New Steering Concepts in Public Management: Volume 21


Table of contents

(21 chapters)

Multifaceted issues such as safety, social inclusion, poverty, mobility, rural development, city regeneration or labour market integration require integrated approaches in their steering. Governments are looking for instruments that can address the boundary-spanning nature of many social problems. In their quest to achieve valued social outcomes, they struggle with their new role, and the inadequacy of both market working and government-led central agency. After three decades of New Public Management (NPM)-style reforms, the strengths and weaknesses of this philosophy have become widely apparent. Fragmentation is a prominent observation in many evaluations of the NPM approach. The fragmentation of both policy and implementation lead to unsatisfactory public outcomes and a heightened experience of a loss of control on the part of policymakers. Achieving valued and sustainable outcomes requires collaboration between government departments, private actors, non-profit organisations, and citizens and requires tools that integrate the lessons of NPM with the new necessities of coordinated public governance. The public administration literature has in recent years been concerned with the ‘what's next?’ question, and many alternatives to NPM have been proposed.

One of the insights gained from studying reforms in public organisations is that the political-administrative system is in a state of flux. Views of how to tackle problems and what the goals, solutions and consequences should be are changing when preconditions and constraints are changing. One important observation is that there is a mismatch between the way the public administration is organised in contemporary democracies and the wicked issues that the public sector organisations are set to handle. Big problems and tasks are seldom following organisational borders but are cutting across administrative levels, sectors and units, creating a lot of challenges for political and administrative leaders. Thus, there is a need for new steering mechanisms focusing on broad social outcomes to handle this challenge.

From the early 1980s on the Dutch national government, just like many other western governments, implemented several administrative reforms to solve problems like fiscal deficits and decreased public legitimacy (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004). Privatisation was one of the first reforms, but never became very popular in the Netherlands. Dutch politicians and civil servants preferred a ‘softer’ modernisation of the state, by separating policy and administration. This meant that the execution of public tasks and/or the implementation of policies were delegated to executive bodies at arms' length of the government. In some cases, existing societal, private or commercial organisations were charged with a particular task, but in most cases executive units from ministries were disaggregated and hived off. Modernisation of the state thus resulted in a strong increase in the number of executive agencies, of different legal types (OECD, 2002). I will refer to this trend as agencification (Pollitt & Talbot, 2004; Pollitt, Talbot, Caulfield, & Smullen, 2004).

The increase in the variety and complexity of forms of collaboration between public, private and non-profit actors (OECD, 2005; Skelcher, Mathur, & Smith, 2005) is laying the groundwork for a future scenario in which governments must effectively manage all the necessary networks to develop the relational state (Mendoza & Vernis, 2008). When we analyse the specific intergovernmental issues leading to this future scenario, one of the most important is the issue of effective management. This is true for the networks in which the government participates or leads, and also true in terms of ‘network portfolio’, a concept we introduce in this chapter. Our study is based on an analysis of 44 local intergovernmental networks. It serves as the basis to illustrate different ways in which the network portfolio concept can contribute to improving our understanding of network management within public management. In other words, the question we aim to answer is: how can a ‘network portfolio’ focus help to improve our understanding of network management within public management? Actively incorporating this perspective will help public decision-makers strategically manage the global set of networks in which they participate and help these decision makers make better decisions about collaborative public networks.

In these times of financial austerity and the emergence of wicked problems, traditional Public Administration and New Public Management as government's conventional mechanisms to steer society often fail to produce desired societal outcomes. This has made the governments of many Western nations call for civic engagement hoping this will lead to the emergence of a resilient society that can resist and react to even the most major shocks and disasters by being flexible and adaptive (Longstaff, 2005; Meijs, 2004; Wildavsky, 1988). A recent example of this broader trend are the discussions in the United Kingdom on how government can help create a Big Society, in which local people and communities feel empowered to deal with social problems on their own, without the interference of politics or governmental busybodies.

New Public Management (NPM)-style reforms have resulted in unintended effects such as fragmentation, deficient coordination and undermining political control. This book is in search of new steering concepts to counter this fragmentation and re-coordinate the public sector. In this chapter, the search for new steering concepts is addressed by looking at a type of public management reform that is an extremely ‘wicked problem’ in terms of steering and coordination, that is, emergent and complex change processes. Such a type of reform process is a complex network of different sub-types of reform with a multitude of actors with different interests and motives. Many decentral actors initiate various reforms at different places from which in the course of time a trend emerges, and several central actors try to coordinate and supervise, but have limited influence. Such an ‘emergent and complex’ type of change process indeed requires fundamentally new steering concepts.

In the United Kingdom under the New Labour government from 1997 to 2010, there was a shift of power away from local towards central government, leading to a situation in which the role of public service organisations could appear to be mainly implementing priorities set by central government and complying with national standards, enforced through the setting of targets and the use of performance management frameworks. The key performance management systems, and the standards within them, became increasingly focused on outcomes, defined as the results that services produce that have an impact on the lives of service users and citizens – the benefits of the service rather than the volume or quality of the outputs (Willis & Bovaird, 2011).

William Beveridge talked about the five evils that he felt confronted society. He listed them as want, idleness, squalor, ignorance and disease. He was writing before the end of the World War II at a time of anxiety, uncertainty and expectation (Abel-Smith, 1992). The post war welfare state and the growth of prosperity would arguably have served to resolve some of the evils listed by Beveridge. The absolute poverty that he referred to is no longer as prevalent and education is now a legal requirement and funded by the state at least up to school leaving age.

Since the 1980s UK government enthusiasm for market reforms has reconfigured the nature and scope of public services. Initially the marketisation of public services changed how public services were provided, increasingly market reforms and pro business policies have also modified the formation and understanding of public policy problematics and how they ought to be resolved. This is particularly noticeable when markets work imperfectly or even fail. UK governments have shown their reluctance to employ regulatory instruments to change the behaviour of companies preferring instead to make use of softer interventions, by focusing on providing advice for consumers and urging individuals to act responsibly. The dilemmas of this approach are explored by discussing the UK's former Labour government's (1997–2010) response to the increase in the incidence of obesity and related health complications.

This chapter looks into China's experiences with embracing new steering instruments to promote social stability, with particular reference to the protection of households involved in city regeneration projects. During the closing years of the twentieth century, China experienced a fundamental transition, from a planned mode of urban regeneration to a new pattern that emphasised the involvement of the market. Under the planned regime, households affected by regeneration projects were provided with new apartments and temporary housing, all financed by the local government. Economic incentives were rarely employed to encourage households to resettle, as resettlement was seen as a civil obligation. The new approach, featuring marketisation, however, requires the affected households to pay for their new houses using monetary compensation and subsidies from the local governments. The local governments are strongly motivated to save such costs and thus provide limited compensation, and consequently complaints from the affected households have continued to grow (Peerenboom & He, 2009).

Governments face many complex problems that require collective solutions involving multiple actors who often disagree both on the nature of the problem and on the necessary solution (Rittel & Webber, 1973). The difficulties are often exacerbated because actors tend to have insufficient or incorrect knowledge of the problems at hand.

Networks are many things1, but certainly an important feature in contemporary government. In an era of collaboration, as Agranoff and McGuire (2003) 2 label it, governments are increasingly networked, using and engaging in all sorts of networks to achieve policy goals. Often, working in and through networks is regarded as the best or even only way to solve wicked problems (Goldsmith & Eggers, 2004). However, at the same time, criticism towards networks as a problem-solving strategy seems to increase in the field: they cost money, are time-consuming, cause transparency and accountability problems and so on (Huxham & Vangen, 2005; Kenis & Provan, 2009; Sørensen & Torfing, 2007). In the region of Flanders (Belgium), for instance, one of the main political issues is to regain grip on the hollowed out state, where much policy making and policy-making capacity is said to be ‘lost’ in a nebula of networks of which neither politicians nor public managers can make sense anymore.

The chapters in this book have all in some way focused on new steering instruments in the public sector, or on how governments, often in collaboration with other actors, attempt to achieve integrated results and broad social outcomes. The trend away from the traditional and NPM-style prescriptions, the latter of which often resulted in a certain degree of fragmentation and a loss of steering capacity (Terry, 2005), is visible in a wide range of areas, both on the delivery level, and on the more strategic level. This has put the need to coordinate the public sector and to find new ways of steering firmly on the agenda (Braun, 2008; Bouckaert et al., 2010).

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Research in Public Policy Analysis and Management
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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