New Public Management: Current Trends and Future Prospects

By Kate McLaughlin; Stephen P. Osborne et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5

The New Public Management, modernization and institutional change

Disruptions, disjunctures and dilemmas

Janet Newman


This chapter explores the interrelationship between the NPM and the modernization programme of the Labour government as it is being played out in the UK. There are significant points of continuity between the neo-liberal approach to public sector reform and that of 'New Labour', despite some differences of language and practice (see Hughes and Newman 1999; Newman 2000; Newman forthcoming). But the interface between NPM and modernization produces key tensions, which are played out in public service organizations as they seek to accommodate new definitions of role and purpose. This chapter traces themes and issues that highlight the tensions or points of disruption within modernization, the potential disjunctures between modernization and the NPM and the dilemmas for public managers which these produce.

To explore these tensions, the chapter focuses on the discourses of NPM and of modernization. A focus on discourses allows us to study shifts in language, practice and relations of power and the way in which these might be linked to tensions in the process of institutional change. Discourse analysis encompasses a wide range of theoretical orientations and methodological approaches (Grant et al. 1998). For the purposes of this chapter I view discourses as hierarchies of knowledge and expertise that legitimate the reordering of relationships within organizations, and between organizations and their various stakeholders. The discourses with which I am concerned are contingent: that is, they are formed within particular historical moments and are articulated through the relationships between organizations and their political and economic environments. The election of a Labour government produced a significant shift in public policy discourses, with the articulation of new discourses - joined-up government, social exclusion, evidence-based policy, Best Value, public involvement and a raft of others - interacting with the older discourses of managerialism, efficiency, quality and consumerism, which had become dominant during the Thatcher and Major administrations. A shift in discourse produces new logics of appropriate action, which are disseminated through policy networks, become embedded in government guidelines and legislation and are institutionalized through inspection and audit regimes. New discursive practices are adopted by organizations in order to establish or retain legitimacy in a changing policy


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