Between substance and governance

Helen Dickinson (Associate Professor Public Governance, Melbourne School of Government, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)
Jon Pierre (Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden, and Professor of Public Governance, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Health Organization and Management

ISSN: 1477-7266

Publication date: 21 March 2016



Many developed countries have seen significant reforms of their health systems for the last few decades. Despite extensive investment in these changes, health systems still face a range of challenges which reform efforts do not seem to have overcome. The purpose of this paper is to argue that there are two particular reasons, which go beyond the standard explanations of changing demographics and disease profiles.


The paper is a commentary based on the literature.


The first explanation relates to the relationship between substantive health care reform and governance reform. These are intertwined processes and the pattern of interaction has distorted both types of reform. Second, reform has multiple meanings and may sometimes be more of an intra-organizational ritual and routine than a coherent plan aiming to bring about particular changes. As such, part of the reason why reform so frequently fails to bring about change is that it was not actually intended to bring about specific changes in the first place. The limited success of reform in recent years, the authors argue, has been a result of the fact that reform has focused too much on the substantive aspects of healthcare, while ignoring the governance aspect of the sector.


As a result, governance has often been obstructed by interest groups inside the system, resulting in paralysis. The authors conclude by arguing that substantive reform of public organizations without an accompanying reassessment of the governance of these organizations are more likely to fail, compared to more comprehensive reform efforts.



Dickinson, H. and Pierre, J. (2016), "Between substance and governance", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 109-116.

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