20 December 2008

Call for papers: Management Devices and the Quest for Performance in the Public Sector

Call for papers: Management Devices and the Quest for Performance in the Public Sector

A special issue of International Journal of Public Sector Performance Management

For several decades, and with renewed vigour since the late 1980s, public action has been called into question. All public institutions (the State, local government, health organizations, state-run companies) have been the object of two types of criticism. Economic inefficiency was jointly denounced with what was perceived as lack of democracy, transparency, equality, fairness and even security.

The rhetoric of “modernization” owes its origin to this two-fold criticism and was paralleled with two decades of successive reforms. These, however, were essentially aimed at economic inefficiency, thus leaving aside all other dimensions of public action. Among these initiatives, we can note the privatisations of state-run companies and public services, the introduction of quality management tools, the renovation of HRM techniques, performance related pay, balanced scorecards, and the conversion of citizens into “clients” and “shareholders”. Lately, state budgeting was also aligned with performance based logics. Symptomatically, the French government announced its decision of submitting its ministers to the assessment of private management consultants.

Derived from private management practice, a new vision of performance was vested by NPM (New Public Management) approaches into the public sector. It assumed the shape of management devices and remains at the core of most public reforms. The objective of this special issue is precisely to analyse public management reforms in the light of these management devices.

In the opinion of many authors, management devices are not value-neutral. They are increasingly seen as a mixture of principles, techniques and managerial doctrines, promoted by a heteronymous cluster of experts, professional groups and influential agencies. Hence, according to some public management researchers, the idea of their unrestricted transfer and universal applicability is increasingly losing ground.

Indeed, claiming that organisation models and control techniques brought about by the management devices are universal constitutes the first action of public managers conforming to a standardised conception of performance. In that respect, is the use of terms such as “modernization”, “rationality”, “performance”, not the first step to conceding to a managerialist ideology? However, differences in nature and in purpose (social, political, judicial, institutional, organizational, etc.) are too obvious between public and business universes to blindfold the drawbacks of such a blend.

Management devices go beyond a simple translation of executives’ desire into action. They are action generators triggering unexpected dynamics and enacting ideologies for which “managerialism” is merely a fa├žade. They request new perspectives of public management research in which stakeholders, their professional experiences and moral preoccupations, implementation techniques and user’s strategies should all be considered. The analysis of the design and implementation of the tools of public action is also a means of understanding the dynamics of change, and highlighting the interactions between technocratic and political action. To what extend can management tools confer the appearance of rationality to public policies and provide an escape lane from legitimate debates? Up to what point could a “deviant” appropriation of tools alienate the outcomes of the intended reform?

Our call for papers is aimed at two fields of inquiry:

First, the papers should question the capacities of management devices to introduce performance ideologies into public action doctrines.
  • What is the nature of innovation (technologies, organizational patterns, assumptions)?
  • Who are its instigators and what are their aims?
  • How does it change the interactions between different categories of public agents, and between civil servants and their publics?
  • Does it produce conflicts between the general interest and economic performances?
  • Can such a "better" management work against the inner purposes of public action?
Secondly, would it not be possible or even desirable to imagine a new vision of public performance, one that would outclass market transpositions?
  • Are there any other sources of inspiration?
  • Could these new approaches gain acceptance?
  • Could third sector experiences provide new paths of thinking?
In all these respects, it would be interesting to explain the success of managerialist approaches to performance.
  • Does the century old glorification of the entrepreneurial firm explain this infatuation of the media, politicians and intellectuals, or should it be attributed to the downhill image of the state and its traditional values?
  • Is it possible that these trends prevent us from imagining alternatives and formulating criticisms?
  • Does this create a vicious circle of societal perception from which we should escape?
All articles related to these issues in local or central governments, public services, and entities, or state owned companies would be greatly appreciated.

Important Dates
Submission of full paper before: 1 May, 2009
Notification of acceptance before:1 July, 2009
Submission of final and revised manuscripts:1 September, 2009

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