To read this content please select one of the options below:

Public service systems and emerging systemic governance challenges

Petri Virtanen (University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland)
Jari Kaivo-oja (University of Turku, Turku, Finland)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 11 May 2015




The purpose of this paper is to address questions related to public service delivery. Specifically, the authors note that existing research relating to public services is usually based on a number of oversimplifications, and that a novel conceptual understanding of change management practices related to public services is necessary. As such, the authors base the argument on the observation that the notion of public services has evolved into one of service systems, which call for new kinds of conceptual and theoretical approaches in order to understand this transformational shift.


This paper is intended to be inherently interdisciplinary – meaning that the authors discuss systemic governance challenges in a specific context (public service) relating this notion to a body of literature that is relevant to this context, though one which has not previously been used in this way (e.g. Modern Systems Theory, New Public Management and New Public Governance). This paper highlights the ongoing discussion on service-dominant logic and links these discussions to the framework of public services. The notion of public services is inherently under-theorised in the service science literature and thus presents a unique and important area for future inquiry.


The paper provides three main conclusions. The first concerns the new understanding of public services as an embedded part of the service economy when looking at service delivery from the organisational viewpoint – and also from the viewpoint of service users. Public service systems operate in a world of open systems which are more or less difficult to govern and manage. Second, the emergent systemic governance changes will be both pervasive and profound. These changes cannot, however, be understood only in economic terms; only by adopting a wider societal standpoint can they be fully appreciated. Such changes include, for instance, gene technology, robotics, informatics and nanotechnology and they cover various technological fields. Third, systemic adaptability requires new leadership and management styles. Future governance, leadership and management models must therefore be agile and adaptive to complex changes.

Practical implications

Based on this paper, potential future research topics include, analysing the role of public services as a delivery mechanism for public policies from the perspective of the coherence of public policies, to leadership models, forecasting methods and decision-making in service systems, the capacity of public service systems to adapt to systemic governance challenges, co-ordination in service organisations and service systems, service delivery mechanisms adopted at the service organisation level, touch-points between service staff and service users and the accountability functions of public service systems.


Public service systems clearly face new challenges, challenges that are not adequately addressed by the currently dominant paradigmatic approaches such as NPM and New Public Governance. The connection between the challenges posed by systemic governance and their impact on public service systems has not been adequately analysed thus far, either theoretically or empirically.



Virtanen, P. and Kaivo-oja, J. (2015), "Public service systems and emerging systemic governance challenges", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 77-91.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles