Motivation, Agency, and Public Policy: Of Knights and Knaves, Pawns and Queens

By Julian Le Grand | Go to book overview
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4 A Theory of Public Service Motivation

Oh good old man, how well in thee appears The constant service of the antique world, When service sweat for duty not for meed! Thou art not for the fashion of these times Where none will sweat but for promotion.

(Shakespeare, As You Like It)

Chapter Three illustrated how policy structures and context can change the balance of motivation in individuals working in the public sector. In this chapter I draw together some of the arguments into a theoretical account of public service motivation, and try to draw out some of its implications for policy.


A THEORY OF PUBLIC SERVICE MOTIVATION

As we saw in Chapter Two , most people, including and perhaps especially those involved with the public sector, are motivated to perform altruistic acts because they wish to help others and because they derive some personal benefit from performing the acts that help others. That is, they are act-relevant knights.

Now the benefit that an act-relevant knight derives from performing an altruistic act itself is likely to be related to a number of factors. These would include the extent of the help they can offer, the extent to which that help benefits the persons concerned, and, probably of no little consequence, the degree of approval that the activity concerned attracts from the outside world. However, and this is the possibly unexpected insight from the work we have been reviewing, the motivation to undertake an altruistic act also seems to depend positively upon the degree of personal sacrifice associated with the act. We might term this the act's opportunity cost: that is, the cost to the individual concerned of other opportunities for personal benefit that have had to be forgone because he or she has chosen to undertake that act.

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