Citation

Raine, J., Ahmad, Y., Broussine, M., Hartley, J. and Ry Nielsen, J.C. (2008), "Introduction", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 21 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijpsm.2008.04221daa.001

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Introduction

Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Public Sector Management, Volume 21, Issue 4.

In this special issue of IJPSM we focus on the role that accredited postgraduate programmes in public leadership and management can play in fostering personal and organisational development in the public sector.

In keeping with the spirit and objectives of this journal, we approach this task through providing international perspectives on the subject in question. The group of contributing authors, all researchers and teachers in public administration/management and leadership, are in fact drawn from a range of different institutions across Northern Europe. They are not specialists in education but as reflective academics interested in linking theory with practice in public management, and closely involved in the provision of leadership and management programmes for public service personnel, they share a deep interest in, and considerable experience of, the role of pedagogy in fostering public manager learning and development and organisational change.

For several years now, the authors have been participants in an annual three-day workshop on Pedagogical Issues in Public Management Programmes for Mid-Career Practitioners which has been strongly supported by colleagues from business schools and public policy departments of universities from across North Europe. The intellectual home of the workshops has been Copenhagen Business School (CBS), one of the largest such schools in the world and home to one of the most prestigious Masters in Public Administration (MPA) programmes. Other key sponsors of the workshops in recent years have been Rotterdam’s Erasmus University (which offers a number of internationally-recognised programmes in public administration and urban management/governance), Warwick Business School (which offers the UK’s first MPA programme), University of Birmingham’s School of Public Policy (home to the UK’s first Public Service MBA programme) and University of West of England in Bristol, where a particularly innovative Masters in Leadership and Organisation in the Public Services (LOPS) programme has been making a valuable contribution to public manager development in the UK.

The workshops have been running since 1996, and on an annual basis since 2002, each time attracting between 20 and 30 participants. Delegates have been drawn from more than twenty different institutions, all of which offer MPAs or similarly public sector-oriented leadership/management development programmes. At the workshops participants have shared their experiences and ideas, led seminars/workshop sessions and/or presented full papers on the roles that such programmes can play in public management development. In the spirit established at the outset for the workshops, the contributions have all focused particularly upon how theory and principles of pedagogy are best applied in practice. And these events have been a source of inspiration, conceptualisation and data gathering for each of the articles in this special issue of IJPSM. As well as recognising the work of the authors whose papers are reproduced here, the editorial team would like to extend their gratitude to all the other delegates of the workshops whose contributions have also been very influential in shaping ideas, providing the evidence base and formulating the messages contained in this collection of articles. In particular, we would like to thank our colleagues from the following institutions:

  • Copenhagen Business School, Denmark;

  • Aston University, UK;

  • Birmingham University, UK;

  • Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands;

  • Karlstad University, Sweden;

  • London South Bank University, London, UK;

  • Potsdam University, Germany;

  • South Danish University, Odense, Denmark;

  • Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland;

  • University College of Nord Trondelag, Norway;

  • University College of Soer Trondelag, Norway;

  • University of Iceland, Reykavik, Iceland;

  • University of Limerick, Ireland University of the West of England, Bristol, UK;

  • Rotterdam University, The Netherlands;

  • Uppsala University, Sweden;

  • Vaexjoe University, Sweden; and

  • Warwick Business School, UK.

Effective manager development: context, curriculum and conditions

The seven papers in this special issue, which closely reflect the spectrum of issues that have dominated deliberations in our workshops, can be considered as falling into three sub-themes which we have retrospectively labelled as “Context, Curricula, and Conditions”. Under Context we focus on the changing environment confronting public organisations and on what this implies for public manager development. Under Curricula the concern is with learning and development priorities for public managers and with the contribution that accredited public management programmes can make in that regard. And under Conditions we are principally concerned with ways to ensure realisation of the potential of public manager development programmes for improving the practice of public policy, governance and public management.

Context

The two articles here focus respectively on the public sector reforms, on the growing challenges confronting public managers across Europe, and on the implications for mid-career management development programmes. In the first of these, Pedersen and Hartley, focusing specifically on Denmark and the UK, as two countries, which have undertaken major public service reforms, explore the nature of reform, transformation and restructuring and comment that these have become endemic in public services. They highlight various tensions and paradoxes such as between claims of increased managerial discretion yet the experience of ever more central controls, and between the rhetoric of deregulation and the reality of an ever-expanding regulatory state.

The authors see the challenges for public leaders and managers in similarly contradictory terms; for example, to improve performance without corresponding growth in the resource base (because of pressures to keep taxes as low as possible); and also in having to work within an increasingly fluid and ambiguous set of inter-relationships between state, market and civil society. They argue that there are three challenges for public managers to deal with: the dynamics of self-creation, the dynamics of strategizing and the dynamics of networking and negotiation. For example, public managers can no longer simply expect to exercise formal authority and implement standard procedures but must increasingly focus on the task of communicating strategically.

… the basic challenge for public sector managers and leaders lies in the multiple layers of re-regulation and self-governing, inspection and self-formation, in the multiplicity of steering rationales, and in the variety of stakeholders that must be included in deliberations, networks and games of regulation …

These perspectives are taken a stage further by Ahmad and Broussine who focus on the anxiety and loss of drive (what they term the “loss of agency”) experienced by public servants in recent years. With evidence drawn from six European states, they note a growing sense of despondency and disillusionment among public managers with their work situations. These, they suggest, relate to a number of contextual factors, including target-driven performance management regimes, relentless centrally-imposed reorganisation, financial stringency, loss of professional identities consequent upon the growth of partnership and inter-professional working, continuing adherence in governmental circles to a creed of “private is best” and the ever more ambiguous and contradictory accountabilities demanded of them in the increasingly complex local and national political environment.

The authors note the increasing “busyness” of contemporary managers and the consequent lack of space and time for reflection and learning. Drawing on reactions discerned from various mainland European states as well as their own experiences in the UK, they consider the implications of all this for the contribution of mid-career management and leadership development programmes. Here they argue a key role of such programmes as being

…to enable the articulation of experience and to create spaces and processes that allow reflection on that experience …

More particularly, they perceive the value of the programmes in allowing for the expression of “vulnerability and emotionality”.

Moreover, as a basis for re-growing confidence they advocate the scheduling of spaces within programmes as the authors do in their own programme at Bristol where for example, they intersperse the timetable with special “Critical Reflection Group” sessions.

Curricula

Under this second sub-theme heading, three further articles address issues that are regarded as particular priorities for the learning and development of practitioners. In the first of these, Quinn and Wennes build upon Ahmad and Broussine’s point about the importance of time for reflection, but here focus especially on using such time for critical thinking about the assumptions both tacit and explicit that underpin their public management practice. The authors emphasise the importance of promoting personal, ontological and epistemological reflection not as academic training, but:

… to create reflexive managers with an awareness of their “pre-understandings” and personal philosophical orientations which affect their practices and performance …

They argue that the promotion of research and enquiry offers rich and direct benefits through exploration of the values by which their work is shaped, through reassessing the assumptions on which it is based, and through questioning the prejudices they may have about what constitutes good and bad performance in practice and about their effects.

The title of Page, Oldfield and Urstad’s article poses the question ‘why not teach diversity to public managers?’ and:

… makes the case for shifting equality and diversity out of the margins and into the centre of education for mid-career public managers …

They do this bearing in mind that the current EU policy framework now requires public service organisations to go beyond eliminating discrimination actively to promote equality and social justice. In line with Pedersen and Hartley’s arguments about the complexity of change in the public sector, they also argue their case on the basis that the reform agendas touch on issues that are integral to the sense of “who we are’ and “how we, as service providers, relate to our users”. The article then offers three illustrations of how learning about diversity might usefully be approached in public manager development programmes. The first focuses on the use of interactive discussion and blended learning as vehicles for facilitating a diverse student intake, and creating an environment where difficult issues can be explored in relation to experiences of diversity in the workplace. The second involves the use of Utopian fiction as a conceptual tool for exploring diversity. And the third considers the role of feminist theory in exploring gendered experiences at work and in the classroom. Their key arguments are that diversity needs to be seen as an integral part of personal management development and that any tendencies within programmes to want to “park” such issues or “parcel them up” into discrete sessions, should be strongly resisted.

The third article, by Nygaard and Bramming, addresses in broader terms the notion of curriculum for mid-career practitioners on curriculum. Here the concern is particularly with the notion of competency development, which is seen as the all-important objective of any mid-career accredited programme. The authors draw on research on learning-centred management education undertaken at Copenhagen Business School’s “Learning Lab”. a special unit at CBS that has been providing consultancy support since 1994 to the School’s study programmes, including the MPA Programme for public service practitioners.

The article argues that, in order for this programme to be of help in developing students’ capabilities for their public service work, the curriculum needs to be strongly “learning-centred” and to recognise and respond to four different forms of competence requirement. These, they describe as:

  • methodological competence (i.e. ability to use the appropriate research methods);

  • theoretical competence (i.e. ability to make use of models and theories in problem solving);

  • meta-theoretical competence (i.e. ability to make appropriate choices between different models, theories and research methods); and

  • contextual competence (i.e. ability to analyse the contextually-bound nature of empirical practice).

Using the CBS MPA Programme as their illustration, the authors explore how an emphasis on building a “learning centred curriculum” for the programme has proved crucial to competence development.

Conditions

Under this third sub-theme the focus of debate about the role of public management programmes moves decisively from the issues of what is taught and learned to how the learning takes place and particularly to the question of how effectiveness and impact of such programmes might be ensured. Two further articles address different aspects of this agenda. The first, by Benington, Hartley, Notten and JC Ry Nielsen, draws on theories of innovation and entrepreneurship to illustrate the importance of such programmes continuously evolving and developing, both with regard to curriculum content and approach to pedagogy. The authors compare experiences of three programmes for which they are respectively responsible the MPA programmes at Copenhagen and Warwick Business Schools and the Masters in Urban Education at Rotterdam University. The article describes “the innovation journeys” involved in setting up these programmes and particularly emphasises the roles of participants in those development processes. The authors are clear that the “sage on the stage” model of teaching and learning is quite inadequate for the complex and changing needs and expectations of skilled public service leaders and managers. Instead, what is required, they argue, is a collaborative approach to the transmission of knowledge and a strong emphasis on the establishment within the classroom of a climate that:

… encourages dialogue, sharing and comparing among diverse stakeholders with sometimes contrasting perspectives in a setting which is stimulating but safe …

Like other authors in this issue (notably, Ahmad and Broussine; Quinn and Wennes; and Page, Oldfield and Urstad), Benington et al., see time for reflection, promotion of a “culture of curiosity” and respect for diversity as vital elements for programme effectiveness. By way of conclusion they offer a number of lessons from their respective experiences as key educational principles for management development work with mid career practitioners. As well as the collaborative and experiential approaches already touched upon, these include a commitment to monitoring and evaluating success in learning and impact in the workplace, flexibility and responsiveness in adapting learning methods to the particular needs of individuals and groups within the programmes, and the creation of a culture of trust and sharing of personal as well as professional experiences (and of failures as well as successes).

The second article on this sub-theme, by Raine and Rubienska, brings us to the role of assessment in the learning process. Here the authors confront the potential conflict between traditional perspectives on academic study, with the typically-associated focus on testing what has been learned, on the one hand, and the expectations and needs for competence and relevance for the work-place on the other. They challenge the tendency towards conservativeness in this context and question the appropriateness of the dominant higher education modes and traditional criteria for assessment at postgraduate level for the particular context of mid-career practitioners. By drawing on a number of examples from different European higher education institutions that provide MPA and similar leadership/management programmes for public sector personnel, the authors explore a range of issues around the purposes and nature of assessment processes, and about what, where, when and how assessment is best undertaken for the benefit of mid-career learning and development. They argue that two key distinctions are:

  1. 1.

    between formative and summative assessment between assessment along the way to help participants learn, as opposed to assessment at the end of a programme to judge and determine if they have met the grade; and

  2. 2.

    between participant-centred and institution-centred approaches i.e. between commitment to collaborating with individual participants to ensure that their personal learning and development objectives are met, and a more traditional perspective reflecting a culture of “the institution knows best” and of concern to protect academic standards.

In their conclusions they argue not only for a stronger emphasis on formative assessment and participant-centredness more generally, but also for greater clarity about purposes in management programmes and for more imaginative and innovative learning and development approaches to mirror better the diverse realities and requirements of the workplace.

Making the difference

Beyond a shared focus on leadership and management development for public service practitioners, a number of common themes and priorities weave through and link together these seven articles. Principal among these is the concern to learn from experience in providing such management development programmes both in terms of subject content and pedagogy. Ensuring that the lessons of the classroom do indeed translate into making positive improvements in the public sphere is, of course, a huge but potentially inspirational challenge for everyone involved in public leadership and management programmes. And it is only through constant experimentation and critical reflection that the actual and potential impacts can become better understood. That is precisely what our annual workshop on Pedagogical Issues in Public Management exists to do, and it is hoped that this collection of articles on the subject will encourage others to join us in our debates and reflections in the years ahead. In this way we can all grow wiser about how accredited leadership and management programmes can best develop our public practitioners to make a real difference for the citizens and communities that they serve.

John Raine, Yusuf Ahmad, Mike Broussine, Jean Hartley, J.C. Ry NielsenGuest Editors