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!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Playing Games with a serious issue?

Part of me understands the groans (sometimes more than metaphorical!) which meet the term “public management reform” whenever it comes up in conversation…..
I have sometimes wished we could find a better phrase to do justice to what is, after all, one of the most important issues confronting countries everywherenamely how we structure and fund the rights and responsibilities we all have ...in order to help make and keep societies secure.

So this post looks at some of the efforts which have been made in the last 20 years to find a less brutal approach to public service management than that represented by New Public Management 
Just why and how the British adopted NPM – which then became a global pandemic - is a story which is usually told in a fatalistic way – as if there were no human agency involved. One persuasive explanation is given here - as the fatal combination of Ministerial frustration with civil service “dynamic conservatism” (as Donald Schoen would put it) with Public Choice economics offering a seductive explanation for that inertia….  A politico-organisational problem was redefined as an economic one and, heh presto, NPM went global 
The core European systems were, however, different – with legal and constitutional safeguards, Proportional Representation systems and coalition governments – although the EC technocracy has been chipping away at much of this.

Good governance ?
This became a fashionable phrase in the 1990s amongst at least policy wonks in the World Bank – although it was aimed mainly at ex-communist and “developing” countries and never really caught on in everyday conversation. One of the ingredients of the rather formulaic “good governance” goulash was anti-corruption measures - which I felt were always basic aspects of sound public management and not a novel add-on….  

“Public Value”?
Mark Moore’s Creating Public Value – strategic management in Government (1995) demonstrated how the passion and example of individual leaders could inspire teams and lift the performance and profile of public services. The decentralisation of American government allowed them that freedom.
British New Labour, however, chose to go in the opposite direction and to build on to what was already a tight centralised system a new quasi-Soviet one of targets and punishment – although this 2002 note, Creating Public Value – an analytical framework for public service reform, showed that there were at least some people  within the Cabinet Office pushing for a more flexible approach.

Measuring Public Value – the competing values approach showed that there was still life in the idea in the UK – if only amongst academics  eg Public Value Management – a new narrative for networked governance by Gerry Stoker in 2006.
Sadly Public Value; theory and practice ed by John Benington and Mark Moore (2011) offered no clarion call to a better society, it was full of dreadful jargon…..Who in his right mind imagines that networked public governance is going to set the heather alight???

“The Common Good”?
One of the things which struck me on rereading some of these references is how academic (apart from Moore’s original book) they are….For example John Bryson’s work on public strategies constitute the best writing on the subject eg Leadership for the Common Good; Crosby and Bryson (2nd edition 2005) but when I look at the indexes and bibliographies of the material on Public Value, their names and books don’t appear! This shows utter contempt for the practical side of things…..
Quite rightly, the title of their latest book Creating Public Value in Practice – advancing the common good in a ….noone in charge world; ed J Bryson et al (2015) shows that their contribution is much more valuable than that of the academics….. 

At one stage, I thought that communitarianism – so eloquently served by the indefatigable Amatai Etzioni – held an important key……But I soon realised that it smacked of what Orwell benignly called the sandal-wearers and others, less kind, would call the Calvin sect……

Before I finish let me bring up the neglected issue of….Service.
Like Mark Moore, Chris Pollitt’s The Essential Public Manager (2003) focused on the human aspect of public management by exploring the core attributes and values of those who used to be called “public servants”… It’s a pity that more politicians don’t see themselves as “public servants” – and indeed Pollitt might consider, for the next edition of the book, replacing the word “manager” with that of “servant”; and adding at least one chapter to deal with Ministers…. ….????? And “Public Service Reform” is certainly the better phrase since it removes that offensive word “management”….and takes me to Robert Greenleaf whose On Becoming a servant leader (1996) is a book I sometimes turn to for inspiration.
Greenleaf was a thoughtful senior manager with corporate giant AT and T who took early retirement in 1964 to set up a foundation to develop his ideas about leadership - which had a clear influence on writers such as Stephen Covey and Peter Senge. These two management gurus preached/preach in the 90s a softer approach to the subject – while avoiding the explicit critique evident in the later work of, for example, Canadian Henry Mintzberg, one of the rare management writers to break ranks  and call big business to account – in his 2014 pamphlet Rebalancing Society – radical renewal beyond left, right and center. As early as 1970 Greenleaf wrote an article which set out the main elements of his approach - The Servant as Leader (1970). His continuing influence on at least some management writing can be seen here

In conclusion
This has been quite a romp – which has taken me longer to craft than my normal post. But, from my point of view at least, has been very useful….
 “Good government”, “Public service reform”, “networked public governance”, “public value”, “communitarianism”, “the Common Good”……what is it to be????  Perhaps I should do a straw poll?

But it has left me with one conclusion….that there are two significant sets of voices we don’t hear in most of these texts – the officials who run the services and the citizens who experience them. Last week I discussed the notion of public service ventures in the shape of cooperatives; and this is an issue which really does need to be pushed more strongly…….

 Further Reading
From NPM to Public Value (2007) – a useful academic overview
Public Value and Leadership; 2007 – a mercifully short and clear paper on the subject
Public Value; conjecture and refutation (2010) – a good academic overview with an emphasis on ethical consideration
Appraising public value; past, present and futures (2011) is an excellent review of the literature in the first 15 years of the concept’s life
Stocktake of a concept (2015) – a clear exposition of the development of an idea
Designing the model of public value management; (2015) How the concept is seen in Romanian academia
Comparison of public value frameworks (2016) a good academic assessment

To be continued

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