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Administrative Reform: Opportunities, Drivers, and Barriers  

Anthony B.L. Cheung

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.


Models of Administrative Reform  

Giliberto Capano

Administrative reform is not something that can be treated as a specific public policy field. It is simply a specific way to create administrative policies. Administrative reform thus is a way to design and implement administrative policies by introducing deliberate efforts to change the actual institutional arrangements, the processes, and the procedures of public administration. Thus, administrative reform can be considered and analytically treated as a specific policy process that has specific dynamics due to what is at stake; this means the redistribution of powers in the administrative arena among the different stakeholders, and especially between the policy makers and bureaucrats that are the most important actors in administrative policy. These characteristics are at the origin of the structural problem of administrative reform: It is difficult to properly design and very difficult to implement in a coherent way. Administrative reform cannot be predictable, because it is not simple to make hypotheses about how the various barriers and potential opportunities can mix to produce a specific outcome. Surely barriers are demanding. Institutional stickiness, hegemonic policy paradigms, deeply rooted administrative traditions, financial shortages, and robust vested interests are ponderous constraints to pursuing administrative reforms; however, there are always opportunities (crisis, contingency, and leaders and entrepreneurs searching to change equilibria) that allow the cyclical opening of reform trajectories. To understand administrative reforms, it is necessary to see them in action and thus to observe how they develop over time. The trajectories of administrative reforms very often are characterized by following the zeitgeist and, thus, implementing policy solutions that are considered more legitimate in that specific time. But the spirit of the age can change suddenly, and thus, very often, the solutions adopted yesterday are the problems of the present time. This is because different models of administrative reforms have been cyclically adopted in the last several decades, and the prevailing solution of three decades ago (new public management) has been progressively replaced by other competing recipes like the new Weberian state, the new public governance, digital era governance, and public value management. By studying the trajectories of administrative reforms (the dynamics of administrative policies), it is possible to better understand not only whether and how administrative reforms have been adopted in a comparative perspective but also why some solutions have been adopted in one country but not in another. Thus, the focus on the trajectories allows us to order the complexity of administrative reform processes and to understand why convergence is difficult (due to the national legacies and the contingent way in which the most relevant drivers can interact with each other), and it helps us to understand that, while in the short to medium run administrative reforms are perceived to fail or at least to result unsatisfactorily, in the long run they can produce stable changes.


New Public Management  

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.


Diocletian, Roman emperor, 284–313 CE  

Monica Hellström

Although not the watershed once considered, it remains justified to treat Diocletian’s reign (284–305 ce) as the beginning of Late Antiquity. Its length allowed for changes to take root, and the introduction of a ruling college of two Augusti (Diocletian and Maximian) and two Caesares (Galerius and Constantius I, also made sons-in-law) deterred civil wars by creating predictable lines of succession. Even so, serious civil conflicts arose in Gaul, Britannia, and Egypt, while peoples across the Rhine and Danuble required constant attention. The most glorified campaign was against Sasanian Persia (295/6–298/299), concluded by a signal victory celebrated at a joint triumph/jubilee in Rome (303). Diocletian enlarged the army but did not radically transform its structure, concentrating on consolidation. The empire retained its integrity, and evidence for permanent imperial residences is lacking, but Nicomedia emerges as an eastern imperial centre. Better substantiated is the subdivision of provinces, which increased the presence and capacity of the bureaucracy. The fiscal reform (287–) supported the war effort, making extraction predictable and effective (if not necessarily heavier). A new, global coinage was introduced in 294, and the Edict of Maximum Prices (301) set maxima for commodities, likely to contain inflation.