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 16

The New Public Management in international perspective

An analysis of impacts and effects

Christopher Pollitt


It is interesting that NPM reforms had been going on in several countries for between ten and fifteen years before the academic community began much direct assessment of whether the reformers' claims for improvement were credible and convincing (Pollitt 1995). There was certainly some ab initio reasoning about the 'logic' of NPM, but not a great deal of empirical work on the consequences of NPM-inspired reforms in practice. For many academics (mea culpa) intellectualizing about categories, models, ideologies and national convergences and differences evidently took precedence over the (deceptively) simple question of: Does it work? More recently, however, a more substantial volume of academic writing has begun to explore and evaluate the seeming consequences of NPM. In this chapter I will draw on this body of work - as well as on a range of official sources - in order to assess the available evidence on the results of the public management reform.

To attack such a huge subject in a single chapter necessarily requires the discussion to be pitched at a fairly high level of generalization. On the other hand, while the detail is both rich and occasionally paradoxical, on the broad scale attempted here there do seem to be some larger points which are worth making.

To approach the question of impact, some attention needs first to be devoted to three significant preliminary questions. First, what kind of evidential materials are available? Second, what kinds of reform are we talking about? Third, what do we mean by 'results'? These three preliminaries will be tackled sequentially in the next three sections. Subsequently, the main part of the chapter will deal with the central question of what we know and what we do not about the results of reform.

Characteristics of the available materials

A great deal of the available material on public management reform is either promotional ('look at what we are doing') or how-to-do-it ('a guide to…'). Governments produce White Papers, statements and booklets in which they attempt to convince legislatures, the media, the public and public servants


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