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The 23rd EGOS Colloquium 2007  

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Sub-theme 11:
Public management and private organizations: Strange couplings or exotic rhythms in RIO?



Christine Teelken, Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands)

Mike Dent, Staffordshire University/Stafford (UK)

Nicolette van Gestel, Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands)

Ewan Ferlie, Royal Holloway University of London (UK)

Louise Fitzgerald, De Montfort University/Leicester (UK)

 Call for papers

Purpose of this subtheme is to provide a more thorough and nuanced vision on the developments in public management reform, specifically on the newly created relationships between individuals and public and private organizations in health care, education, transport, energy, housing or social services.

A summary of the history of dances in three phases enlightens the following features:

  • In stately minuets and quadrilles touching was limited to the hands and dances were based on strict choreography with a large number of couples.

  • The frivolous waltz is danced in an embrace, with closer control between partners and fixed steps and in a roughly determined direction.

  • Modern dancing is completely free for improvisation, with only some support by rhythm or beat, the number of partners is unlimited, although solitary dancing is also possible.

These three dance styles provide an excellent metaphor for the relationships between and among individuals and organizations (RIOs) and help us to research and describe the historical developments of public management reform and its consequences. Public Management reform can not simply be explained by one specific management concept or discourse but is influenced by diverse ideas and motives of both public and private actors at various levels of change. Actual reforms therefore contain a mix of elements, which refer to complex, sometimes conflicting processes of policy-making, implementation and interpretation. The term governance, originally considered synonymously with government has since the ‘Eighties’ obtained a new meaning, it ‘refers to self-organizing, inter-organizational networks characterized by interdependence, resource-exchange, rules of the game, and significant autonomy from the state’ (Rhodes 1997:15). Governance is considered a form of network management and the coordination of the plurality and complexity of hierarchies, markets and networks (Kjaer 2005) and is a popular concept, as it covers a whole range of institutions and relationships (Pierre and Peters 2000:1).

Developments in public management reform are visible in the recent shifts in division of roles between the government and society, with government policy in some domains proposing pulling back to give more responsibility to society. While some national governments aspire to become more accountable to their citizens, public and semi-public organizations are being required to demonstrate the results of their activities to their customers. Management based on rules and procedures is gradually being replaced by a system based on performance measurement and decentralized decision-making, e.g. the British ‘best value’ program for local authorities.

What are the consequences for RIOs under these new ‘governance’ reforms? Or metaphorically: which strange couplings or exotic rhythms in RIO can we observe and how can we learn from them? The music has changed but the partners have not learnt their new dancing steps. Some couples may keep to the former rhythms but it is difficult with the orchestra playing a different tune. Other couples may split up and start to dance individually or even quit the floor. Can the variations that have occurred in different countries be accommodated in different models e.g. the anglo-governance and the continental European governance model (Newman 2005).

However, governments have made few efforts to evaluate whether management reforms would actually work. Nor was there much effort to ‘cherish and build on the potentially positive elements in traditional professionalism’ (Foster and Wilding 2000: 157). Instead Ackroyd et al. (2006: in press) conclude that ‘the tendency has been to introduce reform in a way that was almost guaranteed to maximize disruption and opposition.’

Within this context, the following themes deserve therefore more specific attention:

- Consumerism (clients) versus democracy (citizens)

Should we see the individuals connected with public and private organizations as clients, who are only interested in cheap, quick and reliable services or as critical citizens who want to be involved in decision-making and strategy? How democratic are the new forms of network governance in relation to their clients and which methodological tools do we need to describe and define this (Mathur and Skelcher 2006). This theme is slightly similar to the theme of trust (between professional and client, between professionals) versus accountability (formalized relationships). Accountability can be vertical (to citizens, clients) or horizontal (benchmarking). It is usually defined as a government's obligation to respect the interests of those affected by its decisions, programmes and interventions through mechanisms of answerability and enforceability.

- Professionalism versus paternalism.

From the mid-nineties, professionals have been overruled by a new cadre of managers, transferring into a situation of greater managerial control (Ackroyd et al 2006, Dent 2003). Managerial values and practices tend to be quite opposite to the more classical values and practices that are generally held by the academic professionals within universities (Chandler et al. 2002; Townley 1997), the health sector (Scott et al 2001) or other public sector organizations (Ackroyd et al. 2006). How do professionals deal with the managerial values imposed upon them? What conflicts may arise as professionals try to maintain their autonomy against the management control system, which is often considered paternalistic? What impact will this have on service provision and satisfaction of professionals?

- Individuals and organizations in the public management change process.

Evaluating public management reform has been done traditionally from the perspective of European and national rules, procedures and top-down implementation. However, growing attention has recently been paid to the actors' perspective in institutional change (Dacin, Goodstein & Scott 2002). What is the role and relevance of individuals and organizations, for example in the creation of network governance or in intra- and inter-organizational dynamics of institutional fields (Phillips, Lawrence & Hardy 2000). How to analyze the informal processes of actors engaged in creating, maintaining or disrupting public management reform and which types of agency and power relations are most relevant in institutional change (Meyer 2006)?

Of course, each of these themes can be perceived at a national or international perspective, for example, whether we can speak of a specific type of European Community governance? Cross-sectional comparison can be very interesting as well. We therefore specifically encourage empirical studies to enable international or cross-sectional comparisons. However, theoretical explanations for crucial reforms or critical reflections are very welcome as well.

About the convenors

Christine Teelken, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands. Assistant professor Organizational Studies, obtained her PhD on 'Market mechanisms in education', major research interest: governance and organizational change in higher education..

Mike Dent, Staffordshire University, Stafford, United Kingdom. Professor of Health Care Organizations at Staffordshire University. Has published widely in the field of health care organizations, also internationally.

Nicolette van Gestel, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands. Associate professor Governance and Institutions. Major research interest: Institutional dynamics in public services.

Ewan Ferlie, Royal Holloway University of London, London, United Kingdom. Professor and Head of Department of School of Management. Major research interest: Organizational change in the public services.

Louise Fitzgerald, De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom. Professor of Organizational Development. Has published widely in the field of new public management and professionalism. Major research interest: Organizational change in the professional organizations.