Category Archives: Public sector management

Inspired by the issue: Understanding the implementation of targets in government: making classics count

thomas-schillemans

By Thomas Schillemans

 

 

Browsing through the latest October 2016 issue of Policy & Politics, I was ‘inspired’ to review the article on understanding the implementation of targets in government. The analysis of public administration and public policy is often haunted by the tyranny of the contemporary. New theoretical lenses, innovative conceptual ideas, unfolding policy problems and crises, if not the anticipation of future problems, they always manage to attract a whole lot of attention. There is more traction to be gained from introducing a new theoretical approach than from refining and improving existing approaches. Researchers and students sometimes seem more motivated to understand tomorrow’s problems than to deal with the current. The predictable effect is that the theoretical landscape of public policy and administration is filled with abandoned half-baked start-ups: new and intriguing approaches that have been abandoned for newer and more intriguing approaches long before their potential could be realized and they had the chance to mature and develop to their full potential.

I may be exaggerating a little…

Nevertheless, it is always inspiring and laudable to see scholars build on existing frameworks in order to expand their scope and use for understanding public policy, both theoretically as well as practically. In Christina Boswell and Eugenia Rodrigues’ analysis of the implementation of targets in different policy fields by the British government, Kingdon’s now classical multiple streams approach is used to assess whether and how targets in different fields are implemented and how this may change over time. In particular, they show how different organizational problem constructions on the one hand and differences in central political commitment to policies on the other, create different types of policy implementation, which may change over time. This has allowed them to add a temporal and organizational dimension to Kingdon’s framework, making it less static and more useful for the analysis of changes in policy implementation.

Boswell and Rodrigues come to a typology of implementation styles, based on Kingdon’s distinction between the political and problems streams. They distinguish between consensual, coercive, bottom-up and, simply, non-implementation. For instance they describe how clear targets for defense procurement were virtual dead letters, simply because there was insufficient support in the political stream. The law in the books was very clear: there were rather specific targets and procedures to be met in order to prevent slippage. The law in action, however, featured many theoretically important actors in the policy field taking a soft stance on the implementation of these targets. The National Audit Office and the Treasury did “not feel sufficiently concerned or capable of intervening to ensure that targets were met”. The Ministry and other important policy actors were also not too enthused to enforce this issue which was only moderately important politically . As a result, the “targets were poorly implemented”. In some other areas, however, they find different – and changing – patterns of implementation.

The analysis is inspiring, precisely because it touches on current policy issues and allows us to understand them. Just last week I was in a discussion on the merits of the new governance regime for Dutch higher education which, in part, uses targets and rewards as a mechanism to improve the quality of universities. We had a long discussion focusing on the system itself and what its effects were likely to be. My best guess was to say I didn’t know, simply because the targets as such would not necessarily produce any kind of result. It all depended on circumstances. But what circumstances? After reading Boswell and Rodrigues’ paper I could come up with a much better answer: if you want to know whether and how targets are implemented, it is wise to focus on the political commitment to those targets on various levels on the one hand, and to the organization’s ability to link those targets to experienced problems on the other. This approach allows us to understand why some targets may be mercilessly pursued while others remain dead letters.

If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read Policies, politics and organisational problems: multiple streams and the implementation of targets in UK government by Christina Boswell and Eugenia Rodrigues.

Using marketing practices to realize public values

Clive Barnett & Nick MahoneyBy Clive Barnett and Nick Mahony

Market segmentation methodologies are increasingly used in public policy, arts and culture management, and third sector campaigning. As one element of the growth of customer relationship management, or CRM, the use of segmentation methods is part of a broader trend for organisations to make use of new digital informational technologies to generate strategically useful data and knowledge about their customers, clients and constituencies. Despite the widespread use of segmentation methodologies in the strategic thinking of public as well as private organisations, the organisational dynamics of adopting and implementing segmentation practices remains under researched. The application of segmentation methods in non-commercial settings, including but not limited to the public sector, depends on the taken-for-granted normative assumption that market segmentation is a basic, necessary, and effective stage in developing successful marketing strategies. Continue reading Using marketing practices to realize public values

Inspired by the issue

thomas-elstonBy Thomas Elston

The April 2016 issue of Policy & Politics includes two articles about one of the most pressing issues facing contemporary public administration – how governments can successfully harness the resources of the private sector to deliver public services.

The articles, by John Nicholson and Kevin Orr, and Chris Lonsdale et al., differ significantly in theory and method.  The former is sociological and qualitative, examining micro-level working relations between public and private actors.  The latter uses institutional economics and mid-range survey data to test hypotheses about public procurement processes.  Yet, despite these differences, each article shares an interest in public-private relations. Continue reading Inspired by the issue

The challenges of implementing targets in UK government – a ‘multiple streams’ approach

boswell & rodriguesBy Christina Boswell and Eugenia Rodrigues

It has long been observed that policies can get lost in implementation. The best intended legislation or programme adopted by central government can get reinterpreted, distorted or even subverted when applied at local level, or across different areas of government. This was certainly the case with the British Labour government’s system of targets rolled out in the 2000s. Number 10 and the Treasury (the ‘core executive’) adopted a series of quantified performance targets designed to improve public services. And the government even monitored how far they were being achieved through rigorous reporting arrangements. But the targets were appropriated and applied in quite different ways across departments. What factors shaped how different parts of government implemented targets? Continue reading The challenges of implementing targets in UK government – a ‘multiple streams’ approach

The potential side-effects of mediatisation: a case study of the politics of German higher education

Andres Friedrichsmeier & Frank Marcinkowski
Andres Friedrichsmeier & Frank Marcinkowski

By Andres Friedrichsmeier & Frank Marcinkowski

Decision makers, be it in the field of higher education politics or in other fields of public policy making, typically claim to be processing a great deal of information. To a substantial degree, this includes news media information. Nonetheless, the same decision makers also pride themselves on basing their decisions on more reliable grounds than a vacillating media coverage. Almost two decades of public management reforms improved the availability of objective measurements and performance data, and introduced quasi markets to feed in public demands. Matching public expectations no longer necessitates resorting to news media and its representation of a public attention that is skewed by news values. Or is it the other way around? Is the influence of news media on decision making rather on the rise, resulting from an increasing reflexivity of public governance and a related need for direction that is no longer provided by the state? On the face of it, the significance of news media coverage is boosted by a new imperative of marketing the value of public sector outcomes. The need for public marketing results from the use of economic measures in public sector producing qualitative outputs that are difficult to attach a price tag to.

But these new imperatives of going public evaded focus in times of high hopes in the capability of management controls to objectify public sector governance. But they come with potential side-effects. An illustration of the kind of side-effects that are to be expected and of how to investigate them empirically is provided by Andres Friedrichsmeier and Frank Marcinkowski in their Policy & Politics article: The mediatisation of university governance: a theoretical and empirical exploration of some side effects. Continue reading The potential side-effects of mediatisation: a case study of the politics of German higher education

Why approach contracted-out public services as a ‘strategic action field’?

James Rees, Rebecca Taylor and Christopher Damm
James Rees, Rebecca Taylor and Christopher Damm

by James Rees, Rebecca Taylor and Chris Damm

Researching the field of UK employment services

The research reported in our article UK Employment Services: understanding provider strategies in a dynamic strategic action field was carried out in 2012 as part of the ESRC-funded Third Sector Research Centre’s programme on the third sector’s role in public services. From the outset, we were aware that the third sector had long played a significant role in the mixed economy of employment services, and this was at a point when the UK Coalition government’s new Work Programme was being implemented. Our key interest was to explore the ways in which the third sector was involved in this new programme, and to examine to what extent its contribution could be seen as distinctively different to that of other sectors.

Internationally, few studies have directly addressed the role of sector of organisations, and where they do, they rarely do so in a comparative manner: focusing for instance on the third sector in isolation. Instead, we set out to explore how private, Continue reading Why approach contracted-out public services as a ‘strategic action field’?

The Autonomy of National officials in the European Commission

Jarle Trondal, Zuzana Murdoch and Benny Geys
Jarle Trondal, Zuzana Murdoch and Benny Geys

by Jarle Trondal, Zuzana Murdoch and Benny Geys

A longer version of this article was originally published on LSE’s EUROPP blog 

National officials working in international bureaucracies regularly invoke the fear that member-states strategically use such officials for influencing decision-making to their advantage. Using ones national officials as ‘Trojan horses’ naturally implies a lack of autonomy of such officials working in international organizations, which critically threatens the independence of the organization as such. While national officials’ potential lack of autonomy has been extensively discussed in both academic and public circles, the underlying mechanisms are less well understood. Our analysis takes one step in this direction.

A key factor that is often brought forward to explain any (potential) lack of autonomy among national officials in international Continue reading The Autonomy of National officials in the European Commission