Monthly Archives: May 2012

What is Blended Learning?

This vlog post is all about how I use blended learning in the delivery of my postgraduate teaching. I had intended the video to last 5 minutes but turns out to be closer to 10 minutes. Anyway, here it is…

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The perils of social media

Previously I have blogged about why PhD students should use Twitter.

This post has been motivated by a great post on spelling and grammar by Peter Matthews.

One of the common criticisms of social media is that it encourages, or at least tolerates, poor spelling and grammar. As such universities should steer students away from participation in social networking.

Another criticism is that by promoting the use of social media academics are potentially opening themselves, and their universities, to negative publicity.

The first thing to recognise is that social media is inherently social. In social settings we may all adopt a more casual form of language. So I don’t think we should be too strict about spelling and grammar on Twitter or Facebook.

The issue for me is where the rather lax rules of social language are applied in inappropriate settings such as a formal letter, email or student essay.

In terms of organisational risk I can’t help but think that this is to miss the point. Social media is out there. And surely there is more to lose by sticking your head in the sand.

So we should be actively encouraging students to use social media more-and we should support them to use it better.

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What is Public Governance?

Focus and purpose

Queen Margaret University has recently developed the first ever Postgraduate Certificate in Public Services Governance. This is due to commence in September 2012. But what is Public Services Governance?

In later posts I want to look at the question of why public services rather than, say, public sector governance. But right now I am going to look at the question of governance.

Why governance and not administration or management? And what does this mean for the philosophy and content of our programme?

The purpose of this blogpost is to outline how our Public Services Governance programme differs from the more commonplace Masters in Public Administration (MPA) or Public Management courses.

Definitions of Public Governance

One of the challenges in developing a programme in Public Services Governance is that there are a number of differing definitions and even a number of different labels such as Public Governance / Responsive Governance / Network Governance / Public Services Governance. I’m not going to try to provide a comprehensive overview of Public Governance within this blogpost. There are many excellent academic texts, some of which are listed at the end of this post, that are worth reading for a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.

In terms of policy the term started to gain prominence in the 1990’s within a number of World Bank reports (1989; 1992; 1994). In this context the term was used to refer to the importance of good governance in international development. The World Bank defined the term as “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development” (World Bank, 1992). What is interesting here is that the term is not specific to government or the public sector but involves all those with a role to play in international development.

From Public Management to Public Governance

The term public management, or New Public Management (NPM), is now a familiar term across academia and the public services. This term came to prominence within academia and policy-circles in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This period saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, publication of Francis Fukuyama’s (1989) End of History thesis, and the rise of a neo-liberal consensus across many western States. It was within this context that New Public Management emerged as a set of management tools (largely borrowed from the private sector) to improve efficiencies. Typically this consisted of:

  • emphasis on performance management
  • more flexible and devolved financial management;
  • more devolved personnel management with increasing use of performance-related pay and personalized contracts;
  • more responsiveness to users and other customers in public services;
  • greater decentralization of authority and responsibility from central to lower levels of government;
  • greater recourse to the use of market-type mechanisms, such as internal markets, user charges, vouchers, franchising and contracting out;
  • privatization of market-orientated public enterprises.

(OECD, 1993 as cited by Bovaird and Löffler, 2003: 17)

In education this led to the development of many public sector specific MBA’s (Masters in Business Administration) and MPA’s (Masters in Public Administration – though perhaps not so much in the UK.

Invariably these degree programmes consist of a number of generic management subjects such as human resource management and strategic management with some public sector examples tagged on. I certainly wouldn’t downplay the value of many of these degrees. But at Queen Margaret University we wanted to offer something distinctive which reflected the most recent debates in public service development and delivery[1].

Rationale for Public Services Governance programme

There are three key factors which have contributed to the design of our public services governance programme:

  1. There is an increasing recognition within policy and academia that public services are particularly complex. I will be posting more on the nature of public services later. In the meantime see this excellent blogpost;
  2. The prevalence of ‘wicked problems’ such as climate change, childhood obesity and population aging has led to the need for a notably different approach to the design and delivery of public services. Increasingly public sector organisations are working in collaboration (rather than in competition) with private and third sector organisations;
  3. Increasingly academics and practitioners alike are questioning the limits of private sector management techniques to address these ‘wicked problems’.

Elke Löffler summed up the rationale for a distinct public governance programme when she stated,

‘public agencies no longer only have to be good at getting their internal management systems right – financial management, human resource management, ICT and performance management – but they also have to manage their most important external stakeholders as well’ (Löffler in Bovaird and Löffler, 2003: 163).

This is not to say that NPM is no longer relevant. I share Bovaird’s view that the realms of public management and public governance are separate but interconnected (2003: 11). Nonetheless, in line with Osborne (2010), I do think public governance is worthy of study in its own right. It was this belief that led to the development of our Postgraduate Certificate in Public Services Governance – the first ever postgraduate course with a focus on public governance[2].

Programme Aim and Contents

Within our programme the key aim is to enable learners to:

  • Build on their professional experience by engaging critically with, and reflecting on, themes and issues in public services governance in order to better deliver public service outcomes

Modules are focused on themes and issues within public services governance – rather than focusing on managerial functions. Modules include:

  • Public Services Governance: Themes and Issues
  • Engendering Policy and Practice
  • Internal Communications
  • Leading Change in Public Services
  • Managing Customer Complaints
  • Public Finance

More to follow on these modules in later blog posts. In the meantime you can read about the rationale for inclusion of Engendering Policy and Practice.

UPDATE (Posted 04/02/2016)

Since first publishing this blog we have successfully delivered the PgCert Public Services Governance to many students. We have worked with Academi Wales to offer the programme to public service officials from across Wales (more on that here).

Subsequently it has become clear that there is significant demand from an international audience for Masters level programmes with a governance focus. Much of this experience has informed our development of the new Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme. For more on this programme see ‘What is an MPA‘; the course leaflet; and some further resources via FindaMasters.com.

Some Useful References:

Bovaird, T. and Löffler, E. (eds) (2003) Public Management and Governance. Routledge: London.

Fukuyama, F. (1989) ‘End of History?’, National Interest, No 16, pp. 3–18.

Osborne, S. (ed) (2010) The New Public Governance. Routledge: London.

Pierre, J. and Peters, B.G. (2000) Governance, Politics and the State. MacMillan Press: Hampshire.

Rhodes, R.A.W. (1997) Understanding Governance. Open University Press: Buckingham.

Stoker, G. (2004) Transforming Local Governance. Palgrave: Hampshire.

World Bank (1989) Sub-Saharan Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Development. World Bank: Washington, DC.

World Bank (1992) Governance and Development. World Bank: Washington, DC.

World Bank (1994) Governance: The World Bank Experience. World Bank: Washington, DC.


[1] We also have an excellent MBA and MSc International Leadership and Management for those who are looking to develop their  understanding of generic management and leadership: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/assam/PostGradDegrees.htm.

[2] The LSE does have a MSc Public Management and Governance.

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Why Gender and Equalities?

This post was first published in 2012 under the title ‘Why Engendering Policy and Practice’ as it originally related to that module within our PgCert Public Services Governance programme. Since then the programme has been expanded into a full MPA programme and the module has become a core module on ‘Gender and Equalities’. Here I explain the rationale for having a module on ‘Engendering Policy and Practice’ and more recently ‘Gender and Equalities’.

Firstly I should clarify that I am not an expert in gender equality. However, as programme leader of our former public services governance course and now co-director of the Edinburgh MPA, it is something that I recognise as fundamental to public service delivery.

The importance of gender equality might seem obvious to some people. But during the redevelopment of our postgraduate course some of the questions that were raised included: why is there a module on engendering policy and practice? Would this be relevant to international students? Why is gender inequality more important than other inequalities? Isn’t this a very niche topic for a public services programme?

1. Why focus on gender equalities?

This is a very good question. There are nine protected characteristics (including age, religion and belief, and sexual orientation) noted in the Equality Act 2010. Given that there are nine protected characteristics why focus on one?

Well, it is certainly not to suggest that some equalities are more important than others. Rather, this module is seen as a useful starting point for exploring some issues that are common across many inequalities. It does cover, for example, the broader scope of the Equalities Act 2010 and includes practical guidance on how to conduct an equality impact assessment.

2. Isn’t this a very niche topic for a programme in public services governance?

Engendering policy and practice is a generic issue – common to all those who work in the development and delivery of public services. In no way is this a less important issue than say, decision making or collaborative working. In fact issues of equality and gender often cut across these other important issues. As such there is a robust academic and practical case for having the engendering policy and practice module as an elective in equal footing with other elective modules within this programme  (NB the update below to account for this now being a core module).

For example, the Civil Service Code, which was placed on a statutory footing as part of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, states that the values of the Civil Service include impartiality which includes the responsibility that all civil servants: “carry out your responsibilities in a way that is fair, just and equitable and reflects the Civil Service commitment to equality and diversity“. In the UK Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 sets out the public sector duty to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. There are also legal duties listed with the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011.

3. Gender equality may not be a subject of relevance to international students.

Gender equality has long been a key goal for international bodies such as the UN and EU. The UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) set out this expectation in 1979. The Millennium Development Goals, agreed by all 193 UN member states, includes the commitment to promote gender equality and empower women. Today the UN Sustainable Development Goals maintain a commitment to Gender Equality not only as a basic human right but also as a crucial aid to accelerating sustainable development.

More recently the EU Article 13 Equal Treatment Directive (2008) makes it clear that all governments and government agencies, including non-public sector organisations who deliver public services within the EU27, have a duty to uphold and promote equalities. Finally, the World Bank World Development Report (2012) focused on the issue of gender equality and development; highlighting continued gender inequalities and the need for governments internationally to address this through appropriate domestic policy as well as through international development.

4. Finally, why is there a module on engendering policy and practice?

Even if there was not such a robust de lire case setting out the responsibility to promote equalities through all public service activities there would be a de facto case for the inclusion of ‘engendering policy and practice’ in this programme at Queen Margaret University. That is, that promoting equalities and social justice is a common thread in all our activities. As stipulated in Our Values, we will uphold certain values such as ‘social responsibility towards all of the communities we serve, demonstrating respect, care, social justice, equality and fairness’. Our university was founded by Christian Guthrie Wright and Louisa Stevenson in 1875 with the principal goals of promoting educational opportunities and career prospects for women, as well as improving the health and wellbeing of the working classes.

Consequently our postgraduate programme includes a module on ‘Engendering Policy and Practice’ alongside modules such as ‘Internal Communications’; ‘Leading Change in Public Services’ and ‘Managing Customer Complaints’. More on these modules to come in later blogposts.

For more on the links between gender and inequality a useful starting point is Carol Craig’s excellent book, The Tears that Made the Clyde.

UPDATE (Post updated on 04/02/2016)

With the development of our new Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme we have built on the experience of our module on ‘Engendering Policy and Practice’ by including a new module on ‘Gender and Equalities’. Exactly the same rationale as above applies. What’s more, I’m delighted to say that this new module is CORE – not optional.

I’m proud that our university – that was started by women, for women, is the only university to have an MPA with a core module on Gender and Equalities. So all our students will be required to consider gender and equalities as part of their wider study of public administration, management and governance.

For more information on our new MPA see ‘What is an MPA‘; the course leaflet; and some further resources on FindaMasters.com.

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Public Services Governance

A new programme has just been developed at Queen Margaret University.

The Postgraduate Certificate in Public Services Governance is a one year programme that has been developed to support those who are currently charged with delivering public services.

Modules on the programme include:

  • Public Services Governance: Themes and Issues (Core)
  • Public Finance
  • Leading Change in Public Services
  • Managing Customer Complaints
  • Engendering Policy and Practice
  • Internal Communication

As programme leader for this course I will be blogging about some of the programme content and related subject matter. The course is due to commence in September 2012. For more information, or to apply, click here.