Cultural Aspects of Public Management Reform: Volume 16

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Most scholars in public administration and management research would agree that there is a connection between the culture of a nation or region and the way management in public administration is structured and working (“public management arrangements”). However, to be incorporated into public management research and theory, a more precise notion about the forms, ways, and mechanisms of the interlinkage between societal culture and public management is required. A look into public management literature reveals that wide use and reference is made to the importance and influence of culture on public management arrangements – mostly, though, using the term “culture” as a shortcut for “organizational culture”. Public management treatises stress the influence of past events and contexts for the specific functioning and establishment of organizations, rules, and perceptions which in turn have great influence on the reception and functioning of public management mechanisms (Heady, 1996; Jann, 1983; Schröter, 2000; Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004). Elsewise, organizational culture – or more precisely change thereof – is claimed to be the result of public management efforts (Ridley, 2000; Schedler & Proeller, 2000). In sum, the interlinkage between culture and public management is there, but is not systematically and explicitly incorporated by referring to adequate theory. Although cultural theory has gained considerable attention (Hood, 1998), there are still other concepts for the analysis of cultural facts that may be of interest to the subject, too.

From an anthropological point of view there are four fundamental ways of living on earth, which can be related to “four basic cultural types: hunting and gathering, herding livestock, village farming, and modern civilization (…). Culture can be defined as the relationship of a society to the primordial nature or law of the earth” (Lawlor, 1991, p. 142).

New Public Management (NPM) was widely welcomed in the early 1990s of the last century in Switzerland. In accordance with different diagnoses of insufficiency against the public bureaucracies, several NPM programs on all three levels of the Swiss state were launched. But interestingly, most of them did not succeed: they were abandoned, voted down by the electorate, and where they were completed, not much has really changed. So the question from a sociological point of view is, how and why did this happen? To find preliminary answers, NPM is described as a particular professional orthodoxy and confronted with the findings of two ethnographic case studies. What clearly becomes visible is how organizational and professional cultures were neglected by the technical approach of the NPM. This gave way to phenomena like free riding on a reform within the organizations, and in one case to a “fordization” of work resulting in a decrease in workplace quality. If public management seeks an impact in the future, it has to account for the culture within organizations more thoroughly and should seek to use context-sensitive language.

A well-coordinated public sector is often considered to be of major importance, but at the same time it appears to be a huge challenge. Public sector reforms struggling with the coordination conundrum are numerous and countries display a certain dynamic in their adoption of coordination instruments throughout time. On the one hand, it is sensible to presume that – to a certain extent – countries are stimulated to adopt similar coordination instruments, because of isomorphic processes induced by factors such as the spread of the new public management line of thought or the multiplication of exchanges of good practices at an international level. On the other hand, culture-linked elements might have an important role to play in explaining idiosyncrasies. By examining the conceptual link between coordination and culture through an empirical analysis for four counties (UK, New Zealand, France, and Sweden), it is the aim of this chapter to explore the relevance of culture for understanding coordination trajectories of individual countries.

Do public managers’ religious beliefs and behaviors affect their work and their work-related attitudes? There is almost no empirical work on the topic. Questionnaire data (n=765) drawn from the National Administrative Studies Project-III11The data are drawn from the National Administrative Studies Project-III. is used to test hypotheses about the impacts of U.S. public managers’ religiosity and political activity, on work attitudes. Multiple regression shows that religious public managers tend to have a stronger orientation toward job security. Public managers who are members of political organizations are somewhat less oriented to security and have more negative views about their organization and fellow employees. Controls introduced into the model do not change these findings.

In this chapter, we present results from an EU-wide survey on public administration reform. Our analysis shows that the 27 public administrations covered still organize their HR services very differently. Divergent structures, traditions, and paths taken do not seem to give rise to an overall shared new model of a European Administrative Space, yet. Different national traditions have a considerable impact on the modernization paths and the organization of HR decision-making structures and account for similarities between more related public administrations. The clusters based on the administrative traditions and on the HR systems proved to be helpful in outlining different patterns, but also revealed several directions for refinement.

We use data from the World Values Survey to describe and compare levels of confidence in the civil service in a series of countries, and study determinants of this confidence. Instead of focusing on citizen satisfaction with specific public services in a specific country, we analyze citizens’ general attitudes toward the public administration or civil service, and compare these attitudes internationally. We fit 60 identical regression models, to test for the impact of a series of socio-demographic and socio-economic variables in each of the countries. We finish by comparing the determinants in each of the countries, and test whether cultural or regional patterns emerge.

In an international context, public management arrangements differ significantly from country to country, and also regionally and locally. One reason for these differences may be different civic cultures with differing views of the state and its institutions. This may appear to be obvious, but it is highly important when public management reform models are proposed and transferred from one country to others such as was the case (and still is to some extent – especially from developed to developing nations) with, for example, the new public management. Scholars in public management, as well as international practitioners, should be aware of the impact culture has on the possibilities and limits of concept transfer between different organizations and jurisdictions.

This chapter is about the time dimension in the study of public management. There are four main steps in my argument: First, much contemporary academic work in public management is effectively time-free, or at least time-neglectful. Second, however, I argue that many key processes in public management are actually highly time-dependent. Therefore, third, we need to restore the temporal dimension to our theorizing about the development of different regimes, systems, models, and techniques for the administration of public tasks. Fourth, such a restoration of the temporal dimension will need to take account of the different cultural “framings” of time – of the fact that different cultures and subcultures conceptualize, value, and treat time differently. Throughout, the discussion is meant to be general, suggestive, and exploratory – an early conversation rather than a last word.

The chapter summarizes evidence from Switzerland to suggest that culture proves to be a useful hypothesis to explain variations in public management reforms (PMR) in different arrangements. Culture, which is among other things embedded in politics, society, and public administration seems to have a strong impact on reform initiation, impact, and outcome as well. The review shows that an optimal culture fit between traditional and desired values appears promising. The chapter concludes that public sector reforms should consider cultural, historical, and geopolitical factors additionally when trying to conceptualize PMR in different settings.

This chapter proposes a cultural perspective towards understanding the nature and outcomes of governance reforms. The argument is that “culture” is a promising, though somehow neglected, explanatory factor. There are three major roles that the cultural factor can play. First, governmental culture acts as the intervening variable. Many reform attempts around the world failed because governmental culture obstructed reform success by producing perverse or ugly reform hybrids. When reform innovations were chosen, the cultural factor was not seriously taken into consideration. Second, governmental culture can become the dependent variable. The basic objective of governance reform is to ultimately change the governmental culture of the society. Therefore, reform cannot become successful until the reform initiatives eventually change the basic cultural traits of government. Since changing governmental culture takes a long time, there is a feeling of hopelessness in conducting reform. The more reforms are introduced, the more things remain the same. Third, governmental culture performs the role of an independent variable that affect the processes and outcomes of governance reform. There are other competing independent variables in the explanatory equation, and the cultural factor becomes a less visible factor for political scientists who prefer to highlight other variables, such as power and institutions.

This chapter tries to shed some light on the relationship between cultural patterns and country-specific public sector reform profiles. For a comparison, the British and German cases seem to be particularly appealing as they arguably represent two distinct approaches in public sector reform (see also Schröter & Wollmann, 1997; Schröter & Wollmann, 2000). It has become part and parcel of the conventional public management wisdom that the UK stands out for its vigorously pursued market-orientation and the emphasis on the explicitly “managerial” side of the new public management (“freedom to manage”) (see also Schröter, 2006), while few commentators seem to dispute that recent public sector reform programs in Germany have been of only modest range – more concerned with “maintaining” (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004) established features of the administrative system and fine-tuning the internal bureaucratic machinery of the state apparatus. At this point, our discussion does not take issue with that stereotypical depiction of national reform styles (see Schröter, 2001); rather it tackles a potentially powerful approach of interpreting the conspicuous policy variance: the linkage between traditional political and administrative cultures and national reform strategies.

In December 1999, the UK Civil Service Management Board in Whitehall agreed upon a reform program focusing on six themes, all connected with improved managerial processes internal to the civil service and intended to complement the more externally oriented Modernising Government agenda set out in a white paper earlier that year. The purpose was to achieve major changes in the way in which the civil service was run – “step change” rather than continuous improvement. In May 2002, the Cabinet Office commissioned a research project to provide an evaluation of the Civil Service Reform program through four case studies. This chapter draws upon the findings of that study to discuss the extent to which cultural differences affected the outcomes of this ambitious reform program. In addition, it draws upon a set of interviews in 2005 which updated the findings of the research. The chapter suggests that four very different types of culture had important impacts on the way in which the case study organizations went about the process of addressing the Cabinet Office reform program, namely national cultures which differed greatly between the case studies, although they were all UK-based organizations; organizational cultures which differed greatly within each of the case study organizations; occupational cultures which crossed the four case studies, but usually with significant differences in each context; and sectoral cultures which in several cases provided particular barriers to change. The chapter shows how these different dimensions of culture were interwoven in the change programs of the four cases and explores the extent to which their progress on the reform agenda was affected by their particular cultural mix. It suggests that some “cultural stances” within these overall cultures were more difficult to change than others, so that reforms had to be re-activated on several occasions and through a variety of mechanisms. Finally, the chapter illustrates how, in the case study organizations which were most successful, a deliberate strategy was adopted by top management of highlighting the clashing internal cultures, in order to challenge the traditional positions of internal and external stakeholders, in spite of the risks involved.

Nonaka (1990) makes the distinction between generic knowledge that can be applied in many similar contexts, and local knowledge that can be best applied in a specific local context. Israel (1987) and Fukuyama (2004) point out that “high specificity” tasks (i.e. with clear objectives, and using well-defined technologies) with low transaction volume are more likely to be performed successfully by organizations across a wide range of cultural contexts. In this spirit, Friedman (2005, pp. 313–323) observes that countries can benefit from the “flat world” through a combination of “reform wholesale” and “reform retail”. The former entails market-centered reforms such as privatization, deregulation, reducing trade barriers, and adopting flexible labor laws. A handful of leaders in each country have pushed through such reforms in a wide range of cultural contexts including the developed OECD countries, plus many others such as Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia, China, and other East Asian “tiger” economies. The latter entails upgrading infrastructure, regulatory institutions, and education and health standards. Unlike the former, the latter reforms cannot be instituted by a handful of leaders, but require broad changes at many levels of society. Although the end results in countries successful at “reform retail” have many similarities (e.g. healthy, well-educated citizens) the steps toward achieving the results are very different, depending on culture and other contextual factors.

DOI
10.1016/S0732-1317(2007)16
Publication date
Book series
Research in Public Policy Analysis and Management
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-0-7623-1400-3
eISBN
978-1-84950-478-2
Book series ISSN
0732-1317