Examining the Impact of Public/Private Hybrid Bodies in the Provision of Public Services and on Accountability through Freedom of Information

   School of Social Sciences

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  Prof C Reid, Dr Qian Li, Dr Sean Whittaker  No more applications being accepted  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Many legal structures for accountability are designed on the basis of a clear dividing line between public and private functions or bodies. Yet modern developments have shifted or blurred that line, with public services being delivered by private entities or by new structures that combine public and private elements. Since major functions may be placed in the hands of such hybrid arrangements, ensuring proper accountability is important but poses significant challenges against a background built on a public/private dichotomy. This project will examine this challenge in relation to one specific form of accountability, freedom of information.

Laws on freedom of information have been introduced in order to ensure transparency and increase the ability of the public to hold the government to account. The intended scope of these laws is clear: public bodies are obliged to disclose information that they hold in the public interest, while private bodies are under no such obligation. This division between public and private bodies is thus of vital importance, with the privatisation of public services initiating considerable debate, litigation and legislation on this topic.

The position of hybrid arrangements has, however, been less explored. Defined as organisations which combine two or more identities, rationales, or organizing forms, research into such hybrid arrangements has largely focused on the social enterprises, Islamic banking, and nascent firms that span different sectors and industries. A core assumption embedded within studies from the sociological, organisation and management perspective is that the two components in a hybrid arrangement are confrontational in nature, requiring practices and strategies to manage such tension and conflicts. In the case of freedom of information, this conflict can be identified in the tension between the need to keep private commercial information out of the public domain and the competing drive towards transparency across the public sector.

Such tensions give rise to numerous questions: What should be the position where the structure does not fit neatly into either public or private category arrangements? Should bodies containing private elements in their structure be allowed to exclude such activities from freedom of information laws? These questions are of contemporary interest in light of the increase of privatisation of public services, as evidenced by the shift towards the private provision of water infrastructure in England and social housing in Scotland. 

Answering such questions requires an examination not only of the formal legal structures but also of perceptions and how certain functions are viewed by various actors. Different answers may be indicated depending on one’s starting point in terms of the purpose of freedom of information, the conceptualisation of a body’s role and the appropriateness of accountability mechanisms. This provides a fertile area for interdisciplinary study, combining public and private law with organization and management research.

Applicants are encouraged to submit doctoral proposals which reflect their own research interests and expertise within the project’s broad themes of hybridisation, transparency and freedom of information.

For informal enquiries about the project, contact Professor Colin T Reid ([Email Address Removed])

For general enquiries about the University of Dundee, contact [Email Address Removed]

Our research community thrives on the diversity of students and staff which helps to make the University of Dundee a UK university of choice for postgraduate research. We welcome applications from all talented individuals and are committed to widening access to those who have the ability and potential to benefit from higher education.


Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a UK honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent for non-UK qualifications) and a Masters degree in a relevant discipline. For international qualifications, please see equivalent entry requirements here: www.dundee.ac.uk/study/international/country/.

English language requirement: IELTS (Academic) overall score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.5 in writing and not less than 6.0 in reading, listening and speaking). The University of Dundee accepts a variety of equivalent qualifications; please see full details of the University’s English language requirements here: www.dundee.ac.uk/guides/english-language-requirements.


Step 1: Email Professor Colin T Reid ([Email Address Removed]) to (1) send a copy of your CV and (2) discuss your potential application and any practicalities (e.g. suitable start date).

Step 2: After discussion with Professor Reid, formal applications can be made via our direct application system. When applying, please follow the instructions below:

Candidates must apply for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Law (4 year route) using our direct application system: Law : University of Dundee.

Please select the study mode (full-time/part-time) and start date agreed with the lead supervisor.

In the Research Proposal section, please:

-       Enter the lead supervisor’s name in the ‘proposed supervisor’ box

-       Enter the project title listed at the top of this page in the ‘proposed project title’ box

In the ‘personal statement’ section, please outline your suitability for the project selected.

Law (22) Politics & Government (30) Sociology (32)

Funding Notes

There is no funding attached to this project. The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses, via external sponsorship or self-funding. For more information about funding opportunities, please see the Doctoral Academy website: https://www.dundee.ac.uk/doctoral-academy/research-funding-financial-support.


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Battilana J, Sengul M, Pache A.-C, & Model J, “Harnessing productive tensions in hybrid organizations: The case of work integration social enterprises” (2015) 58(6) Academy of Management Journal 1658-1685.
Dickinson L, “Public Law Values in a Privatized World” (2006) 31 Yale Journal of International Law 383-426.
Dunion K, Freedom of Information in Scotland in Practice (2011, Edinburgh University Press)
J Freeman and M Minow, “Reframing the Outsourcing Debates” in J Freeman and M Minow (eds), Government by Contract (Harvard University Press, 2009).
Mair J, Mayer, J & Lutz E, “Navigating institutional plurality: Organizational governance in hybrid organizations” (2015) 36(6) Organization Studies 713-739.
Pache A.-C. & Santos F. M., “Inside the hybrid organization: Selective coupling as a response to competing institutional logics” (2013) 56(4) Academy of Management Journal 972-1001.
Ruane S, “Access to Data and NHS Privatisation: Reducing Public Accountability” in Evans J, Ruane S, Southall H (eds) Data in Society: Challenging Statistics in an Age of Globalisation (2019, Bristol University Press).
Seibel W, “Studying hybrids: Sectors and mechanisms” (2015) 36(6) Organization Studies 697-712.
Smith W. K & Besharov M. L, “Bowing before dual gods: How structured flexibility sustains organizational hybridity” (2019) 64(1) Administrative Science Quarterly 1-44.
Waugh M and Hodkinson S, “Examining the Effectiveness of Current Information Laws and Implementation Practices for Accountability of Outsourced Public Services” (2021) 74(2) Parliamentary Affairs 253-275.

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