The Kafka Brigade Foundation

The Kafka Brigade Foundation is a network of researchers and research teams that share a common purpose. That bureaucracy should be shaped to serve the most uncontested and fundamental values of liberal democracy - integrity, transparency, accountability, justice, rationality, proportionality and the protection of civil rights for each individual. That bureaucracy should be effective in creating the public value for which the institution is established. That it should be efficient and effective for the individual. And for each individual, because the law is equal for all.

Our purpose is to find those instances where bureaucracy does not create the public value intended, where institutional arrangements are improvident, where effectiveness is not monitored, or where indifference is produced unchecked. When a bureaucracy's demands serve no purpose for the citizen or the public at large, it becomes a form of oppression. When red tape does not yield result, only serves the organisation itself, or can be imposed unconstrained, rule of law can easily turn into arbitrariness. When rules and procedures become incomprehensible, complex beyond the individuals abilities or time-consuming beyond reason, freedom is lost. When automation becomes a lever to flood a citizen with registration demands, bureaucracy becomes terror, where it should be a protection for each of us.

The Kafka Brigade Foundation aims to create the conditions to address the dysfunctions in bureaucracies and bring the public into existence to demand this. Therefore, we seek to understand what bureaucratic dysfunction is, what its causes are and how to create the conditions for change. Our goal is to create knowledge, to act on it, and to trigger informed action. The Kafka Brigade Foundation operates independently but cooperates with other researchers or research organisations to enforce and complement each other’s effectiveness in this joint special purpose.

Award for best scientific publication by a non-academic

8 May

Louis Brownlow Award for "Administrative Exclusion in the Infrastructure-level Bureaucracy"

Award for best scientific publication by a non-academic

In 2023, Rik Peeters and Arjan Widlak published a scientific article in Public Administration Review. In it, they explore a broader understanding of how administrative exclusion and administrative burdens arise. They do this using (part of) the childcare benefit scandal as a case study and considering technology as an institutional factor, particularly data exchange. They introduce the concept of the "infrastructure-level bureaucracy", the entire network of organizations connected through data exchange. This information infrastructure has its own characteristics that make it susceptible to exclusion mechanisms. The separation between data collection and use leads to unpredictability and a lack of accountability. The article also aimed to challenge the dominant view that administrative burdens are always political, but politics by other means. However, the lack of insight and overview of the data infrastructure alone proved insufficient to explain the outcomes in the childcare benefit scandal. Although it can lead to governments no longer being able to follow the reasoning behind their own decisions. The established explanation of political intent was also necessary to explain the outcomes in this part of the childcare benefit scandal. The report by the parliamentary interrogation committee, more than a year after publication, has substantiated that point with much more source material.

The article won the Louis Brownlow Award last month for the best article in Public Administration Review written by a practitioner.

Burdens on the Gateway to the State: The Construction of Administrative Burdens in the Registration of People Experiencing Homelessness in Belgium and the Netherlands

23 Apr

Research article in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management


Population registries are the gateway to public services, benefits, and rights. However, despite clear formal rules and procedures, people eligible for registration may still face administrative burdens in obtaining access. In this article, we study the case of the municipal registration of people who experience homelessness in Belgium and the Netherlands—a group that typically suffers from administrative vulnerability. Using data from 61 interviews with social workers and civil servants, we find that burdens are constructed at the municipal level to disincentivize homeless people's access to registration. However, using the Institutional Analysis and Development Framework, we also identify mechanisms in the governance of population registrations and the decentralization of social policies that create incentives for strategic behavior by municipal policy makers and street-level bureaucrats. By analyzing the interaction between multiple institutional levels, we contribute to understanding how structural mechanisms influence policymakers’ agency in the construction of administrative burdens.

Robben, L.-l., Peeters, R., & Widlak, A. (2024). Burdens on the gateway to the state: Administrative burdens in the registration of people experiencing homelessness in Belgium and the Netherlands. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 1–24.

Webinar on the use of black lists in combination with ADM

7 Jun

Coming up: Marlies van Eck and Arjan Widlak are organizing a webinar on the use of black lists in combination with Automated Decision Making in the Dutch Tax Administration

You may have heard last years news that one branch of the Dutch Tax Administration used profiles to combat fraud. These profiles led to severe consequences for people with child care benefits. After this affair members of the Parliament asked for in dept independent research on the rest of the Tax Administration, leading to -again- disturbing findings. We learned about “FSV”. 

Do you want to know more? And perhaps request a personal invitation for the webinar?

The Digital Cage in Government Information Quarterly

30 May

Publication based on the book The Digital Cage (in Dutch) was published.

The Digital Cage in Government Information Quarterly

The Digital Cage is a book currently only available in Dutch on maladministration in eGovernment caused by information architecture. This article is an extended version of chapters 6 and 7 of the book on the loss of legal protection and the mechanisms that cause these unintended consequences. A summary of the mechanisms, paragraph 6 of the article, can be found on the website accompanying the book (in Dutch).

Peeters, R., Widlak, A., 2018, The digital cage: Administrative exclusion through information architecture – The case of the Dutch civil registry's master data management system, Government Information Quarterly, 35, (2) (2018), pp 175-183


• Master data management systems can produce unintended consequences for citizens in the form of administrative exclusion.
• Administrative exclusion is often seen as a problem of street-level bureaucracy, but can also stem from system-level information architecture.
• Digitalised civil registries can turn into a ‘digital cage’ if their design does not allow for street-level discretion and correction of errors.


This article analyses the unintended consequences of master data management systems in the administrative state for the access of citizens to public services and benefits. We analyse the case of the Dutch civil registry, in which hundreds of (semi-)public organisations use the information from the civil registry to determine whether people are eligible for their services. We use the framework of administrative burdens and administrative exclusion to show that this system turns the consequences of mutations in registration into a black box, produces legal contamination by forcing its own address definition upon user organisations, reduces the discretionary space of street-level bureaucrats to handle social complexity and unintended consequences of the system, and creates a behavioural incentive in which municipalities are pushed into the role of enforcers rather than registers. The result is a ‘digital cage’: an exclusionary infrastructure that hinges on information architecture instead of Weberian rules and procedures. These findings increase our understanding of master data management systems, emphasise the importance of understanding information architecture as an ethical issue, and help us develop a new vocabulary for understanding and studying administrative burdens as part of a bureaucratic infrastructure.