Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis

Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis

Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis

Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis


In this major new contribution to a rapidly expanding field, the authors offer an integrated analysis of the wave of management reforms which have swept through so many countries in the last twenty years. The reform trajectories of ten countries are compared, and key differences of approach discussed. Unlike some previous works, this volume affords balanced coverage to the 'New Public Management' (NPM) and the 'non-NPM' or 'reluctant NPM' countries, since it covers Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, the UK and the USA. Unusually, it also includes a preliminary analysis of attempts to improve management within the European Commission.


This is an ambitious book, aimed at remedying some perceived weaknesses in the current literature on public management reform. It is ambitious in several respects, most obviously in taking such a broad perspective (ten countries across three continents) and in attempting to compare such very different state apparatuses as those of Finland, France, New Zealand and the United States. However, we believe that a broad, comparative perspective is highly appropriate to our subject matter. The period since 1980 has witnessed a pandemic of public management reforms, which has swept across much of the OECD world. The working lives of millions of public officials have been substantially altered (and, in some tens of thousands of cases, prematurely terminated). The ways and means of managing vast public budgets have been reshaped. Large claims have been made for 'savings' and 'efficiency gains' (the inverted commas are deployed here to indicate that such concepts are seldom straightforward and uncontestable). In some countries huge quantities of previously publically owned assets have been sold to the private sector. The standards attained or aspired to by many service-providing agencies have come under unprecedented scrutiny. Millions of citizens in several countries have been offered 'charters', promising them improvements in the quality of the day-to-day services upon which they depend. The President of the most economically and militarily powerful nation state has announced that 'The era of big government is over' (Clinton, quoted in Gore, 1996, p. 1).

Changes--and claims--of this magnitude deserve close study and reflection. And there has, of course, been a considerable outpouring of reports, articles and books on public management. Many of these texts have been clarifying and enlightening. Some have also been theoretically creative, or methodologically ingenious (as our citations acknowledge). Yet much of the flow of management material displays fairly serious limitations. Some is openly envangelical, or energetically prescriptive, and could not be said to offer a detached or balanced analysis. Much is accurate and analytical but focused on one organization, or programme, or sector, or country. The number of genuinely comparative, multi-country studies is surprisingly modest and the whole field of comparative public administration and management has been seen by some well-informed commentators as being in the doldrums:

we need to ask more basic questions about administrative systems and the knowledge we need of them. Many of those questions are relational . . . we need to understand better how administration fits with the remainder of the political system and how it 'interfaces' with the social system (Peters, 1996a, p. 20).

Despite great surface similarity in civil service reform policy ideas and terms, there is little rigorous comparison of actual policy content (Ingraham, 1996, p. 262).

We would note one further limitation: much of the English literature has concentrated heavily on the Anglophone countries--those which have tended to 'to make . . .

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