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Article

In the early 1970s, Rittel and Webber asserted that conventional approaches to scientific analysis and rational planning were inadequate for guiding practitioners and researchers who were tackling complex and contested social problems—which they termed “wicked” problems. The full implications of this challenging critique of rational policy planning were not elaborated at that time, but the underlying issues have attracted increasing attention and debate in later decades. Policy analysts, academic researchers, and planning practitioners have continued to grapple with the claim that conventional scientific-technical approaches might be insufficient and even misleading as a basis for understanding and responding to complex social issues. This is paradoxical in the modern era, which has been attracted to notions of evidence-based policymaking, policy evaluation, and performance-based public management. Scholarly discussion has continued to evolve concerning methods for addressing highly contested arenas of policy and planning. One key proposition is that citizens and key stakeholders tend to have conflicting perceptions about the nature of particular social “problems” and will thus have different views about appropriate responses or “solutions.” A related proposition is that these disputes are anchored in differing values and perceptions, which are not able to be adjudicated and settled by empirical science, but require inclusive processes of argumentation and conflict resolution among stakeholders. Hence, several kinds of knowledge—lay and expert, civic and professional—need to be brought together in order to develop transdisciplinary “usable knowledge.” As the research literature produces a richer array of comparative case analyses, it may become feasible to construct a more nuanced understanding of the conditions underlying various kinds of wicked problems in social policy and planning. In the meantime, generalized and indiscriminate use of the term wicked problems is not helpful for delineating the nature of the challenges faced and appropriate remedial actions.

Article

Per Lægreid

New Public Management (NPM) reforms have been around in many countries for over the past 30 years. NPM is an ambiguous, multifaceted, and expanded concept. There is not a single driving force behind it, but rather a mixture of structural and polity features, national historical-institutional contexts, external pressures, and deliberate choices from political and administrative executives. NPM is not the only show in town, and contextual features matter. There is no convergence toward one common NPM model, but significant variations exist between countries, government levels, policy areas, tasks, and over time. Its effects have been found to be ambiguous, inconclusive, and contested. Generally, there is a lack of reliable data on results and implications, and there is some way to go before one can claim evidence-based policymaking in this field. There is more knowledge regarding NPM’s effects on processes and activities than on outcome, and reliable comparative data on variations over time and across countries are missing. NPM has enhanced managerial accountability and accountability to users and customers, but has this success been at the expense of political accountability? New trends in reforms, such as whole-of-government, have been added to NPM, thereby making public administration more complex and hybrid.

Article

Accountability and responsibility are related ideas that are central to political, constitutional, and institutional arrangements in Western liberal democracies. However, political elites in non-democratic systems are generally not held accountable by citizens through such arrangements, and accountability is primarily a means of securing the compliance of state functionaries to the will of these elites. In liberal democracies the terms “accountability” and “responsibility” are often used in common discourse as if they were synonyms, but they are not. The former is a concept that embodies a number of different types, with a common theme of answerability by an accountor to an accountee, usually—but not necessarily—in a hierarchical relationship designed to ensure compliance and control. Responsibility, on the other hand, speaks of the associated but different domain of individual moral choice, where often conflicting duties of obligation are experienced by those in official positions. Beginning in the 1980s, the so-called new public management movement, which brought major changes to many Western systems of public administration, sought to enhance the accountability of public bureaucrats, especially their answerability to their elected political superiors. The effects have been mixed and uncertain, often with unintended consequences, such as the reinforcement of risk aversion and blame shifting and gaming behavior. The quest for accountability is inherently a political process, in which “holding to account” may often depend much less on any forensic determination of specific culpability and much more on evidential and political disputation, where the search for the “truth” is highly—and increasingly—contestable.

Article

Administrative reform has become an almost permanent feature of most governments across the world driven by the pursuit of efficiency, responsiveness and performance and sometimes induced by domestic or external crises. The paradigms and priorities of reform vary at different times in tandem with the dominant ideological currents. Despite similarities in the vision, rhetoric and tools of reform engaged, regional and national variations can be observed attributable to historical, cultural, political and institutional factors. These factors mediate the specific reform agenda setting and implementation processes, resulting in distinct national reform hybrids. The realpolitik of reform cannot be devoid of the prevailing political order and structures of power and resources, which determine institutional interactions such as between politicians and bureaucrats, between the center and localities, and between the executive and legislature. Forces for and against change interplay in the domains of politics, bureaucracy and society to ultimately make or break reform. Opportunities for change are rooted in the same setting as the resistance to reform, such that the drivers of and the barriers to reform are paradoxically two sides of the same coin. All reform junctures comprise elements of both preservation and innovation or renovation, mostly ending in a negotiated settlement and mixed results.

Article

Vainius Smalskys and Jolanta Urbanovič

Civil service consists of civil servants and their activity when implementing the assigned functions and decisions made by politicians. In other words, it is a system of civil servants who perform the assigned functions of public administration. The corpus of civil servants consists of people who work in central and local public administration institutions. The concept and scope of civil service in a particular country depends on the legal framework that defines the areas of public and private sectors and their relationship. In many countries, civil service consists of an upper level, a mid-level, and civil servants who work for coordinating, independent, and auxiliary institutions. However, the scope of civil service in different countries varies. When analyzing/comparing civil service systems of different countries, researchers often categorize them as Western European, continental European, Anglo-American, Anglo-Saxon, Eastern European, Scandinavian, Mediterranean, Asian, or African. All European Union member states can be classified into two groups: the career system—dominant in continental Europe, with the prevalence of traditional-hierarchical public administration, rational bureaucracy, and formalized operational rules—and the position system—dominant in Anglo-Saxon countries, with the prevalence of managerial principles, pragmatic administration, and charismatic leadership. Neither of the two models exists in pure form. If features of the career model dominate in the civil service of a country, it is identified as a country with the career CS model; if elements of the position model dominate the country is identified as a country with the position civil service model. An intermediate version of this model, characteristic of a number of countries, is the mixed/hybrid model. Many civil service researchers claim that in the case of two competing systems of civil service—closed (the career model) and open (the position model)—reforms of the open civil service system win. It has been argued that the organizing principles of the open, result-oriented civil service system (the position model), which is under the influence of “new public management,” will permanently “drive out” the closed, vertically integrated and formal procedure-oriented career model. Scholars argue that civil servants of the future will have to be at ease with more complexity and flexibility. They will have to be comfortable with change, often rapid change. At the same time, they will make more autonomous decisions and be more responsible, accountable, performance-oriented, and subject to new competency and skill requirements.

Article

Richard Münch

Academic capitalism is a unique hybrid that unites the scientific search for truth and the economic maximization of profits. It turns universities into enterprises competing for capital accumulation and businesses into knowledge producers looking for new findings that can be turned into patents and profitable commodities. To understand what this new institutional setting means for science and the evolution of scientific knowledge, science as a field in a Bourdieusian perspective, which operates in the tension field between autonomy and heteronomy, is explored. On this basis, crucial features of academic capitalism and their impact on science as well as the evolution of scientific knowledge are described. Academic capitalism is located in the zone of the intersection of scientific research, economic profit maximization, and innovation policy. The institutional conflicts of interest involved in the corporate funding of academic research are addressed. The logic of academic capital accumulation is spelled out by describing the entrepreneurial university. Field effects of academic capital accumulation on science, namely increasing inequality, over-investment at the top, and under-investment among the rank and file are examined, along with the organizational effects of academic capital accumulation in terms of tightened managerial quality assurance on diversity and creativity as crucial prerequisites of advancing scientific knowledge. The main results of the analysis are summarized and some guidelines for future research are presented.