Public sector reforms often take place in heterogeneous reform environments. Key political, administrative, and societal actors often advocate different definitions of problems and solutions. A major leadership challenge is to choose a reform strategy that ensures the requisite level of support, even when the initial conflict structure is highly complex. Using cleavage theory, we develop assumptions about how the reform leader’s assessment of the initial conflict affects the leader’s choice between three distinct reform strategies. These assumptions are applied to a case study of a complex and contested public sector reform, Norway’s national local government reform. We show how the government’s choice of a reform strategy can be understood in light of cleavage theory, and discuss the implications of these findings for further theory development.
Local government reform: compromise through cross-cutting cleavages