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ARTICLES

SYMPOSIUM ON CHANGING MODES OF


GOVERNANCE IN PUBLIC SECTOR
ORGANIZATIONS: ACTION AND RHETORIC

MIKE DENT, NICOLETTE VAN GESTEL AND CHRISTINE TEELKEN

This symposium grew out of the sub-theme, ‘New Modes of Governance in Public
Sector Organizations’, of the European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS)
Conference held in Ljubljana in July 2004. Our aim was to provide a forum to discuss
the policy and practice and the space between in public sector management and
governance within Europe.

INTRODUCTION
The papers included here reflect on key aspects of the actuality and expecta-
tions of the new systems of governance in the public sector within Europe.
These draw upon the growing canon on governance in the public sector
within which Rhodes 1997 is a key contribution but also includes Hood with
colleagues (see, for example, Hood et al. 2000), Kickert (1997), the work of
Kooiman (2003) and Newman (2001), most of whom have published in this
journal. The six papers included here are linked by three key questions,
which provide the thematic context for this symposium: (1) What do they
tell us about the variation in new modes of governance between countries?;
(2) What do they tell us about the (new) actors that influence the changes in
public sector organizations and their interactions? (Here we refer to user and
public involvement and the emerging roles of private agencies and interme-
diaries.); (3) Is there anything to be learned about the changes beyond reform

Mike Dent is Professor of Health Care Organisation in the Faculty of Health and Sciences, Staffordshire
University. Nicolette Van Gestel and Christine Teelken are in the Nijmegen School of Management,
Radboud University, Nijmegen.

Public Administration Vol. 85, No. 1, 2007 (1–8)


© Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2007, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street,
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2 MIKE DENT ET AL.

rhetoric: in particular, how are governance changes interpreted by profes-


sionals and managers in various sector settings.
We start with a section that reflects on governance. Following this, we
discuss the issue of variance between the countries included – The
Netherlands, Sweden, England and Italy – and what these papers tell us
about the new actors and reform rhetoric. In the process, some preliminary
conclusions will be presented.

GOVERNANCE AND NEW PUBLIC MANAGEMENT


The term, governance, has emerged in the wake of the phenomena of New
Public Management (NPM). Since the 1980s, different schools of thought
have appeared in public policy, focusing on efficiency and the deficits of the
bureaucratic model (Osborne and Gaebler 1992), initially with a heavy em-
phasis on privatization and market mechanisms (Clarke and Newman 1997).
Hood (1991) has made the point that NPM, with its emphasis on efficiency
and output measures, raises questions as to its compatibility with ethical and
security issues. These are the issues that have attracted the neologism ‘gov-
ernance’ (Pollitt and Bouckaert 2000, pp. 10–11). The term governance, itself,
was originally considered a synonym for government and it is only since the
1980s that it has obtained its new meaning that ‘refers to self-organizing,
inter-organizational networks characterized by interdependence, resource-
exchange, rules of the game, and significant autonomy from the state’
(Rhodes 1997, p. 15). Governance is sometimes considered a form of network
management, a means of coordinating the plurality and complexity of
hierarchies, markets and networks’ (Kjaer 2005) and has become a widely
adopted concept as it covers a whole range of institutions and relation-
ships (Pierre and Peters 2000, p. 1). On the other hand, there is no ready agree-
ment as to any universal definition of governance (Kjaer 2005). Pollitt and
Bouckaert (2000, p. 10) tell us that public sector management as ‘govern-
ance’ is a ‘neologism… sometimes used in a loose way’. Rhodes (1997, 2000)
suggests that there are several versions of governance that include NPM
as well as self-organizing and steered networks of agencies and institutions.
Moreover, the governance comprises ‘multiple and conflicting strands…
[of] disparate forms of power/knowledge’ (Newman 2001, p. 38):

Some are vested in the formal power of the state…. Some are embodied
in managerialism…. Some flow in and between organizations…. Some
spring from social and political action… between state and civil society….
(Newman 2001, p. 38)

Public sector governance, we would argue, evolved out of the New Public
Management (NPM) phenomena, which has, as Hood and colleagues (Hood
et al. 1999, pp. 191–3) have observed, become increasing preoccupied with
surveillance and regulation. Indeed, the current focus in relation to public
sector management, at least in those European countries discussed here, is

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CHANGING MODES OF GOVERNANCE IN PUBLIC SECTOR ORGANIZATIONS 3

much more about regulatory frameworks, delegation and networks than it


is about the role of the market. This new mode of governance is formally
less dependent on external directives than on a system of ‘enforced self-
regulation’ (Hood et al. 2000, p. 296):

[that] involves the deployment of heavier regulatory tackle against the


incompetent or recalcitrant, while lightening the regulatory yoke over
good performers. (Hood et al . 2000, p. 296)

This is an approach, or rhetoric, particularly associated with England, but is


also evident within the Dutch public sector as de Boer et al. point out in their
study of change in university management. It is also a topical issue in
Sweden, as Blomgren explains in her analysis of the drive for transparency
in the field of health care. This contrasts with the Mediterranean model,
exemplified by the case of Italy. The paradox is that, whereas governance is
defined as a form of self-regulation, in Italy it is not. Here, the emphasis,
according to Borghi and van Berkel is one of ‘rowing not steering’ or, alter-
natively, ‘managed regulation’ (Dent 2005).
A particularly useful way to analyse the changing modes of governance, in
our view, is to adopt a neo-institutional frame especially when working on
comparative analysis (Teelken 1998; Dent 2003, pp. 34–41; 2005, p. 627;
Considine and Lewis 2003; van Gestel 2005). This is not a theme that runs
through all the contributing papers in this symposium, and, for example,
Ackroyd et al. (this issue) in their cross-sectoral study of public sector profes-
sionals provide a critical reflection on the approach, and more specifically
archetype theory (see, for example, Powell et al. 1999), although one has to
turn to Kirkpatrick and Ackroyd (2005, pp. 16–17) for an explicit discussion.
Nevertheless, neo-institutional theory can provide a useful frame of refer-
ence for examining the governance aspects of the evolving role of private
non-profit and for-profit actors in public service organization (Smith 2002).
In particular, neo-institutionalism draws attention to the role of government
in shaping the incentives of private actors (DiMaggio and Powell 1991, pp.
10–11; Knill and Lehmkuhl 2002). Here, two points are particularly worth
noting. First, public sector services increasingly rely upon a mixed public-
private delivery system, characterized by extensive contracting and a blur-
ring of boundaries between the public and private sphere (Smith 2002; Borghi
and van Berkel this issue). Second, the new regulatory regimes structure
private activity in ways compatible with government policy (Ajzenstadt and
Rosenhek 2000), although often coming close to the ‘intervention paradox’
identified by Ackroyd et al. (this issue), whereby the effectiveness of the re-
structuring is ‘inversely proportional to the resources expended’.

EUROPEAN VARIATIONS
In a symposium of this kind it would be impossible to include examples of
all the countries across Europe; space and definitional issues inhibits such

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4 MIKE DENT ET AL.

an endeavour. What we have done is focus on three northern European


countries (The Netherlands, Sweden and England) and one southern Euro-
pean country (Italy). In all these countries the issues of governance and
public sector management and their reform have long been of central im-
portance politically. In the following sub-sections we elaborate further on
why the choice is particularly apposite.

The Netherlands
The Netherlands was the first to introduce quasi-market reforms, at least in
the health field, following the Dekker report (1987). More recently, and more
generally, Dutch policy analysts and theorists have been influential in devel-
oping a particular model of governance that emphasizes ‘steering’ and net-
works (see, for example, Kooiman 1999; Klijn and Koppenjan 2000) intended
to ensure stakeholder participation – and this shares some similarity to the
Anglo-Saxon concept of deliberative democracy (Elster 1998; Newman 2001;
Davies, this issue). But the ideal of network governance may have been
undermined by the growing managerialization that owes more to ‘Anglo-
American’ New Public Management principles (de Boer et al. (this issue); see
also Kickert 1997).

Sweden
Sweden was also an early adopter of the new management ideas in the 1980s
and 1990s, but based their reforms directly on the Anglo-Saxon model far
more than was the case with The Netherlands (Pollitt and Bouckaert 2000,
p. 262). While there has been a ready willingness, within Sweden, to adopt
the New Public Management, there has been some reticence in embracing
the governance arrangements that have come to be associated with it. This
is particularly true within the health field where there has been a preference
for the pre-existing juridical control systems (for example, the Lex Maria – see
Rosenthal 2002, pp. 69–70) that ensure a degree of accountability but not at
the expense of, in the case of medicine at least, a particular form of profes-
sional dominance (Dent 2003). This is a situation that may be beginning to
change (see Blomgren this issue).

England
It is here that we find governance in the public sector particularly well de-
veloped currently indicating a state of transition from a heavy emphasis on
audit and accountability (Power 1997) to one of ‘enforced self-regulation’
(Hood et al. 2000). The model has little in common with ‘governance as self-
organizing, interorganizational networks’ (Rhodes 1996, p. 66) also associ-
ated with Kickert, Kooiman and colleagues in The Netherlands. There is
increasing emphasis on public involvement and user choice, as is discussed
by Davies in her paper on NICE included here, but the involvement has to
mesh into the managerialist criteria of efficiency and output and is strongly
driven from the centre.

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CHANGING MODES OF GOVERNANCE IN PUBLIC SECTOR ORGANIZATIONS 5

It is also in England that we find the values and institutions of public sec-
tor professionals being questioned. Indeed, part of the original Thatcherite
agenda was to undermine professional autonomy by insisting they become
more accountable (Clarke and Newman 1997). In the health field, it was not
just government policy, however, that led to the compact between state, the
profession of medicine and the public breaking down over recent years
(Salter 2001, p. 872; Ham and Alberti 2002) and as a consequence the system
of professional self-regulation has lost credibility. However, whereas medi-
cine may have suffered restraints on its autonomy other occupational spe-
cialists have experienced the impact of the New Public Management as
enhancing their professional status - although at the same time redefining
what professionalism might represent (Ackroyd et al., see this issue).

Italy
Our southern European example is Italy, which is discussed in Borghi and
van Berkel’s comparative study with The Netherlands. The paradox here is
the willingness of government to adopt New Public Management reforms
when the country is characterized by a rather different, Mediterranean-type,
of welfare regime (Ferrera 1996; Dent 2003), one that is far more fragmented
than the other cases. This is the result of the considerable regional, institu-
tional and policy fragmentation which is also reflected in the familialism, a
widespread suspicion of bureaucratic organizations and a historical legacy
of clientelism (partitocrazia) (Krause 1996; Dent 2003, pp. 124–5), all of
which undermines confidence in systems of self-regulation – or governance
(Dent 2005).

THE DYNAMICS OF RHETORIC AND ACTORS


The papers offered in this volume are diverse in many respects. They repre-
sent a variety of countries (England, Sweden, The Netherlands, Italy) as well
as a variety of sectors (higher education, health care, employment services,
housing and social services). We have selected studies that reflect some
diversity in method and perspectives across a broad range of topics, for
example, competing values of management and professionals, the quests for
transparency and accountability, the growing role of private actors and
intermediaries in public sector change and the gaps between formal and
operational change. Collectively, this set of papers highlights the richness
and diversity of the growing domain of public sector organizations research
and provides us with additional understanding of the role of actors and
their interactions in change processes in the public sector.
The first four papers analyse the strands in relation to a single country.
We start with Ackroyd et al. who discuss the comparative impact of govern-
ment driven NPM reforms on professional organization across three sectors,
health, social services and housing within the UK and follow with Boer
et al.’s examination of the attempted organizational transformation of the

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6 MIKE DENT ET AL.

Dutch universities, in an approach that is formally rather more directive than


the ‘steering’ model more commonly associated with governance discourse
within The Netherlands.
The two papers that follow are concerned with the ‘public involvement’
and ‘choice’ agendas. Davies sets out the experience and implications of the
National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), in England and Wales, in
its attempts to centrally involve stakeholder participation in the policy pro-
cesses. Blomgren also focuses on the health sector, within Sweden, and the
recent and somewhat belated trend (in comparison to other European coun-
tries) towards greater transparency around the quality of clinical care across
the country, in part as an aid to patient choice.
The final two papers are comparative between countries. Borghi and van
Berkel examine the operational aspects of the policy reforms in the employ-
ment (‘activation’) services in The Netherlands and Italy and draw to our
attention the growing role of private agencies and intermediaries in the deliv-
ery of these services as well as noting the paradox of ‘path-dependent con-
vergence’ between very different welfare state regimes. Barry et al.’s paper
is a study of the impact of the, often, subterranean impact of the women’s
(social) movement – a possible variant to user involvement – on academic
management in Sweden and England. They explore the impact of New
Public Management reforms – as a masculinist discourse – on Swedish and
English academics, concluding that gender equity is undergoing complex
challenges that are often experienced ambivalently because NPM may de-
liver greater gender equity than previously was the case.

CONCLUDING COMMENTS
At the beginning of this Introduction we identified three questions that
provide focus for this symposium: How much variance is there between
countries? What is the influence of the new actors? What is there beyond
the rhetoric of reform? What these papers make clear is the multiplicity of
strands that constitute the changing modes of governance across these four
European countries. Reflecting, in part, path dependency differences, but
equally telling the variation and shifts in forms of power/knowledge espe-
cially between managerial and professional actors. This reflects the wide gap
between rhetoric and action in public management and ‘provoke’s scepti-
cism or… cynicism’ (Pollitt and Bouckaert 2000, p. 189) with the pace of
consolidated achievement being markedly less than the introduction of new
initiatives (Pollitt and Bouckaert 2000).
Moreover, much of the impact of the new managerialism has been attenu-
ated by the ‘loosely coupled’ character of organizations (Meyer and Rowan
1983) necessitated apparently by the contradiction between the demands for
legitimation and efficiency. A tension that is particularly apparent within the
discourse around public and user involvement as well as that relating to the
role of private agencies and intermediaries in the delivery of public services.

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CHANGING MODES OF GOVERNANCE IN PUBLIC SECTOR ORGANIZATIONS 7

One might interpret the new governance discourses as a response to this


paradox. Here we can mention Brunsson’s (1989) contention about ‘hypo-
crisy’ or the practice of employing different organizational structures, pro-
cesses and ideologies depending on whether they are required for internal
or external use. It is a persuasive way of achieving organizational legitimacy
for those working within (public) organizations and exposed to what are
often experienced as inconsistent and conflicting norms and demands.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
We would like to thank the members of the EGOS 2004 Subtheme 41: ‘New
Modes of Governance’ for the lively discussions that led to the production
of this symposium. We also wish to thank Dr J. Radcliffe for his comments
on an earlier draft.

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