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 19

Researching the New Public Management

The role of quantitative methods

George Boyne

Most of the empirical work by public management researchers is based on qualitative methods. Academic effort has concentrated on case studies of, or commentaries on, government policies or management practices. By contrast, quantitative research has been rare. What are the reasons for the scarcity of quantitative studies, and for the lack of statistical tests of hypotheses concerning public management processes and outcomes? What is the potential contribution of quantitative methods to the development of this field, and what are the problems of realizing this potential? The aim of this chapter is to address these questions.

The limited presence of quantitative work in public management research is reviewed in the first part of the chapter. The focus here is on the UK, and in particular on publications in the leading journals since 1980. Some potential reasons for the absence of quantitative work are then identified. These are partly technical (an apparent lack of relevant research training), and partly associated with the dominant paradigmatic assumptions in the academic community. In the second part of the chapter, the potential benefits of quantitative research on public management issues are outlined, and criteria for evaluating the quality of statistical studies are identified. In the third part, some suggestions are made for improving the quality of this form of research, and for improving its practical relevance.


Quantitative methods in public management research

The extent of the use of quantitative methods can be identified through an analysis of the contents of the leading academic journals in the public management field. Although this procedure is straightforward in principle, it involves three complex issues in practice. First, what is 'public management' as an area of academic inquiry? Secondly, which journals should be included in the assessment? And thirdly, which techniques count as 'quantitative methods' for this purpose?

Public management has emerged as an area of academic inquiry in the last two decades. Its development has run roughly parallel to that of NPM as a set of government policies and management practices (Gray and Jenkins 1995; Hughes

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