Tag Archives: public management

Interview with Steven McCabe, Master of Public Administration (MPA) student.

This post first appeared on the QMU website: https://www.qmu.ac.uk/study-here/student-stories/steven-mccabe-master-of-public-adminstration-20180518/

I was looking for a course that would build on my previous qualifications and work experience, as well as increase my understanding of the issues facing public sector professionals and how to best overcome these and deliver high quality public services. This was part of my continuing personal development through my job, but I also wanted to study a course that would allow me to progress in my career as well. Initially I considered studying an MBA, but the direct relevance of the MPA to my work, along with the course focus on social justice and equality really attracted me to study at QMU instead. The fact that the MPA was a taught course, with weekly classes where students could learn from each other’s experiences and engage with each other was a major factor in me choosing to study the MPA at QMU. The programme leader’s knowledge and understanding of the issues facing the public sector was another reason for making this course selection.

There is a level of commitment required to study the MPA, and the workload at times has been quite high, especially as I’ve been working full-time as well as studying. It has been stressful at times, especially when I’ve had really busy periods at work and there’s been assignments due for the course, however, it’s never been completely overwhelming and the level of support, from both tutors and other students, has been fantastic. There’s a real togetherness and camaraderie between students on the course, with the part-time students especially understanding the pressures we’re all facing whilst juggling full time work with study. Through the course we’ve all supported each other, ensuring that we’re all coping with the demands of the course. We regularly chat outside of university if we have anything we’re unsure of. The course really has been a great way to network and make new friends!

The tutors on the course are all extremely knowledgeable and happy to spend time with you if you have any additional questions or need help or support.

This will be my third university degree and the overall learning environment on the MPA at QMU has by far been the most supportive, engaging and inclusive that I’ve experienced.

The course is constantly evolving and improving, with the tutors and the course director especially taking a real interest in the thoughts and needs of students. There have been numerous changes to the course in the two years that I’ve studied the MPA that have been made after suggestions or comments from students. There are regular tutor/student meetings to discuss what could be improved upon or what’s working well, and feedback is always well received and fully considered. Students on the MPA have a strong voice and can directly influence how the course is delivered.

There is also the opportunity for students to go on a fully-funded (well, apart from beer money!) field-trip to Brussels, as part of the MPA. This really brought students and course tutors together as a group, and had a real positive impact on how we supported each other and learnt from each other. There was an important practical element to the trip as well, with it being a great opportunity to see how the things that we’ve been taught in class were being applied in the European Parliament. The field-trip definitely enhanced the engagement and understanding I had of the concepts that we learnt about during classes.

The course has absolutely equipped me with additional skills and knowledge which have been directly applicable in my job. The course also has a focus on improving students’ leadership skills, with students undertaking a leadership exchange through ACOSVO as part of this. I feel, quite strongly, that my performance at work was improved by studying on the course, and becoming aware of wider issues in public administration that I perhaps might not have been aware of prior to studying the MPA. I’ve also been lucky enough to have progressed to a new job while studying on the course, and have just started a job as a Policy Manager with the Scottish Government. I can honestly say that the MPA definitely helped me develop my career and played a part in me getting the job.

 

You can find out more about the MPA on our course page here: www.edinburghmpa.co.uk

 

Make sure to LIKE our Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/EdinburghMPA

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The Future of Public Administration

Brexit, Trump, Syria, ISIS, Climate Change, Poverty, Immigration, Austerity*, EVERYONE is talking about politics. But when it comes to action it is public service professionals, in central and local government, who are responsible. It is these public officials who have to translate politics into practice and are at the front-line of public service delivery in communities across the UK. That’s why there’s never been a better time to study public administration.

I’m really excited to have been elected as the new Chair of the JUC Public Administration Committee (PAC). PAC is the UK learned society for education and research in public administration. It’s origins can be traced back to the establishment of the Joint University Council in 1918. For a full history see here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0952076707071500

The history of the JUC highlights the importance of links with professional bodies, of informing education and training and of representing our institutional members at a national level. As is explained in the above journal article:

the purpose of the PAC is the promotion, development and coordination of the work of higher education institutions in the pursuit of education, training and research in public administration. (Chapman, 2007: 18)

As the newly elected Chair of PAC my thoughts are to the future. There is already a huge amount of work coordinated by PAC including, a two-day FREE doctoral conference, funding of seminars and workshops, the annual conference and publication of two outstanding journals: Public Policy and Administration (more here) and Teaching Public Administration (more here). There is also a lot of work in progress on the planning of the JUC Centenary Event. So a large part of my role as Chair will be to support the continuation of all this great work (thanks at this point must go to the former Chair, Professor Howell, and to the continuing Vice-Chairs Janice McMillan, Pete Murphy and Rory Shand as well as the Editors of PPA and TPA).

In looking to the future I believe we must also grow our membership, diversify our membership and strengthen our links with professional bodies. The critical link with education and training is likely to continue, and indeed may strengthen with the introduction of TEF, but this will always go alongside world-leading research. In short, I believe that PAC can reassert itself as the learned society for public administration in the UK.

In order to do that I need YOUR help. Are you interested in Public Administration – either as a professional or as an academic? Do you currently run undergraduate or postgraduate programmes in public administration or public management? Are you conducting research in areas related to public administration? If so, click here for more information: http://www.juc.ac.uk/pac/ or email the JUC Secretary: sandraodelljuc at yahoo.co.uk

And watch this space for future updates!

References

Chapman, R.A. 2007. “The Origins of the Joint University Council and the Background to Public Policy and Administration: An Interpretation”. Public Policy and Administration. Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 7-26.

 

*listed in no particular order.

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Coffee, lunch, education, networking, experience, trip to Brussels!

EU Referendum, elections for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, English local councils, London Mayor and London Assembly, police and crime commissioner elections. May 2016 is due to be a busy month for all of those with an interest in Politics, Policy and Public Administration. At a global level the development of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal’s and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change represent major challenges for all those working in public service contexts. All of this means that the next few weeks and months will undoubtedly involve a degree of change for our public services.

At QMU we are bringing together some of the top thinkers in public administration for a research colloquium on Friday 13 May 2016 in order to contribute to ongoing debates around the successful leadership of change in our public services. Attendance for delegates is FREE as this event has been kindly sponsored by the Joint University Council’s Public Administration Committee (of which we are an institutional member).

Spaces are limited so please book now to reserve your place: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/leading-change-in-public-services-tickets-24921644309

Confirmed speakers include Prof Paul Cairney, University of Stirling, Scotland, Prof Paul Joyce, Universite Libre de Bruxelle, Belgium, and Prof Jari Stenvall, University of Tampere, Finland. As well as learning about the latest academic research delegates will benefit from some key insights into professional practice from Dave Watson, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland and Steve Toft, Director of Crucible and writer of Flip Chart Fairy Tales. A full draft agenda is available here.

Following this conference we will be publishing a short report and speakers will be invited to contribute to a special issue of a peer-reviewed academic journal.

This FREE event is just one example of the type of learning experience that can be expected by students on our new MPA programme. We always endeavor to build the research base of our teaching and engage with policy and practice. By doing so we can assure that our postgraduate programmes are context-driven and problem-focused.

Previously we have also been able to offer our students free places at other professional conferences. We also have a number of great guest speakers (though this does not include Donald Trump!).We are also able to offer free tuition through a number of scholarship schemes and tuition fee loans from SAAS. There are also SAAS living-cost loans up to £4,500 available to cover living expenses while studying. Other scholarship information is available here. We will also be offering free workplace learning opportunities to all students on the programme in association with ACOSVO. And, we are able to offer tuition fees at a reduced rate as this is a new programme.

As well as offering extensive support to our students we are also able to offer an excellent student experience. The following short video illustrates some of the benefits of being a QMU postgraduate student. We are also current planning excursions and fieldtrips for our new MPA students including a trip to the Scottish Parliament and to the EU Parliament in Brussels.

As well as all this we have recently validated a Professional Doctorate in Public Administration (DPA) whereby students from the MPA will have the opportunity to transfer over to the DPA after having completed six modules (and meeting other entry criteria). More on this later!

We are keeping student numbers on our new MPA low in order to be able to provide an excellent student experience so to reserve a place on the programme please apply now: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277

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Innovation

Recently I met someone with the word innovation in their job title. This struck me as quite interesting. I wondered, how innovative do they need to be in their job? Do they do all the innovation in their workplace or are others explicitly involved? Now I don’t want to question the work of this particular individual – which I actually know to be really important and valuable work. But rather I think there is a broader issue about the current fascination with all things ‘innovation’ within public service organisations.

Innovation as a contemporary issue

Current examples of how innovation is being promoted in the planning and delivery of public services include,

Innovation vs invention

The first thing to note about innovation is that it is not about experiments and people in white coats. The easiest way to think about innovation is about applying existing ideas or products in a new setting. That is what makes innovation different to invention-which is the creation of new ideas or products.

In this sense there is a long history of innovation in public services (although it may not always have been labelled as such). For example, where one local authority uses an example of good practice from another local authority that would be an example of innovation.

Innovation as a ‘good thing’

But is innovation a good thing in public services? Well yes, sometimes it can be. When people refer to innovation there is an implicit assumption that it is linked to some improvement – and so it should be. What it is not is doing everything you did before but with fewer staff and resources. There are many other words for that sort of thing.

In this regard it is unfortunate that the word innovation is becoming ambushed within some circles, along with other approaches such as lean public services, by those with alternative motives. Therefore it is important to understand exactly what innovation is and how it may help deliver better public services.

At the same time innovation may not be a ‘good thing’ and does not necessarily deliver better public services. Taking into account that innovation can be easiest understood as the implementation of an existing idea or product in a new setting we must ask, is it always appropriate for a public service to experiment with a new approach? Inevitably this will often involve some investment and success cannot be guaranteed. Do we (the public) want more risk-taking in the planning and delivery of public services? And are we willing to accept failure as a ‘learning experience’ when things go wrong?

Implementation of innovation

Ultimately, as with all change activity an innovation must be implemented properly and sensitively. Those who are charged with implementing the innovation (public service workers) must be engaged and should feel a degree of ownership of the change. The public must be willing to support more risk-taking and scope for mistakes in the delivery of public services. Finally it is important that the public recognise and support the improvement that will come from the innovation. Otherwise what’s the point!

The final point to note about innovation is that those companies who are particularly well known for it, say Dyson, Google, WL Gore, all invest heavily in it, are committed to innovation in the long-run and give their employees the autonomy to make changes where they see fit. For example, at W.L. Gore employees are given 30 minutes per week for ‘dabble time’ – time to do their own projects outwith their day to day duties. In other words innovation may lead to cost savings, or it may generate new revenue streams, but it is certainly not something that can happen on the cheap or during an away day. Nor is it something that can ever be the responsibility of a single person or “innovation centre”. Where it works well it is a common thread through everything the organisation does – from recruitment of staff to delivery of the business. It must be an integral part of the organisational culture.

Conclusion

There are lots of examples from across the private, public and Third sectors where innovation has delivered real improvement in the delivery of services. This does not need to be a particularly large project to count as innovation and nor does innovation necessarily require huge investment. However, those organisations that are known for innovation tend to invest in innovation, encourage their staff to experiment (and learn from mistakes) and they all take long-term view of innovation. One of the complexities of public service organisations is the nature of being accountable to the public. Unless your ‘public’ are bought into the idea of innovation there are always going to be huge risks involved. What’s more, if you have an organisational culture where “computer says no” is the automatic default or where budget cuts are the primary agenda item then you will need to change your culture or your financial situation first before thinking about whether innovation is for you.

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Guest Post – Public Sector Bonuses

I am taking some annual leave in August and so am delighted to have my first guest post!

This post comes from Professor Eddie Frizzell, Visiting Professor in Public Service Management at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.

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Public Sector Bonuses – gone forever?

Bonuses for public servants are a hot issue – so hot that they appear to have fallen out of favour not only with the Scottish Government, but also at UK level where the Coalition Government has ordered a review, and clamped down on the senior civil service bonus “pot”.  Are public sector bonuses destined for the bin and is there any prospect of informed debate about the pros and cons?

As Will Hutton notes in his Review of Fair Pay in the Public Sector published last year, part of the reason for this is that “public sector managers have been caught up in the backlash to the remarkable growth of the earnings of the top 1 per cent over the last thirty or forty years and in particular in the last ten. Bank bail-outs with scarcely checked bonuses have dramatised these concerns…[but]…only one pound of every hundred pounds earned by the top one per cent of earners is earned by public sector employees.”[1]

The Scottish Government’s public sector pay policy for senior appointments in 2012-13, which applies to Chief Executives of Non-Departmental Public Bodies (quangos in media-speak) and Public Corporations as well as NHS Scotland top managers, specifically suspends “access to non-consolidated pay” in 2012-13, ie bonuses for exceptional performance in 2011-12. The pay policy for other staff in public bodies and for the Scottish Government’s own civil servants similarly suspends all access to non-consolidated pay, either as bonuses or as pay for staff on their range maximum.[2]

This may be a reasonable enough response to austerity and is consistent with the general freeze on public sector pay, but “the policy expectation…that any bonus arrangement in a Chief Executive’s contract will be removed when an appropriate opportunity arises (on new appointment or following a review)”[3] goes further and suggests a more fundamental rejection of the bonus concept.

Would the end of bonuses for public servants in Scotland cause problems in terms of employee motivation and performance?  The answer to this is by no means clear. Bonuses for public servants arrived with performance-related pay in the civil service reform agenda in the 1980s and 1990s, before spreading out to some, but by no means all, other parts of the public sector. They became part of the “New Public Management”, inspired by the proposition that public services could be made more efficient by adopting commercial practices and disciplines, and by importing private sector managers to run them.

Performance related pay, unconstrained by the limitations of public sector pay scales, and the availability of bonuses, were seen by Ministers of the day as necessary to recruit such managers. They were also key tools in the kit of “reforms” needed to make all public servants work harder and focus on results; but there are a number of still unresolved problems with this in the public sector. First, “performance” needs to be assessed in relation to a relatively small number of well-defined measures and targets which may not reflect the complexity of the work, and are often difficult to determine without the financial and shareholder value-related metrics available to the private sector.  Second, individual achievement may partly depend on the performance of others, in other organisations, pursuing other priorities. Third, performance assessment needs rigorous individual performance appraisal by managers who in the public service frequently have neither the appetite nor aptitude for the difficult conversations with staff that implies.  Fourth, in the absence of such rigour, performance-related pay drives up the wage bill as well as future pension costs.

The classic response by Governments to the last problem is to restrict the amount of “consolidated” (ie pensionable) performance pay, and to put more emphasis on non-consolidated one-off bonuses. In the civil service this approach has been accompanied by central control over the proportion of the overall paybill which can be devoted to the bonus element.  The consequence tends to be consolidated pay increases in which the difference between the reward for exceptional as opposed to acceptable performance is marginal, and bonuses whose modest size is more likely to promote cynicism than enhance motivation. As Hutton notes in his review, in the UK public sector non-consolidated bonuses are parsimonious compared with other OECD countries.

There are therefore probably few public servants who would shed tears over the disappearance of non-consolidated bonuses, if they were to be replaced by reward arrangements that offered the opportunity to improve pensionable pay. This is however not likely to happen, as one-off bonuses help Governments to bear down on future pension costs – always part of the rationale, and even more important now than previously.  Indeed the pressure to keep the public sector pension “burden” of the future under control implies more, not less, emphasis on bonuses as a reward, with a larger proportion of individuals’ remuneration in the form of one-off non-pensionable payments.

It would be premature therefore to conclude that performance pay and bonuses in the public sector are destined for the dustbin of history. Hutton considers that there are compelling reasons why performance pay for senior staff should not be abandoned, on the grounds that there should be differentiation in financial rewards for the good and poor performer. However, he also considers that there is a much stronger case for linking pay to performance at the senior levels of public organisations, as opposed to the rest of the workforce, a view with which many public sector managers and staff would probably agree.

They may be less inclined to agree with his suggestion that performance pay systems might be reconfigured to include an element of base pay which was “at risk”, to be “earned back” through good performance, though his advocacy of team based incentives, and a sharing of rewards from productivity gains, would receive some support. Not that the latter suggestion is new: thirteen years ago the then Labour Government committed to “looking for new ways of rewarding organisation performance and success-sharing, for example …. by linking pay, bonuses or other rewards to the achievement of performance or efficiency improvements”.[4]

No doubt the long search will be resumed at some point. But two important underlying questions remain unanswered:  first, are public servants really motivated by money? And second, if so, is there any prospect of any system of performance pay for public servants being well enough funded to make it a real motivator  and – in that event – of its being acceptable to the public? The answer to the first is that it is highly doubtful, and to the second, a resounding “no” on both counts.  So perhaps the controversy over bonuses is less a hot issue than just so much hot air.


[1] Hutton Review of Fair Pay in the public sector: Final Report, March 2011

[2] Public Sector Pay Policy for staff pay remits 2012-13, The Scottish Government, September 2011

[3] Public Sector Pay Policy for senior appointments 2012-13, The Scottish Government, September 2011

[4] Modernising Government, CM4310, March 1999

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What are Public ‘Services’

In a previous post I highlighted some of the challenges that are inherent in managing public services due to the nature of being ‘public’. However, there are also challenges that come with managing a ‘service’. These challenges apply across private and public services, and whether delivered by public, private or Third sectors.

These issues are quite important to recognise for all managers given the continuing rise of the service sector across the world. In fact services account for 62.9% of global GDP

The key characteristics of services are intangible, heterogeneous, inseparable, and perishable as defined by Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry 1990 (although some, notably Lovelock and Gummesson, 2004, have questioned this classification).

Intangibility

Services are largely intangible. They are about having an experience. Of course there are some physical characteristics associated with most services, such as the quality of chairs in a fine dining restaurant, but what makes services unique from goods is the extent to which perceptions of service quality are impacted by environmental factors and customer-provider interactions. These intangible factors are very difficult to control or manage.

Take, for example, a business offering guided bus tours of the Scottish highlands. There are a number of physical features of this service such as the comfort of the seats on the bus. But ultimately much of the service experience will be influenced by factors entirely outside of the control of the business – weather, the interaction with staff, the behaviour of other customers on the bus (to name but a few). These intangible factors make service interactions very unpredictable and difficult to control.

Creative Commons license: by Pedro Szekely

Perishability

The fact that services are intangible also means that they are not easily stored for future use. So if there is excess capacity this cannot be stored to be sold at another time. In other words, services are perishable.

Take, for example, a street performer. If they do not attract a significant audience for their performance that equates to lost income. They cannot get that time back. Hence the pressure within many services to get ‘bums on seats’. Consequently, pricing is key – particularly with services that have high fixed costs and a fixed capacity such as with cinemas, restaurants and bus tour companies.

Creative Commons license: by Trey Ratcliff

Inseparability of production and consumption

Most services are produced at the same time as they are consumed. So the street performance will be consumed at the same time as it is ‘produced’. This means that quality control is much more difficult than with goods. It also places significant pressure of service staff to always ‘perform’ at a consistent level. This requirement of service workers to perform is best described by the Hochschild (1983) concept of emotional labour. Numerous studies have shown that the strain of constantly having to perform can lead to stress-related illnesses. This blogpost by Flip Chart Fairy Tales highlights a number of other reasons why people in service occupations tend to have more sickness absence that in other occupations.

As an example of the inseparability of production and consumption take transplant surgery. The medical staff must perform consistently under the most extreme pressure with every single patient. Mistakes can cost lives and, unlike with manufacturing, are often not easily rectified. Yet quality inspection and control can only happen at the same time that the ‘customer’ is receiving the service. Furthermore the speed of service delivery is critical. Under these circumstances it is truly impressive what our health workers do on a daily basis. Hence those who use a service, such as the NHS are likely to be more satisfied with the service than those who do not as outlined in this Ipsos Mori report.

Creative Commons license: by Army Medicine

Heterogeneity

The intangibility and the fact that production and consumption take place at the same time means that the service provided may be slightly different every time. This has significant advantages in terms of customisation and innovation. But it is also costly and can lead to dissatisfaction if a minimum service level is not met.

So a service experience, like a rock concert, may be different every time. Take for example Bruce Springstein’s recent Hyde Park gig where he sung the song, Take Em As They Come, especially for one of his fans in the crowd. The flexibility of many services allows for this sort of innovation and customisation. However, this may be experienced by different people in different ways – even at the same time. The need for some control is also highlighted by the fact that the same Hyde Park gig ran over time to such an extent the organisers were forced to turn off the speakers in order to comply with the terms of their licence.

Nonetheless, the more a service is standardised (which improves efficiency) the less personalisation can be achieved (potentially affecting effectiveness). Imagine if a barber gave every customer the same hair cut. It might be very cheap and efficient but would almost certainly affect customer satisfaction. Given the increasing focus on efficiency over effectiveness it is perhaps not surprising that public attitudes towards the NHS are falling.

Creative Commons license: by Christian Holmér

Conclusion

These factors, when taken together, mean that services are very difficult to manage. When you include the publicness of public services, as well as the complex problems many such services have to deal with, it is perhaps not surprising that they are not always perfectly efficient. Indeed it has been pointed out on this excellent set of posts by Flip Chart Fairy Tales (Part 1; Part 2) just how difficult efficiency gains are in service industries. 

This is not to say that we shouldn’t even try to create efficiencies – but it might help to start with realistic expectations.

References:

Hochschild, A. (1983) The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. California: University of California Press.

Lovelock, C. and Gummesson, E. (2004) “Whither services marketing?”, Journal of Services Research, Vol. 7 No.1, pp.20-41.

Zeithaml, V.A., Parasuraman, A. and  Berry, L.L. (1990) Delivering Quality Service. New York: Free Press.

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What are ‘Public’ Services

Public service organisations are highly complex for many reasons. As such it is important that any education or training for public service workers is tailored to the public service context. One particular aspect of this complexity is the nature of the ‘public’ who they serve.

I was (along with others) really sorry when the excellent We Love Local Government blog was brought to a close. This blog was I think exemplary in its content and analysis of all things public service. It will remain a valuable resource to my students on the MPA programme and indeed also my PhD students.

One of my particular favourite posts on the blog was about the three publics. This highlights just one aspect of what it is that makes public services so complex and difficult to manage. What this blog post highlights is that private sector organisations deal with two publics – those who use their product / service and those who don’t but might in the future. However, public sector organisations have to serve the needs of three publics – users, potential future users, and non-users.

‘Private’ services

Take for example a builders. They will be responsible for ensuring that any building work is compliant with building regulations and as a business they must meet other statutory requirements. However, ultimately they are accountable to one public – their customers.

The builders might also offer free estimates for those who might use their service in the future. They might do some other targeted marketing such as putting flyers through doors. So they may engage with another public – those who may use their products / services in the future. But ultimately the builders only have to deal with one public – their customers.

‘Public’ services

In contrast, the public sector have to serve, and are accountable to, three publics. There are those who use the services, those who may use the service in the future, and those who will never use the service. Hence, the three publics. All three publics are important stakeholders and are not limited by voting patterns or payment of taxes. The public sector is there to serve everyone.

What does this mean for managers?

Well, one distinct feature of the public sector is that they cannot choose their customer in the same way that the private sector can.

For example, in the case of the builder, they have autonomy to choose their customer. They may, for example, provide an overly-inflated quote if they do not want or need the business. They may choose to work within a particular geographical area or indeed may choose not to do certain types of work or choose not to work for certain types of people.

This choice has significant benefits. It enables the private sector organisation to specialise in offering a particular type of good or service to a particular type of person. So, M&S will design their stores and select their products based on a very different rationale to say, Lidl. Both are very successful businesses but both are significantly enabled by this ability to discriminate. In particular the ability to discriminate helps to reduce costs by enabling the development of standardised systems which can help reduce errors and system failures.

On the other hand public services are there to serve the entire public. No matter who ‘walks through the door’ they must be served and their needs addressed as best as is possible. This means public service providers need to be highly flexible and adaptable to different user needs. Any attempt to develop standardised systems in public service environments restricts street-level innovation, often does not work and leads to failure demand. See this excellent blog post by Flip Chart Fairy Tales.

Implications for training and development

The need to be flexible and inclusive is difficult and expensive. Imagine, for example, a restaurant that tried to offer both fine dining and budget fast food at the same time – chances are that it wouldn’t work and all three publics would be left unsatisfied. Attempting to meet the needs of all of the people all of the time demands a particular skill set from public service workers. And with increasing change in society comes increasing change in public expectations and so public service requirements. This is why I believe the recent Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services was right to point to the need for better and more training and development. What is perhaps more questionable is the desire for a “single cross public service development programme” (Christie, 2011: 39) when there is so much variance in development needs.

On a traditional MBA course you would undoubtedly learn about the efficiency savings that can be gained from standardisation and removing variation from your business systems. This mantra fails to take account of the three publics and the complexity of public services. Hence training and development for public service professionals must be context-driven in order to be relevant to their needs. Public service professionals should be involved in the design of such training and development. Most of all, public service providers should not shy away from investment in training and development at a time when service improvements are so sought after.

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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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