Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

No "One Best Way" to Manage Change: Developing and Describing Distinct Administrative Reform Dimensions across the Fifty American States

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

No "One Best Way" to Manage Change: Developing and Describing Distinct Administrative Reform Dimensions across the Fifty American States

Article excerpt


Administrative Reform (AR) is in some respects like the 57 ingredients in Heinz ketchup or the 31 flavors of Baskin Robbin's ice cream. It may be imported, marketed, sold, and consumed by a diverse array of jurisdictional and/or organizational "customers." Thus the character and content of the commodity as well as the complexion of the consumers produces a complex collage on the intellectual and practical landscapes of public management. Kettl (2005) sketched the global "market" for reform and offered two dominant patterns, the Westminster (found in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and most comprehensively in New Zealand's "managerial" approach) and American ("reinvention" in three phases during the 1990's). The scope and significance of AR is demonstrated by his claim (2005, 60) that, "Perhaps never before have so many governments tried to change so much so fast in such similar ways." The continued currency of AR is exemplified by Light's updating of his "tides" of reform (Light 1997, 2006). Moynihan (2006) recently assessed the use of "Managing for Results" (MFR) among the American states in the late 1990's as a component of the "New Public Management" (NPM). He found significant discrepancies in the states between an emphasis on performance (results) and enhanced managerial authority, especially less of the latter.

Previous work across state agencies explored contrasting "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches to administrative reform (Burke and Wright 2002), as well as the measurement and explanation of reform implementation (Brudney, Hebert, and Wright 1999). In this article, a different line of inquiry is pursued, one that compares and contrasts performance/results-oriented reform techniques with structural/process reforms. Using a distinctive statistical approach--Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) --these two contrasting dimensions of reform are first hypothesized and then emerge from the analysis. We define, describe, and measure these dimensions for each of the fifty states. They are approximate parallels to Moynihan's MFR on the one hand and increased management discretion and systems analysis on the other.

This approach yields new insights into the depth and character of Administrative Reform across the American states in the 1990s. In general, we find that many states adopted both performance/results-oriented reforms and structure/process reforms simultaneously, leading to "triumphs" of reform effort. In a few states the two dimensions represented alternatives or tradeoffs, with some opting for one over the other.

Across all states the analysis reveals that performance/results reforms outpaced structural/process strategies with respect to adoption, a finding consistent with Moynihan's analysis. Regardless of the tradeoffs or triumphs, a major finding is the absence of a single or "one best way" to reform state administration in the 1990's. The dual dimensional character of our results runs counter to Peters' (2005, 356) "incompatibility" hypothesis where "picking one reform may preclude implementing others effectively." The article concludes with observations about the impact and implications of the separate reform dimensions.


The public management field faces a quandary in grappling with the cluster of issues associated with contemporary AR. The issues involve, among others, the identification, classification, measurement, explanation, and prescription (or advocacy) of various and specific administrative reforms. Since the 1980's and 1990's, many national and subnational governments now function with updated techniques, approaches, and cultural underpinnings. Difficulties remain, however, in estimating the character, content, extent, and results of the so-called reform revolution (Kettl 2005). The assessment and categorization of New Public Management (NPM) reforms is fraught with methodological challenges (Poister and Streib 1999; Calista 2002; Thompson 2002). …

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