational philosophy, practice theory, policy analysis


Research activity per year

Personal profile


Koen holds a BSc and MPhil in Public Administration from Leiden University (the Netherlands) and a PhD in Politics from the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as Lecturer in Management at Bangor Business School. He currently holds a visiting position at the Heseltine Institute (University of Liverpool).

His interdisciplinary research on relationships between citizens and government spans across public policy, urban studies and public administration. As an action researcher, Koen co-produces knowledge and action with stakeholders to generate learning and change. He is passionate about supporting new ways of relating, thinking and acting that transform relational dynamics between communities and urban governance systems. He has been involved in grant-funded research in excess of £550,000 including co-production, knowledge exchange and impact generation in the UK and abroad.

Koen has published 'Communicative Capacity: Public Encounters in Participatory Theory and Practice' (2015) and ‘Action Research in Policy Analysis: Critical and Relational Approaches to Sustainability Transitions’ (2018) as well as a range of articles and book chapters on social innovation, public encounters, participatory democracy, collaborative governance, urban governance, action research, and interpretive policy analysis. He is currently working on two co-authored textbooks: ‘Doing Interpretive Research’ (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2023) and ‘Call to Action Research’ (Edward Elgar, forthcoming 2024).

Koen is INLOGOV’s Director of Postgraduate Research and teaches modules in public leadership, democracy and participation, and research design and practice. He is also Core Academic Lead ‘Community Recovery and Renewal’ at the Centre for Urban Wellbeing, Associate Editor of the Action Research Journal, and Co-convener of the ECPR Standing Group ‘Theoretical Perspectives on Policy Analysis’. Koen leads the Social Prescribing, Assets and Relationships in Communities (SPARC) Network, a cross-institutional collaborative learning space of academic and practice partners concerned with asset-based approaches to social prescribing, addressing health inequalities, and coproducing a social model of wellbeing.

Research interests

Koen does interdisciplinary research on relationships between citizens and government. He has created an international profile as a leading scholar in four interrelated areas: public encounters, social innovation, action research, and interpretive policy analysis.

Koen has rekindled research interest in public encounters: the relational dynamics ‘in-between’ and around citizens and public professionals. He has studied communicative practices and relational patterns in the context of community participation, collaborative governance, community organising and tax administration. In a range of publications, he reveals what happens when citizens and public professionals meet and what this means for democracy and social justice. He has developed an original theory of communicative capacity that explains how they communicate, why this is so difficult, and what could lead to more productive conversations. His 2013 article on public encounters has become a key reference point in the field.

Koen explores how to sustain social innovation in local governance. He conducts action research with social innovators and local governance stakeholders to support transformative change in system dynamics. His work has addressed relational dynamics of resistance and change, experiential learning, intermediaries and social innovation ecosystems. Over the next years, he will be involved in grant-funded projects in Birmingham and the Netherlands that examine how social prescribing can reduce place-based health inequalities and advance a social model of wellbeing. Together with teams of academics and practitioners, he will co-produce community-driven practices of collaborating, joint learning and advancing systems change.  

Koen has taken a leading role in developing action research in policy analysis and beyond. He has developed a relational approach to co-producing learning and change in urban governance and, with Julia Wittmayer, a critical-relational approach to advancing sustainability transitions. Together, they have organised a series of conference panels and grown a network of action researchers in the field of policy analysis, culminating in a co-authored article, two special issues and an edited volume. Koen has also curated a themed issue for the Action Research Journal, where he is Associate Editor, on the dark side of action research. He is currently collaborating with Davydd Greenwood and Johan Ravn on ‘Call to Action Research: Confronting Political-Economic Inequality, Societal Instability, and Environmental Collapse’ (Edward Elgar).

Koen’s research is at the forefront of the field of interpretive policy analysis. He has improved conceptual understanding of policy as practice and, with Nick Turnbull, relational thinking in public administration and policy analysis. He has co-organised two sections at the ECPR General Conference and co-edited a special issue that have reinvigorated the approach of deliberative policy analysis. With Hendrik Wagenaar, he has published an article about learning and teaching qualitative research and is currently writing ‘Doing Interpretive Research: Experience, Learning and Teaching’ (Oxford University Press). 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals

Education/Academic qualification

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy , Higher Education Academy (HEA)

Award Date: 1 May 2015

Doctor of Social Science, Politics, University of Glasgow

Award Date: 28 Nov 2012

Master of Philosophy, Public administration, Leiden University

Award Date: 12 Sept 2008

Bachelor of Science, Public administration, Leiden University

Award Date: 1 Sept 2006

External positions

University of Liverpool

3 Oct 202230 Jun 2023


  • JS Local government Municipal government


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