The Vexing Issue of the Revolving Door

35 Pages Posted: 1 May 2015 Last revised: 15 May 2015

Date Written: April 30, 2015


The revolving door phenomenon — when members of government or employees in the public sector move in and out of jobs with private sector entities — has for quite some time occupied a central place in debates about undue influence and policy capture. This paper takes one step back and focuses on scanning the most recent conceptual thinking and empirical investigating with regard to the revolving door phenomenon to answer the following set of questions: How do scholars do research on the revolving door phenomenon that appears so timely and topical against the backdrop of growing public suspicions that economic and political elites collude against the public interest? What are the main lines of conceptual and theoretical reasoning? What does the evidence say? What approaches and data sources are being used at the moment and which ones could be promising in the future to measure, compare across institutions, and track over time the scale and scope of revolving door issues, and eventually assess the efficacy of related regulatory measures?

As a first step, the paper provides an overview of the major scholarly arguments and strands of reasoning invoked in the conceptual discussion, and finds a number of plausible arguments in circulation both for the positive and negative effects of the revolving door. It then looks at what can and cannot be substantiated empirically by scanning the most recent crop of empirical investigations in the field. Overall, the growth and deepening of the phenomenon is empirically clearly established. With regard to impact, a few studies do find some limited positive — or at least no adverse — effects of revolving door practices. However, this group of studies with positive findings is overshadowed by a larger and more diverse cluster of empirical analyses that confirm a number of the negative effects. Against this backdrop, the case for regulation is presented and a very broad-brush big-picture overview of the status quo around the world shows a very rudimentary and poorly-developed global regulatory landscape.

The subsequent discussion of the methods, approaches, and data that are being used to study the revolving door starts by outlining a set of central ambitions for what an ideal methodological approach would look like from a policy and advocacy perspective: it needs to be able to measure the revolving door phenomenon in a specific context in a cost-effective way, enable comparisons across units and tracking over time. With this ideal reference point of MCT (measure-compare-track) in mind, the paper then discusses different extant approaches for gauging the revolving door. Here it considers both the more general governance diagnostics and risk-focused approaches popular with policy analysts, but also the more targeted methodologies deployed in specialized scholarly studies. With no specific approach emerging as a clear winner, the paper closes with a more speculative outlook on some promising nascent approaches that have begun to harness data generated by social media to measure revolving door practices and discusses the future prospects for more firmly embracing such an approach.

Keywords: Revolving door, corruption, policy capture, undue influence, lobbying, institutional corruption, transparency, integrity

Suggested Citation

Zinnbauer, Dieter, The Vexing Issue of the Revolving Door (April 30, 2015). Edmond J. Safra Working Papers, No. 61, Available at SSRN: or

Dieter Zinnbauer (Contact Author)

Copenhagen Business School ( email )

Solbjerg Plads 3
Frederiksberg C, DK - 2000

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