what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Why have we allowed academics to blind-side us all?? The state of the State - part 6

This is the last part of my tabular presentation of what the commentariat have been saying in the past 50 years about the management and delivery of public services – although it’s certainly not my last word on the subject!
This is a subject to which I’ve devoted most of my life but I have to say that the result of this particular exercise leaves me with the powerful feeling that tens of thousands of academics have been wasting their lives - and the time of their students and of others hoping to get some enlightenment from the writing on the subject
“New public management”, “governance”, “public value”, “new public governance”, "public sector" or "governance" "innovation"..... the terms, strategies and debates are endless – and little wonder since the discussion is rarely about a concrete organization but, rather, about the system (of thousands of organisations) which makes up the entire public sector.

In the 1990s “the management of change” became a huge new subject in management literature – chapter 6 of my book In Transit – notes on good governance (1999) discussed the literature on management in both sectors - and the earliest book quoted is from 1987.
In the private sector, change was handled according to the perceptions of each Chief Executive and his team. But not so in the public sector – where reform was determined at the highest political level and its future (uniform) shape the subject of central edicts.
Academics dominate the writing but only as historians and classifiers…..at a very high level of abstraction….as will be seen from my summary of chapter 4 of In Transit – notes on good governance     

How it’s dealt with by the commentariat
Typical Products

11. How do states compare in quality of public services?

“Benchmarking” national policy systems has become an important activity of bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) - until 2000 The Commonwealth Fund is now the main source for a global assessment of Health systems. The OECD does a global education survey.

Occasionally efforts are made to benchmark entire systems of public admin
Peer Review” is also a widespread activity within the EC eg this recent one on the Polish educational system

12. Why do governments still continue to pay consultants vast sums of money?
Private consultants now run a global industry dispensing advice to governments which is worth at least 50 billion euros a year. Statistics are not easy to find – but the UK alone spends 1.3 billion pounds a year - see Use of consultants and temporary staff (NAO 2016) – which is actually about half of the figure ten years ago!

Some will argue that this is a small sum to pay for good, independent advice to help ensure that public services are kept up to date.
The trouble is that no one really knows whether it is good advice. It is a highly secretive industry – with reports seen only by senior civil servants and the odd Minister.
Management consultancy in the private sector has been the subject of at least two highly critical studies  (Hucynszki; Micklewait and Woolridge) – which suggest a world of senior executives subject to fads and fashions and given to imposing their will on the work force in an autocratic way. This is even more likely to happen in public bureaucracies which have the additional problem of a political layer on top.

13. Role of Think-Tanks?
A few Think Tanks have a reasonable track record in this field – generally those who draw on retired civil servants for their insights… eg The Institute of Government
The Demos Think Tank was a favourite with New Labour in its early years of the ambitious Modernising Government programme.
The Centre for Public Impact is a new body which promises great things from its use of Big Data –We will see…..

Policy-making in the Real World (Institute of Government 2011)

14. What challenges and choices does the state face in the future?
The focus of these questions has been organisational – there are a couple of important elephants in the room namely finance and technology which are dealt with in other bodies of literature

Governance in the Twenty First Century (OECD 2001) is one of the rare books which tries to deal with future challenges
15. What are the best Toolkits, manuals, roadmaps etc for people to use who want to engage in reform efforts?

I am not a fan of deliverology but…..Michael Barber’s How to Run a Government so that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers don’t go Crazy (2015) does repay study......

To Serve and to Preserve; improving public administration in a competitive world (Asian Development Bank 2000) still offers wise words
The Essential Public Manager; by Chris Pollitt (2003) is, by far and away, the best book to help the intelligent citizen make sense of this field

Although I’m no fan of the World Bank, 2 titles (from the Development field!) offer the  best insights -

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