In their 2005 review the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) listed the results of 20 years of modernizing public administration. They conclude that major changes have been made. Most OECD countries have become more efficient, more transparent and customer oriented, more flexible and more focused on performance. If we look at features of this modernization process, we see that modernization has been perceived as modernization according the philosophy of New Public Management. And indeed, New Public Management as a administrative reform ideology as well as conceptual innovation has changed the outlook of public administration during the last ten years. One could even speak about a cultural revolution.
However, from an academic perspective it is important to put the general claims that are put forward by the contribution of the recent managerial reforms in public administration, into perspective. The interesting point of this volume is that, on the one hand, the authors recognize the added value of New Public Management (NPM) in changing the outlook and functioning of public administration. On the other hand, it raises some questions in relation to the nature of this outlook.
Public administration and public administration reform should not only be concerned with the improvement of the efficiency of the machinery of government. Not only economic values – in terms of efficiency, efficacy and coherence – play an important role in public administration, but also political values like liberty, equity and security as well as legal values like the rule of the law. The popularity of NPM and the results that have been achieved and have been listed by the OECD points at an interesting value-driven battle within public administration; a battle between ‘management’ on the one hand and ‘politics’ on the other, which also influences the current innovation agenda of public administration. One could even state that the modernization agenda of public administration has a rather internal focus, while the ultimate test for the modernization of public administration is the way in which governments are able to respond to changing social, cultural and economic conditions and the ‘wicked’ policy problems which result from them. Furthermore, it is interesting to look at the tension between the front stage rhetoric of NPM (showing convergence between government in different countries), laid down in all kinds of policy documents, official rules of conduct and performance reports, and the daily and recurrent practices in government, which can be defined at the back stage of government (which is more varied than the front stage rhetoric would show us). Last but not least, this volume shows us that innovation has a specific local and historical ‘couleur locale’ in which a government organization operates. This implies that innovation can only be studied from an evolutionary rather than from a revolutionary perspective.
As the editor of the IOS Press book series Innovation and the Public Sector, I have enjoyed reading this interesting volume and the contributions of the authors and editor and I want to congratulate them on the contents and quality of the volume. I think that it is an interesting contribution to the science and practice of public administration.
Prof. Dr. Victor Bekkers, Series Editor Innovation and the Public Sector