Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2007

Reforming the Public Sector in Comparative Perspective: The New Public Management and Beyond

Lecturer: Professor B. Guy Peters,
Department of Political Science,
University of Pittsburgh, USA

Main disciplines: Political Science, Public Administration

Dates: 30 July - 3 August 2007
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 30 participants

During the past several decades reformers of all political persuasions have attempted to transform administration and management within the public sector. Although there have been a large variety of reforms, most changes have been characterized as being in the style of the “New Public Management”, or NPM. Although NPM means many different things to different people, the general idea has been to make the public sector more efficient and effective by applying market principles. The reforms implemented have included changes such as enhanced managerial freedom, more open and competitive personnel management, and granting more autonomy to public organizations.

The reforms associated with New Public Management are a theory of governing in general, as well as an approach to administration, and have significant implications for performance and accountability in the public sector. This course will discuss the nature of the reforms that have been implemented, evaluate their impacts critically, and also examine the reforms that have been implemented to correct some of the problems created by NPM. These reforms, therefore, should be seen as part of a continuing process of change in the public sector, as each set of changes generate the need for other reforms.

The New Public Management and its consequences will be discussed in a broad comparative context. Although these reforms have been most visible in countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Finland, some aspects have been implemented in almost all political systems. In addition, donor organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations have at times been active in promoting these reforms in countries receiving their assistance. Therefore, we need to understand the ways in which these reforms may, or may not, meet the needs of transitional and developing societies.

The ten sessions of the course will each discuss important aspects of NPM reforms. Rather than concentrate all the critiques of the reforms, those critiques will be spread throughout the course. The intention therefore is to develop a good understanding of the ideas of the New Public Management as well as s healthy skepticism about their consequences for governing.


Essential readings


Lecture 1: The Old and the New

If there is a New Public Management then there must be an “Old Public Management”. This initial lecture will examine the nature of traditional public administration and identify some of the reasons that advocates have been so interested in changing these patterns of governing. Further, the lecture will point out that choices about administration so imply broader choices about the pattern of governing.


Lecture 2: Foundation Documents and Scholarship

This lecture will build on the introduction concerning the roots of NPM and will focus on some of the major statements concerning public management. Some of these statements are academic, but others come from major public sector reformers. This collection of readings will provide additional...


Lecture 3: Fundamental Principles I – The Market

One of the fundamental principles guiding much of the thinking in the New Public Management is that the market, and management using patterns common to organizations in the private sector, will improve the performance of the public sector. This module will examine some of the ideas that undergird that thinking, look at the assumptions within the advocacy of the market, and also examine some critiques of market ideas in government.


Lecture 4: Fundamental Principles II – Participation

Although much of the reform activity for the past several decades has emphasized the market and New Public Management, there has been at least one other dimension of change. Rather than emphasizing the market, so called “governance” reforms have emphasized enhancing participation of both lower echelon employees and clients. These reforms have been pursued for democratic as opposed to efficiency reasons, but have had a number of other effects. This lecture will discuss these reforms and their consequences for the public sector.


Lecture 5: Fundamental Principles III – Autonomy

Another of the dominant principles for improving governance under the New Public Management has been that public organizations will perform better if they are given more autonomy. The “Next Steps” agencies in the United Kingdom have served as the principal example of this type of structure, but the idea has been copied in any number of settings. This lecture will discuss the logic of permitting greater autonomy, as well as sime of the critiques of the approach to government structure.


Lecture 6: Fundamental Principles IV – Performance

One means of summarizing the goals of reform in the public sector over the past several decades is that the ultimate purpose is to improve the performance of government. Performance has a number of dimensions in the public sector, and it is notoriously difficult to measure effectively. This lecture will focus on the nature of performance management and its consequences for how the public sector works and is evaluated.


Lecture 7: Evaluating New Public Management: Accountability

Many critics of New Public Management have argued that these reforms have undermined accountability in the public sector. Others merely argue that NPM has changed the forms of accountability, and that if anything there are more effective forms of accountability in place. This lecture will discuss the concept of accountability for contemporary government and examine the impact of New Public Management.


Lecture 8: Evaluating New Public Management – Coordination

Another consequence of New Public Management identified by many critics is that the emphasis on individual programs and their internal management has weakened coordination within the public sector as a whole. This lecture will examine the coordination problem in the public sector and the consequences of managerial changes on the capacity of the public sector to deliver coordinated and coherent public policies.


Lecture 9: One Size Fits All?: New Public Management in Comparative Perspective

The advocates of New Public Management have tended not to contextualize their approach to public administration but rather have tended to assume that the model is applicable to virtually all political systems. This session of the course will examine the applicability of NPM to democratizing and less developed political systems, as well as variations in the interpretations of NPM in different industrialized democracies.


Lecture 10: The Future for Public Administration

This final class session will examine alternative futures for public administration, primarily in the industrialized democracies but also in transitional regimes. This session will build on the previous classes and readings, and discuss a series of alternative scenarios for administration. One of the alternatives would be a retreat from the reforms that have been implemented, and return to something like “old-fashioned” administration. Other scenarios would be to build on the reforms and expand them, and to find means of addressing some of the problems encountered in those reforms.