Expanded Visions for Today's Growing Governance Challenges: Howard R. Balanoff and Warren Master, Editors, Strategic Public Management: Best Practices from Government and Nonprofit Organizations (Management Concepts, 2010)

By Mihm, J. Christopher | The Public Manager, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Expanded Visions for Today's Growing Governance Challenges: Howard R. Balanoff and Warren Master, Editors, Strategic Public Management: Best Practices from Government and Nonprofit Organizations (Management Concepts, 2010)


Mihm, J. Christopher, The Public Manager


The two important virtues of Strategic Public Management: Best Practices from Government and Nonprofit Organizations are its scope and itspracticalityThe19 contributors cover a full range of day-to-day management challenges that public managers face and provide concrete examples and specific real-world steps that those managers can take to respond to growing citizen expectations for more results-oriented and effective government. As such, the 17-chapter volume will be most helpful to program managers and those interested in the Certified Public Manager (CPM) program. For example, Howard R. Balanoff's chapter provides a very insightful overview of the history, value, and current status of the CPM program.

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A short review cannot possibly do justice to each of the chapters in the volume. Rather, I'll touch on four overlapping and reinforcing themes that cut across the chapters to provide a basis for understanding the challenges--and opportunities--for strategic public management in the 21st century:

* governance and the "wicked" issues

* cultural change in organizations and the need to adopt a future orientation

* data-driven decision making

* reporting, transparency, and citizen involvement.

Governance and "Wicked" Issues

Balanoff and Warren Master's preface observes that managers at all levels of government are asked to focus on, and manage for, results--outcomes that by definition take place outside managers' organizations and which they do not fully control.

Over the past couple of decades, there has been an important shift in the unit of analysis of much of the public administration literature and experience--away from a focus on government and more toward a focus on governance. Stated simply, meaningful public results are not "caused" by any one organization operating in isolation but rather from numerous organizations working in concert--federal agencies, state and local government contractors, nonprofits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, and, at times, the governments of other countries.

Thus, the issues we face do not fall along neat and clean organizational, jurisdictional, or geographic lines. In his chapter, Tim E. Winchell, Sr., cautions about going too far and urges U.S. Office of Management of Budget officials and managers in federal departments to "accept the closed-model reality" of their world. Nonetheless, issues as diverse as homeland security; responding to natural disasters, food safety, environmental restoration and protection; responding to homeless-ness; ensuring green and healthy homes; and myriad others underscore the importance of managing from a governance perspective.

James H. Thurmond's chapter emphasizes that managers need to properly conceptualize the internal and external manifestations of the problem they are seeking to address. Understanding the full dimensions of a problem is the essential first step to identifying the right set of solutions. Thurmond discusses Horst W. J. Rittel's and Melvin M. Webber's notion of "wicked issues"--those asymmetrical, unplanned, episodic problems--that expose the weaknesses of established ways of thinking and doing business.

While Thurmond offers a way to distinguish among types of wicked problems, the essential point is that governments have to increasingly confront these types of problems, which leads to complex institutional arrangements that cut across levels of government and sectors.

Not all wicked issues involve overwhelming problems such as natural disasters. Jackie Werth and Dale R. Fleming provide a case study of the San Diego County's Health and Human Service Agency's redesign of its programs. Werth and Fleming provide a vivid illustration of how the county developed deeper understandings of the connections among various programs and initiatives that were offered, and how a nutrition security plan could knit those seemingly disparate efforts together to provide a better and a fuller range of services to San Diego County's citizens. …

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