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.

Tagged , , , , ,

One thought on “What is Public Governance?

  1. […] September we will be enrolling students onto our new public services governance course and our new MBA suite. These new programmes have taken a considerable amount of effort from […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: