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Comparing the performance of national public sectors: conceptual problems

Steven Van de Walle (Institute of Local Government Studies, School of Public Policy, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)

International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management

ISSN: 1741-0401

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




A number of studies and indicators have ranked European countries in terms of the performance of their public sectors. This paper aims to demonstrate that there are important conceptual problems with such rankings and comparisons.


Using the existing indicators, the paper first shows how European countries' public sectors are ranked. It then goes on to show how conceptual problems with these indicators may lead to incorrect conclusions.


Countries' public sector performance cannot be summarised using a single indicator because of inability to define “the public sector” and the disagreement on what it means for public sectors to perform.

Practical implications

Despite increasing demand and supply in policy circles for international public sector indicators, the existing ones are unreliable.


This paper extends the assessment of international public sector indicators beyond a mere technical evaluation.



Van de Walle, S. (2008), "Comparing the performance of national public sectors: conceptual problems", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 57 No. 4, pp. 329-338.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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