Tag Archives: public services

Organisational Learning and Change in a Public Sector Context

This is a brief summary of my research on organisational learning and change as published in Teaching Public Administration in February 2020.

In this article I spoke to a wide range of public sector managers about their experiences of being involved in a public leadership degree programme. I was interested to know what they saw as being the benefits of this learning experience and how it had influenced their practice.

In this article I discuss the nature of the budget cuts that took place across public sector organisations and particularly how learning and development budgets were seen to be an easy target. I then discuss how the participants had encountered barriers to change and what they felt needed to happen to enable innovation and change.

One aspect highlighted was the extent to which it was seen as important that any learning and development was sector specific as the following extract highlights:

The full Open Access (free) article is available here: https://doi.org/10.1177/0144739420903783

I have provided a 2 minute summary of the research here:

More research related to learning and development in public service organisations can be found here:

Gibb, S., Ishaq, M., Elliott, I.C. & Hussain, A.M. (2020) Fair and decent work in Scotland’s local authorities: evidence and challenges, Public Money & Management, DOI: 10.1080/09540962.2020.1723262

Elliott, I.C., Sinclair, C. and Hesselgreaves, H. (2020) “Leadership of Integrated Health and Social Care Services”, Scottish Affairs, 29 (2): 198-222. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3366/scot.2020.0316.

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Interview with Gary Bandy

This all started with a discussion on Twitter about one of the core texts on the MSc Strategic Leadership for Public Services programme.

I added the author, Gary Bandy, into one of my comments in the thread and after some more discussion Gary kindly agreed to do a short recorded video with me. Unfortunately my webcam cut out half way through the interview. Clearly our tech is going to be challenged over the next few weeks!

This video interview is listed below.

Gary has a number of other online resources including an online school which can be found at https://courses.managingpublicmoney.co.uk . This includes a number of free resources including the free 5 questions to ask about your budget at http://bit.ly/budget5q

Over the last few days I have been developing resources to support online delivery of my modules. As the restrictions on travel continue we will need to do more to support each other via online platforms. If there is anything you think I could help with do get in touch – we need to work together more than ever right now and I’d be very happy to help.

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Some links and research on teaching of public administration

I’ve been really surprised by the response to a recent Tweet of mine about the state of public administration teaching in the UK.

This Tweet was stimulated by a brief conversation I had with an academic at another UK business school. They were raising the fact that public administration was not taught at their institution. This is a very common picture which has been researched widely within the UK public administration community. I’ve also heard anecdotal stories from academics suggesting that there is a hostility towards anything public sector related. One such story was that a senior academic was told not to even mention the words ‘public sector’.

This contrasts with my own experience. I work at Northumbria University where there is a long history of public administration teaching and research. Currently I teach on our MSc Strategic Leadership for Public Services programme and supervise three doctoral students who are all exploring issues related to the public sector. We also have one of the largest cohorts of public administration scholars in the UK. More on how we are leading the public administration revival here.

Debates around the nature of the subject often centre around the nature and legacy of New Public Management (NPM). This was a theoretical approach which suggested that business techniques could (and even should) be applied to the public sector in order to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. Many of the central arguments of NPM have since been debunked.

Yet issues related to the unique public service context are often not fully considered in teaching of business and management. This is despite the public sector making up c.17% of UK employment and c.35% of GDP. It also fails to recognise that the private sector needs an effective public sector to support the infrastructure, culture, society and people needed for business to flourish. At the same time many public services are themselves delivered by the private sector (and increasingly the Third Sector).

This is why the UK Learned Society for public policy and administration – the JUC Public Administration Committee – have called on the public service context to be a more explicit part of undergraduate business and management degree programmes: https://www.juc.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/PAC-Position-Statement-on-QAA-Subject-Benchmarks.pdf

I am continuing to research this issue. However, in the meantime please see the following references which list just some of the research that documents the history of UK public administration.

Some useful references:

Barbaris, P. (2012). Thinking about the state, talking bureaucracy, teaching public administration. Teaching Public Administration, 30 (2): 76-91. DOI: 10.1177/0144739412462232

Boyne, G. (1996). The Intellectual Crisis in in British Public Administration: Is Public Management the Problem or the Solution?, Public Administration, 74, 679-694.

Boyne, G. (2002). Public and Private Management: What’s the Difference? Journal of Management Studies, 39, 97-122. doi: 10.1111/1467-6486.00284

Carmichael, P. (2004). ‘Shackled to a Corpse?’ – A Reply to Howard Elcock. Public Policy and Administration, 19(2), 8–12. https://doi.org/10.1177/095207670401900203

Chandler, J. (1991). Public Administration: a Discipline in Decline, Teaching Public Administration, 11, 39-45.

Chandler, J. (2002). Deregulation and the Decline of Public Administration Teaching in the UK, Public Administration, 80, 375-390.

Chapman, R.A. (1993), THE DEMISE OF THE RIPA — AN IDEA SHATTERED. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 52: 466-474. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8500.1993.tb00302.x

Chapman, R.A.C. (2007), “Joint University Council and the background to public policy and administration?”, Public Policy & Administration, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 7-26.

Davies, M. R., Greenwood, J., & Robins, L. (1995). Public Administration Education and Training: Globalization or Fragmentation? International Review of Administrative Sciences, 61(1), 73–78. https://doi.org/10.1177/002085239506100106

Diamond, J, Liddle, J (2012) Reflections and speculations on teaching and learning in public administration. Public Policy and Administration 27(3): 265–277

Elcock, H. (1991). Change and Decay? Public Administration in the 1990s. London, Longman.

Elcock, H. (2004). Public Administration: Why Are We in the Mess We’re In? Public Policy and Administration, 19(2), 3–7. https://doi.org/10.1177/095207670401900202

Elcock, H. (2013). Local Government: Policy and Management in Local Authorities. London, Routledge.

Elliott, I.C. (2017), Verbal contribution to PSA/JUC Debate on the Future of Public Administration, PSA Annual Conference, University of Strathclyde, April 10.

Elliottt, I.C. (2018). Marking the 100th anniversary of the UK Joint University Council and anticipating the next… Teaching Public Administration, 36(1), 3–5. https://doi.org/10.1177/0144739418763847

Elliott, I.C. (2020). Organisational learning and change in a public sector context. Teaching Public Administration. https://doi.org/10.1177/0144739420903783

Fenwick, J., & McMillan, J. (2014). Public Administration: What is it, why teach it and does it matter? Teaching Public Administration, 32(2), 194–204. https://doi.org/10.1177/0144739414522479

Gray, A, Jenkins, B (1995) From Public Administration to Public Management: Reassessing a Revolution. Public Administration 73(1): 75–99.

Greenwood, J (1999) The Demise of Traditional Teaching: Public Administration in Britain. Teaching Public Administration 19(1): 53–61.

Greenwood, J. and Eggins, H. (1995) Shifting Sands: Teaching Public Administration in a Climate of Change. Public Administration 73(1): 143–63.

Hood, C (2011) It’s public administration, Rod, but maybe not as we know it: British public administration in the 2000s. Public Administration 89(1): 128–139.

Jones, A. (2012). Where Has All the Public Administration Gone? Teaching Public Administration, 30, 124-132.

Liddle, J. (2017), “Is there still a need for teaching and research in public administration and management? A personal view from the UK”, International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 30 No. 6-7, pp. 575-583. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJPSM-06-2017-0160

Miller, K. (2012). The Future of the Discipline: Trends in Public Sector Management. In J. Diamond, & J. Liddle. (Eds.) Trends in Public Management: an Age of Austerity. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing.

Raadschelders, J.C.N. (1999) A coherent framework for the study of public administration. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 9(2): 281–303. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.jpart.a024411

Rhodes, R, Dargie, C, Melville, A, Tutt, B (1995) The State of Public Administration: A Professional History, 1970–1995. Public Administration 73(1): 1–15.

Rhodes, R. A. W. 1996. ‘From institutions to dogma: tradition, eclecticism and ideology in the study of British public administration’ Public Administration Review, 56 (6): 507–16.

SHELLEY, I. (1993), WHAT HAPPENED TO THE RIPA?. Public Administration, 71: 471-490. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9299.1993.tb00987.x

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Public Administration Revival!

There has never been a better time to be involved in public administration! At the Newcastle Business School we are investing and growing our capacity in related teaching, learning and research. Public administration is back!

There have been many debates over the future of public administration (Boyne 1996, Chandler 1991, Chandler 2002, Jones 2012). In the past even I’ve asked if it would be possible to ‘Save Scottish Public Administration‘. But, as previously noted, a small number of universities across the UK have seen the decline of public administration elsewhere as an opportunity. That is certainly the case at Northumbria University.

At the same time as debates have continued around the future of the subject area, questions are increasingly being asked about the wider social and economic role of universities (see for example the impact of controversies over university governance). As part of this debate the civic role of universities, including universities as ‘anchor institutions‘ and their role in developing Local Industrial Strategies, is being considered (particularly post-Brexit). Surely supporting place based leadership and our public services through relevant education and research (which must include public policy and administration) must be a key part of this new role. Again Northumbria University is leading the way!

As part of this wider development we have recently validated a new MSc Strategic Leadership for Public Services. This is an exciting new programme for anyone who wants to make a difference through public service. It is designed to integrate world-leading research insights with your own professional experience to further enhance your leadership capabilities. The programme is aligned with the Senior Leader Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (SLMDA) Standard and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) Level 7 Diploma in Management and Leadership. Therefore it is highly work-focused and will support the development of public services across the North-East region and beyond.

Modules* include:

  • Understanding Public Leadership
  • Public Service Finance and Accounting
  • Public Leadership and Strategic Change
  • The Future of Public Service Work
  • Evidence-Base Policy and Research Skills
  • Creating and Leading Digital Public Services
  • Management Investigation (dissertation)

*NB: These modules are subject to change – please check website for most current information.

Find out more here:

https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/study-at-northumbria/courses/strategic-leadership-in-public-services-msc-senior-leader-degree-apprenticeship-dtpslp/

This new part-time Master’s degree builds on a long tradition of public administration at Northumbria University. Alongside this degree we also have a long-standing research seminar series run through the Public Policy and Public Management (3PM) Research Interest Group and a number of public administration research events every year, including this upcoming conference on The Future of Urban and Regional Development in the North and the UK to 2030.

With more developments to come this is a very exciting time to be part of Northumbria University. Get in touch with me to find out more!

References:

Boyne, G . (1996), ‘The Intellectual Crisis in in British Public Administration: Is Public Management the Problem or the Solution?’, Public Administration, 74, 4: 679–694
Chandler, J . (1991), ‘Public Administration: a Discipline in Decline’, Teaching Public Administration, 11, 2: 39–45
Chandler, J . (2002), ‘Deregulation and the Decline of Public Administration Teaching in the UK’, Public Administration, 80, 2: 375–390 
Elliott, I .C. (2018), ‘Marking the 100th anniversary of the UK Joint University Council and anticipating the next…’, Teaching Public Administration, 36, 1: 3–5
Jones, A . (2012), ‘Where Has All the Public Administration Gone?’, Teaching Public Administration, 30, 2: 124–132

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Who cares?

No-one cares anymore. About anything. At least, nothing that really matters. It’s all style and no substance. It’s all cost-cutting, down-sizing, automating, agile, lean, do-it-yourself. Want to speak to someone? Forget it. Fill in a form – online. How about a cardboard cut-out police officer – just as good as the real thing. And, of course, cheaper.

Just take a moment to scroll through Instagram; browse through the magazines that adorn your local newsagents or flick through the TV channels. Nothing is about what people are doing – everything is about what people are consuming. Ask not what you can do for anyone – ask what filter is best for your selfie. Because you’re worth it.

Of course I know this isn’t true. Or at least it’s not the whole truth. I’m lucky, because I am a public administration scholar and in my job I get to meet incredible people every day. People who do care and are making a difference to the most vulnerable in our society. Social workers, teachers, nurses, police officers, fire and rescue officers, local government officers, policy officers, researchers and academics who are all bound by their passion for public service delivery and their strong commitment to civic duty.

Yet so much of the work of our public servants is undermined by their political masters and the media. Those who are less fortunate in life are classed as undeserving and are parodied or seen as sources of entertainment or amusement (take for example the case of so-called Slum Tourism or ‘Poverty Porn‘ on TV) . Those who work to support them are pilloried for being over-paid, clock-watching (by Michael Gove MP), lazy or self-interested. Yet politicians can lie, make fun of ethnic minorities or the disabled and can even threaten our economic and social security without impunity.

One hundred years ago the world was a very different place. The Great War was coming to an end. Women were beginning (albeit slowly) to secure their right to vote. In the midst of growing academic interest in management science and concern for the implementation of policy a group of esteemed scholars, activists and practitioners, including Professors E.J. Urwick and Sidney Webb, met in London to discuss what was to become the Joint University Council. Today we need a new vision and purpose to reflect current challenges and to ensure we maintain our relevance for the next 100 years.

It is important that this new vision and purpose reflects real life. After all, public administration is where politics meets real life: it’s the delivery of political decisions in local settings. The term has been cause of much academic debate in the last thirty years. Academics have argued over traditional public administration, New Public Management and, more recently, New Public Governance. There have been debates about whether New Public Governance exists? Is it a useful concept? How does it relate to New Public Management and Public Administration? Do New Public Governance and New Public Management represent paradigm shifts or do they represent a continuum? But often these debates serve little more than to increase citations before the next REF cycle comes along. Really, we need to set our ambitions a bit higher than that.

Meanwhile our public servants, who increasingly cannot afford their own homes, are actually trying to make a difference to communities through effective service delivery in face of political and media contempt for their work and for the people they serve. They want to know what works, they want validation for the work they do, they want to know how they can do it better. From this perspective some academic debates can appear to be little more than academics picking fluff from their own navels. Academics are no longer at risk of being seen as out of touch – that is the common perception.

That’s why our centenary event will not be a traditional academic conference. Yes, the academic community will be an important part of it. We need those voices. But even moreso we, as academics, need to listen. That is why it is being arranged as an unconference. But in order for this to be effective we need YOU to come, to get involved, to speak up. This is likely to be the most significant meeting for social and public administration since that very first meeting of the JUC in 1918. Just like that first meeting we need academics, activists and practitioners to come. We need people who care. So sign up now, invite others, and let’s set the agenda for the next 100 years.

Click here to help set our agenda for the next 100 years.

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The Sustainability of the Scottish Approach to Policy-Making

The Scottish Approach to Policy-Making involves a focus on: Improvement; Assets; and Co-production. This has been widely written about elsewhere (see here, herehere and here).

But how was this approach developed? And what does it mean for the implementation of policy (as opposed to policy-making itself)? In other words, is there an equivalent Scottish Approach to Public Administration? And how might this develop in the future?

In ongoing research I have interviewed ten key players in the development of the Scottish Approach. All are, or were, civil servants within the Scottish Government (previously Scottish Executive). Through this research it is clear that the development of a Scottish Approach to Policy Making was a deliberate move to create a more strategic form of government in Scotland. This involved 1) internal restructuring of the Scottish Government with the establishment of strategic Directors-General and cross-cutting directorates; 2) the development of the National Performance Framework, Scotland Performs; and 3) significant investment in leadership development with a particular focus on Adaptive Leadership and Public Value.

The rationale for much of this was based on a recognition that the managerial approach to public administration of the 1980’s and 1990’s had not led to a significant improvement in the tackling of ‘wicked issues’ such as child poverty, climate change and health inequality. Importantly, this was linked to a growing recognition that addressing these challenges would require partnership-working across the public sector and beyond. That Government could not solve these problems on it’s own but that they would require a whole-of-society approach.

Initiatives such as the strengthening of community councils, the community planning partnerships, and the Community Empowerment Act are all part of a shift towards enhancing the role of communities in the design, delivery and ownership of public services.

Interestingly, the development of the Scottish Approach has been characterised as, in part, a conscious effort to move away from the old approach which was characterised as based on top-down; paternalism; working in silos; acute focus on curing problems after they arise (Mitchell, 2015). Ten years on has anything changed? Is the Scottish Government more strategic? More collaborative? More prevention-focused?

As noted above a key part of the ‘Scottish Approach’ was a focus on Adaptive Leadership. This is a leadership style developed primarily by Heifetz (his key texts include ‘Leadership on the Line‘ and ‘The Practice of Adaptive Leadership‘). Put simply, Heifetz argues that leaders face technical problems and adaptive challenges. Technical problems have a clear solution whereas adaptive challenges may have multi-faceted causes and require a multi-agency approach. Hence the focus on collaboration and prevention (examples include the Early-Years Collaborative and Health and Social Care Integration). Clearly an adaptive approach has particular relevance in public services in the face of the above mentioned ‘wicked problems’ such as child poverty, climate change and health inequality.

But can adaptive leadership work in the public sector? My ongoing research is exploring some the challenges in adopting Adaptive Leadership in a public context. In doing so a number of important questions are being raised about the sustainability of the Scottish Approach itself. Undoubtedly there is a solid rationale behind the adoption of adaptive leadership in a public services context. The extent to which this can, or even should, be maintained over time will be uncovered through my research.

 

 

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I Tried to Bribe an Official

Earlier this year I tried to bribe an official. Actually, I didn’t really. But this was how it was construed. The experience made me think a lot about bureaucracy, process, control and leadership.

It all came about when I was asked to do a presentation at a conference. This was a commercial venture – for which speakers often receive a modest fee. I have never accepted a fee for this type of activity which I believe is part of my job in terms of public engagement. But at the same time I don’t believe I should give my labour for free. So in lieu of a ‘fee’ I received some complementary tickets which I then gave to our postgraduate students. Thereby enhancing their learning experience and indeed hopefully adding to the discussion at the conference itself. A classic win-win I would have thought.

Here’s where it all starts to unravel. Many of our students are employed by public bodies. One such student, from Anytown Council, mentioned to their boss that they had received a complementary ticket to a conference and would require the day away from the office to attend. At this point it’s important to remember that this was part of the student experience and would directly help the student in her studies – and in turn help in her job.

The response? The student was asked to complete a business case as to what the conference was about and exactly what the benefit would be for her job. So, instead, the student decided to take the day as annual leave.

At that point you might think that would be the end of it. Oh no. Next the student was told that this could be construed as a bribe. Yes, the student experience is no longer just about me trying to enhance the learning experience of the students – clearly I might be using this as part of some Machiavellian plot.

So, said student is sent the 50 page policy document on ‘gifts’ and asked to read carefully. Then, said student has to complete a form (there is always a form). It must be explained what the nature of the gift is, from whom it has been received and what potential conflicts of interest there might be. Meanwhile the public need better public service delivery. Clearly, this doesn’t help.

These policies and processes exist for good reason. But ultimately how they are interpreted and applied is key. Clearly there is a balance to be struck between following the letter of the policy in a literal and inflexible way vs following the principle of the policy in a proportionate way. Often this requires leadership – to say ‘is this really necessary?’.

What this story highlights for me is the importance of what we are doing at QMU. Our public services still need better leadership. There is still a long way to go. But I’m confident that through our MPA programme, research and CPD programmes we will help.

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Connecting with the Real World

I’ve written before about ‘Academics in the Real World‘ and it is an area that continues to attract much attention and debate.

I was reminded of this recently when discussing ‘student experience’ with the programme leader of our amazing MSc Gastronomy programme (see here for more information). It might seem at face value that this is a very different type of programme from our Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme. Yet the aims and objectives of these two different programmes are remarkably similar. Both have, in line with the Queen Margaret University mission, a core commitment to social justice. And both use practice-based learning to support students’ understanding of ‘the real world’.

The understanding of how policy and politics affect practice is key to understanding public administration. This is our version of ‘from farm to plate’. We need to understand the origins of policy, how it is interpreted by public service professionals, and the impact this has on individuals and communities.

Over this first year of the Edinburgh MPA we have been developing our approach to the student experience. A significant part of this is the Workplace Learning module which we have developed in association with ACOSVO to enable all our students to get ‘real world’ experience (see more here). We have also had guest speakers from the UK Civil Service Fast Track, we have attended a conference on Scotland’s Public Sector Workforce and we have visited the Scottish Parliament as shown in the following short film:

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For next year we are planning lots more activities to expose our students to the realities of public service delivery. In doing so it is important that we continue to reflect on both the political process and the impact subsequent policies have on communities.

In other words, we will always be committed to reflecting and challenging the nature of ‘the real world’.

If you would like to find out more please sign up for our Open Evening: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/marketing/bulletins/opendays.htm

Applications are now open for September 2017: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277

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Leading Change is Full of Nonsense

There is nothing constant except change

Be the change you want to see in the world

Take a look at yourself and make the change

So much of leading change is full of management-speak, lazy slogans and corporate bull$¬!£. As if an oxymoron is the most effective use of the English language to sum up an entire field of study.

This is why I was keen to have Steve Toft speak at our colloquium on Leading Change in Public Services. Steve writes the very influential blog FlipChartFairyTales which has as it’s strapline “Business Bullshit, Corporate Crap and other stuff from the World of Work”. I’m also delighted that Dave Watson, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland, will be speaking at our colloquium (his blog is here). Both are not shy when it comes to asking tough questions and both are adept in their use of evidence to support their analysis.

These two ‘industry-based’ speakers will be joined by a number of academic researchers who will be presenting their latest research on issues related to the topic of change in public services.

This critical academic debate is really needed. Sadly, I feel at times that analysis and evidence-based analysis are lacking when it comes to the subject of leading change. Just browse the titles of the many self-help management books that grace the shelves of every bland airport bookshop around the world. It would seem at times that there’s an entire industry of consultants and pracademics churning out clichés designed to inform ‘better’ management and self-actualisation. The titles could almost write themselves: 10 Easy Steps to Success; Think Positive; A Short Guide to Successful Change; How to Influence Change in 10 Seconds. If only it were that simple (NB: I made those titles up for illustrative purposes. Apologies to anyone who’s actually written a book with one of those titles).

The trouble is that organisational change requires people change. And people are complex, emotional, unpredictable, political, gendered, cultural beings. So any organisational change will as a result also be complex, emotional, unpredictable, political, gendered and cultural. Unless we recognise that we are likely to fail – is it any wonder that, according to John Kotter, more than 70% of change efforts fail?

Add to that mix the nature of public services (see here and here). What do I mean? Well, public services are often inherently complex and targeted at some of the most vulnerable groups in society. So there is a great risk, sometimes life-threatening, if things go wrong. Also, it’s public money so everyone has an opinion, everyone has a stake, and everyone is just waiting for something to go wrong. And of course Politicians also have an important role to play in our public services. Yet even in the more robust academic texts on leading change the distinctive nature of public service change tends to be overlooked.

It appears that anyone wanting to offer advice is best served by offering a simple model with an equally simplistic, yet catchy, acronym. This, it would seem, is what sells. Not complexity, not more questions, and certainly not theory (as we know academics don’t exist in the real world).

That’s not to say that there are excellent books out there on the subject of leading change in public services – there are actually quite a few (which I won’t list here for fear of forgetting someone). Equally the ‘generic’ organisational change texts are of course hugely valuable – to anyone. But I think there is still an important place for continued critical debate around leading change in public services. This is why I have organised this one day research colloquium: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/leading-change-in-public-services-tickets-24921644309

 

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Fat Cat Salaries and Gold-Plated Pensions

Much of the popular press would have us believe that working in the public sector goes hand-in-hand with ‘fat-cat’ salaries (see here; here; and here), gold-plated final salary scheme pensions (here and here) and a job for life. In this context one might wonder why anyone would want to work anywhere else! Yet as this article by The Guardian demonstrates, these sensationalist headlines do not reflect the reality of the vast majority of public sector workers. Indeed, as the Full Fact website concludes,

The Office of National Statistics report actually notes many of the caveats raised by the unions, however much of this important context has been lost in the media reporting on the issue. Far from conclusively reporting the relative pay of workers in the private and public sectors, the ONS report seems to ask more questions than it answers.

So what are the benefits of working in the public sector? Indeed, are there any benefits at all?

1. It is hard

Working in the public sector is, in my opinion, harder than working in the private sector. Now let me qualify that statement. I don’t mean that all those who work in the public sector work longer hours or put in more effort over the average day than those who work in the private sector. But it is more difficult in the sense that measures of success are more difficult to define (and can shift over time). In the private sector, again to generalise, the measure of success is profit and the ultimate boss is the shareholders. In the public sector there are many different stakeholders including politicians (sometimes from opposing political parties), voters, the general public and service users – all of whom may have competing priorities in terms of what they perceive as being success. So, in other words, the public sector is more complex and linked to this efficiency savings are harder to achieve. How is this a benefit? Well, some people may quite like a challenge! At the same time it means that typically no two days will be the same and working with multiple groups of stakeholders, including international agencies, national governments and the general public, can be hugely rewarding in its own right.

2. It is not well paid

Again, it might seem counter-intuitive to highlight poor pay as an advantage of working in the public sector. To clarify, what I am referring to here is that there is comparatively poor pay in relation to equivalent jobs in the private sector. This has been demonstrated in ONS data, as referred to in this report by The Guardian, which shows that those with a degree or equivalent earn less in the public sector than in the private sector. So, if you are motivated by financial rewards, the public sector is most definitely not for you. People who work in the public sector tend to be motivated by, what has become known as, public service motivation (PSM). This explains how many of those who work in the public sector do so, not because of the personal benefits that accrue from this employment, but because of the social value of these jobs. Significant research has been conducted into the nature of PSM (see Perry 1996Perry, 1997;  Crewson, 1997;  Houston, 2000Wright et al., 2013Desmarais and Gamassou, 2014; and Ritz, 2016). Although different definitions abound, originally PSM was seen to involve: attraction to public policy making, commitment to the public interest, civic duty, social justice, self-sacrifice, and compassion. These are the real benefits of working in the public sector.

To put it another way, we should consider this, across the UK more than 5 million people are employed in the public sector. In Scotland 20.9% of the workforce is employed in the public sector. That does not include the significant numbers of people who work in private and third sector organisations delivering or supporting public services. Those people do not work in those roles because they are easy or well paid. People choose to work in the public sector because they believe in public service values and they believe in the potential of public services to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in our society and support thriving and sustainable communities. What other reason do you need?

 

This blog is an extended version of an interview which appeared in Prospects Magazine.

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