Since the beginning of the new millennium an interest in the culture of local government has grown. As the cliché goes, the Dutch way of governing is one of three C’s: consultation, compromise and consensus. Town Hall Tales offers an original analysis of the way culture operates in the context of Dutch municipalities. Looking at culture as a sense-making process in which actors engage daily shows how actors in municipalities constantly tell each other stories.
These stories attribute meanings, enabling actors to decide what is going on and what should be done. Four cases, studied with the help of ethnographic fieldwork, are used to illustrate how actors in municipalities jointly construct their problems and solutions. The planning of a new town center, a debate on a financial turn-around, an administrative crisis and an urban restructuring project show distinctive, but comparable patterns of sense making. As it turns out, meanings that actors give to what is happening are the result of a struggle in which consensual, political and managerial ways of governing simultaneously play a role.
From this study practitioners and students of municipalities and public organizations at large can learn about the ways meanings are produced and about the important work that stories do in sense-making processes. Merlijn van Hulst is Assistant Professor in the Tilburg School of Politics and Administration at the Tilburg University.