The Public Sector: Concepts, Models and Approaches
Publication Year: 2000
The Third Edition of this successful textbook introduces students to the major concepts, models, and approaches surrounding the public sector. Now fully updated to include coverage of the New Public Management (NPM), The Public Sector is the most comprehensive textbook on theories of public policy and public administration. The Public Sector is introduced within a three-part framework: public resource allocation, redistribution and regulation. Jan-Erik Lane explains the basic concepts of each of these broad areas, and goes on to examine their consequences for various approaches to the making and implementation of public policy. The book explores models of management, effectiveness and
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Introduction: Public Institutions and Interests
- Chapter 1: Demarcation of the Public Sector
- Chapter 2: Concepts of Bureaucracy
- Chapter 3: Public Policy Models
- Chapter 4: Implementation Models
- Chapter 5: Models of Public Regulation
- Chapter 6: The Logic of Public Sector Reform
- Chapter 7: Public Management, Leadership and Privatization
- Chapter 8: The Management State versus the Administrative State
- Chapter 9: The Public Choice Approach
- Chapter 10: The New Institutionalism
- Chapter 11: Efficiency, Effectiveness and Evaluation
- Chapter 12: Institutions and Efficiency in the Public Sector
- Chapter 13: Ethics and Normative Policy Models
- Chapter 14: New Public Management: The Basic Ideas
© Jan-Erik Lane 1993, 1995, 2000
First published 1993
Second edition 1995. Reprinted 1998
Third edition published 2000
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Public administration as an academic discipline has more or less crumbled during the recent decades of research into the public sector. It has become outdated, losing its status as the main approach to the interpretation of the state or government. Christopher Hood (1990) describes the predicament of the science of public administration well in an article named ‘Public Administration: Lost an Empire, Not Yet Found a Role?’
Replacing it there is now a proliferation of concepts, frameworks and theories. Public sector processes of decision-making and implementation in the modern state are approached through a variety of models from such different fields as public policy, policy implementation, management and evaluation as well as the public choice approach and neo-institutionalism. This overview of these multiple approaches aims to give students an introduction to the analysis of policy-making, to policy implementation as well as to public sector management and administration.
This volume presents the main theories of policy-making, implementation and management in the modern state, stating their pros and cons from a theoretical point of view. No attempt is made to propose any new solutions to the basic problems of modelling decision-making and implementation in state institutions. The purpose is to introduce students taking their first courses in public policy-making, policy analysis and public management or public administration to the state of the art, that is, to the basic conceptual paradigms and salient theories or sets of theoretical hypotheses.
For a political scientist, the concept of the public sector includes both what kind of activities public institutions carry out and how decisions are made and implemented by these institutions. Thus, on the one hand, we have the theory of the public sector as a branch of government involved in allocation, redistribution and regulation, with all kinds of concepts involved in the analysis of these three branches of government. On the other hand, we have the dynamic policy perspective of a public sector involved in the making and implementation of policies. The public sector requires both descriptive and normative concepts in order to understand not only what goes on in public institutions but also whether the outputs and outcomes are efficient or desirable. Fundamentally, the public sector is a set of institutions that [Page viii]coordinate the interests of different groups that ask in various ways for public activities of different kinds.
I have drawn somewhat upon a few articles that I published in edited volumes and international journals. In addition I have drawn upon an article written jointly with Torgeir Nyen, ‘Neoinstitutionalism and the Public Sector’, Statsvetenskaplig Tidskrift, 95 (4), 1992. However, besides much new material, all of the text has been thoroughly revised in order to be used as an undergraduate textbook. I should thank Andrew Dunsire (York), Ed Page (Hull) and Richard Rose (Strathclyde) for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Some of the chapters in the book have arisen from papers presented at COCTA (Committee on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis) sponsored panels at IPSA and ISA conferences. They form part of a project sponsored by the International Social Science Council (ISSC) to focus on key social science concepts and develop awareness in the social science community of theoretical issues.Preface to the Second Edition
In this second edition I have made several significant additions. Three chapters are entirely new, two dealing with public sector reform (Chapters 6 and 12) and another discussing the logic of the new management state in relation to the old administrative state (Chapter 8). New materials have also been included within the existing chapters, particularly in Models of Public Regulation (Chapter 5) and Public Policy Models (Chapter 3). In addition I have corrected a few mistakes and typographical errors in the first edition.
Some of the new material is drawn from articles I have published in the last couple of years. I am grateful for the permission to use materials from the following articles: ‘Will Public Management Drive Out Public Administration?’, in Asian Journal of Public Administration, 16: 139–51; ‘Ends and Means of Public Sector Reform’, in Staatswissenschaften und Staatspraxis, 1994, 5: 459–73; and ‘Economic Organization Theory and Public Management’ in K. Eliassen and J. Kooiman (eds), Managing Public Organizations (London: Sage, 1993: 73–83). The work on bringing the book up to date was done while I was at the Department of Public Administration at Erasmus University in Rotterdam under a scheme with the Netherlands Interuniversity Institute of Government (NIG). I am grateful for the opportunities to test various ideas with scholars involved in this scheme in Rotterdam, Twente and Leiden.[Page ix]Preface to the Third Edition
The rapid development of public sector reforms in many countries during the 1990s call for some additions to this volume. Thus, I have included an entirely new chapter on New Public Management as well as expanded the analysis of fiscal federalism or decentralization. Despite all the reforms aiming at reinventing government the public sector remains large and complex, covering allocation, redistribution and regulation. To understand how it works it is necessary to master the many models with which it is analysed. This is the focus of this edition, as was the case with the other two editions.Geneva[Page x]
Conclusion: What are the Policy Sciences?[Page 319]
The decline of the public administration approach opened up the public sector to a variety of new approaches. One of these new perspectives is what was sometimes called ‘policy analysis’ or more broadly the ‘policy sciences’. Overcoming the petrifaction of public administration it claimed to have a comprehensive new framework with which to approach the public sector. A number of different approaches followed in the wake of the dissolution of the public administration school – organizational theory, decision analysis, evaluation research, steering theory, management sciences – all of which were intended as new partial approaches to the study of the public sector.
But, given that the policy approach was launched as a candidate to replace public administration as a basic framework, is there really a distinct policy approach to the public sector? Could the policy approach really arrive at a general theory of public policies?
When the public policy approach was launched after the Second World War it embodied an entirely new approach to the interpretation of the state and local governments. Not only were the traditional principles of the public administration perspective outdated, but the study of public policy required new scientific techniques and approaches. This belief in a special policy perspective or policy methodology was continually reiterated in one form or another as the policy perspective became popular, its application widened and the number of policy studies began to rise sharply in the late 1960s.The Policy Orientation
Policy analysis would not only be a scientific discipline of its own with its special techniques for the study of the public sector, but would also offer serious guidance to practical men in power as to how to go about handling social problems in society. Already in the first major volume in what was to become the policy tradition – the classical The Policy Sciences edited by D. Lerner and H.D. Lasswell (1951) – there was this combination of two basically separate enterprises: a science of policy-making and a science for policy-making.
Lasswell identifies the scope of policies with the set of choices. He states: ‘The word “policy” is commonly used to designate the most [Page 320]important choices made either in organized or in private life’ (Lasswell, 1951: 5). Perhaps such a general definition of the concept of a policy was never strictly adhered to, as the connection between policy and the public sector has remained a very close one.
Lasswell states that the policy orientation comprises three elements: (1) the methods by which the policy process is investigated; (2) the results of the study of policy; (3) the findings of the disciplines making the most important contributions to the intelligence needs of the time (Lasswell, 1951: 4). It is not clear what the difference is between the first two elements in the policy orientation. In any case Lasswell hinted at a separation between two kinds of policy studies that has characterized much of the policy movement. Policy analysis could mean either the analysis of the policy process – description and explanation – or the elaboration of the methods to be used in ongoing policy-making – prescription or recommendation.
In Lasswell's perspective policy analysis is not simply the understanding of policies as important public or private choices ‘explaining the policy-making and policy-executing process’. The other side of the coin is the activist notion. The policy analyst should also locate data and provide interpretations of the policy problems at a given point – policy problems being ‘the fundamental and often neglected problems which arise in the adjustment of man in society’, in the ‘world revolutionary process of the epoch’.
However, not only in the policy sciences but in all the approaches to the public sector we find this tension between objectivity and subjectivity, between value neutrality and value relevance and between explanation and prescription. Why create a special discipline for the analysis of the public sector if it does not hold the promises of improvement in public policy-making and implementation? Surely the methodology employed in explaining policy outcomes in terms of the policy process could also be used to remodel the tools used in ongoing policy-making? Thus, policy analysis could devise a set of intellectual instruments with which to improve the various steps in the policy circle, from demands over decision to implementation and outcomes, which are fed back into the process (Weimar and Vining, 1992).
Almost from the start the ideas of the policy sciences have contained this tension between description and recommendation. We may quote from Lasswell one more time: ‘the policy science approach has the further implication that it includes, in addition to knowledge about the policy-making process itself, the assembling and evaluating of knowledge – from whatever source – which appears to have an important bearing upon the major policy problems of the time’ (Lasswell, 1951: 14).
Thus, the policy orientation involves some fundamental questions which have been answered differently as the policy movement has developed. Let us quote from Christopher Ham and Michael Hill's The[Page 321]Policy Process in the Modern Capitalist State, where they distinguish between ‘analysis of policy’ and ‘analysis for policy’: ‘The distinction is important in drawing attention to policy analysis as an academic activity concerned primarily with advancing understanding, and policy analysis as an applied activity concerned mainly with contributing to the solution of social problems’ (1984: 4).
On the one hand we have the problem of identifying the characteristic properties of the policy process in the public sector. On the other hand there is the question of the proper techniques to be employed in the policy-making process in order to arrive at public programme improvement. In addition, there is the problem of congruence between the theoretical position and the practical recommendations.
The balance between the theoretical and practical tasks of policy analysis could be struck in different ways. Lasswell underlined the practical aspects of the policy orientation, but warned strongly against too close a contact between policy analysts and the political life. Yehezkal Dror advocates the opposite position in Public Policymaking Reexamined (1974).Optimal Policy-Making
Public programmes are based on greater or lesser knowledge about the causal mechanisms operating in society. They also involve normative considerations about the priority of goals and the appropriateness of means. Is there a social science theory that could improve the cognitive and normative foundations of the making and implementing of public choices? Perhaps all research into the public sector should be directed towards the task of finding means of improving policy-making? Could there be an optimal way of structuring the policy process?
Dror takes a very optimistic view on the practical lessons to be learnt by policy analysis. He states: ‘Contemporary literature in the field of systems analysis, economics, decisionmaking theory, management sciences, and political science, as well as in other disciplines, already includes much material relevant to constructing an optimal model of policymaking’ (1974: 31). What would optimal policy-making look like and how could it be derived from the study of the public sector?
Dror identifies the following components in optimal policy-making: (1) use of qualitative knowledge; (2) rational as well as extra-rational components; (3) economic rationality; (4) involvement of metapolicy-making; (5) feedback mechanisms. As there is little quantitative information available directly for policy-making purposes, qualitative data have to suffice. By extra-rational mechanisms are meant intuition, non-routine behaviour and guesstimate. There are different needs for resources for both policy and non-policy purposes as well as for various kinds of policy purposes, involving short- and long-term policies and metapolicy-making.
[Page 322]Policy-making may be of three kinds: (1) metapolicy-making on how to conduct policy-making, (2) making policy on substantive issues, and (3) re-policy-making or making policy based on the feedback information about the policies enacted and implemented. Feedback of information is relevant for both metapolicy-making and substantive policies, where in the first case data would have structural implications for improving the process of policy-making, whereas in the second case information could be used to alter already existing programmes in order to increase the probability of positive outcomes.
Thus, a policy science would be a set of principles guiding both the overall process of policy-making and the minute details in every single policy. Such a set of policy rules would ensure optimal policies – it is hoped. However, these principles are not enough, as there also has to be an ‘optimal policy-making structure’ (Dror, 1974: 198).
Would we really be prepared to call a policy ‘optimal’ simply because it satisfied the formal conditions that Dror lays down? Perhaps optimal policy-making would require commitment to some substantive values or goals? Perhaps optimality in policy-making also requires some structuring of the policy-making process? Dror lays down a few conditions on an optimal policy-making structure, but they are also only of a formal kind: participation by many and diverse groups; a minimum amount of formalization of the policy process assigning various policy tasks to different groups; redundance between groups and tasks as well as isolation of some groups from others; integration of groups and periodical reexamination and reform of the structure (Dror, 1974: 197–213). Again, we may wish to demand stronger requirements in order for a policy-making structure to be considered optimal.
The idea of optimal policies or optimal policy-making processes is an elusive one. It is far from obvious how prescriptions for the identification of optimality could be derived from the existing knowledge about the public sector, which is heavily heterogeneous and spread across several social science disciplines. Yet would not the idea of creating a new interdisciplinary policy science imply a possibility that we could start gathering systematic knowledge with a policy orientation?
Dror develops another typical idea in the context of developing an independent field of research, in this case the policy sciences, namely the establishment of a set of policy specialists situated not too far from state power. He writes:
One of the main recommendations that emerges from comparing the optimal model with actual policymaking is to establish and reinforce special organizations for policy analysis. … Establishing special organizations that are charged with taking a fresh look at basic policy issues is a necessary (though not sufficient) step toward approximating optimality in public policymaking. (Dror, 1974: 261)
[Page 323]The idea of a set of specialists on public policy and policy implementation located in separate institutes may sound attractive, because it would lend an aura of legitimacy and responsibility to the entire enterprise. But it is highly questionable, because it builds on the weak hypothesis that policy analysis would turn out different results if practised in one institutional setting rather than another. Whatever the organization involved in policy analysis may look like, it is still the case that the quality of the findings and the recommendations depend upon how the inquiry has been conducted, not its formal aspects. Some have argued that policy analysis is distinct as a discipline and not in terms of organizational paraphernalia. What methods would a policy analyst typically use?The Tools of Policy Analysis
The separation of policy analysis into analysis of policy or analysis for policy may seem abstruse. Why could social science knowledge not perform both functions at the same time? In the work of scholars sometimes associated with the so-called Policy Studies Organization there is a strong underlining of the need for policy analysis to be both theoretical and practical. To Nagel and Neef, for example, any radical distinction between knowledge to be used in policy-making and knowledge that models the policy process would be very difficult to uphold. To quote:
Policy analysis or policy studies can be broadly defined as the study of the nature, causes, and effects of alternative public policies. Sometimes policy analysis is more specifically defined to refer to the methods used in analyzing public policies. The main methods, however, are no different from those associated with social science and the scientific method in general. (Nagel and Neef, 1979: 221)
Yet there is one major development within the policy orientation that maintains that policy analysis is more a craft than a science.
Edward S. Quade states the argument for the interpretation of policy analysis as analysis for policy in Analysis for Public Decisions (1976). According to this practical interpretation of the policy orientation, it would be preferable if policy analysis acknowledged from the start that it cannot adhere to the strict requirements of the social sciences. He states:
science is concerned primarily with the pursuit of truth, and it seeks to understand and predict. Policy analysis seeks to help a decision-maker make a better choice than he would otherwise have made. It is thus concerned with the more effective manipulation of the real world – even if this may have to be accomplished without full understanding of the underlying phenomena. (Quade, 1976: 21)
It sounds somewhat strange that policy analysis cannot be evaluated properly by means of a truth condition. The notion that policy analysis [Page 324]deals with the manipulation of the real world and not the search for truth about phenomena may seem a clear-cut recognition of its limits. However, should one accept such a demarcation of the scope of policy analysis? To many in the policy school Quade's restriction is both too narrow and basically confused about the ends and means of policy analysis. How could a policy hypothesis be used to manipulate real world phenomena if it was not also true of that world?
The identification of policy analysis as analysis for policy is typically based on a number of approaches that are said to constitute a specific policy focus. To this set of policy tools Quade adds the following: operations research, systems analysis, cost-effectiveness analysis, cost-benefit analysis. (For an overview of various administrative doctrines, see Hood and Jackson, 1991.) Quade himself outlines a model of policy analysis that involves both intellectual cogitation and social interaction with policy-makers. He states:
There are thus three stages associated with policy analysis. First, discovery, attempting to find an alternative that is satisfactory and best among those that are feasible; second, acceptance, getting the findings accepted and incorporated into a policy or decision; third, implementation, seeing that the policy or decision is implemented without being changed so much that it is no longer satisfactory. (Quade, 1976: 254)
It is obvious that Quade has some more or less radical model of rational decision-making in mind. What is striking about this identification of policy analysis is that it makes no distinction between ‘policy’ and ‘policy analysis’. I do not understand why a policy analyst would be concerned about the process of policy-making and policy implementation. Perhaps new circumstances developed in the policy process that call for a different policy? Perhaps one discovers at the implementation stage that the drawbacks of a policy had been underestimated, meaning that a policy change is indeed most welcome? Surely policy analysis could help policy-makers improve both policies and implementation of policies. Any such good advice from policy analysis depends on the truth of their positions, not how eagerly they look for policy success. To quote Nagel and Neef again: ‘policy analysis is not something new methodically’ (1979: 221–2).Art and Craft in Policy Analysis
It is questionable whether these strong demands on the originality and scope of policy analysis were characteristic of the policy movement in general. Another major development in the policy orientation was to uphold the view of policy analysis as analysis of policy. In Speaking Truth to Power (1979) by Wildavsky the practical ambitions behind the policy school are moderated while its intellectual claims are stated more specifically. Wildavsky narrows down the goals of the entire [Page 325]school as well as identifying more concretely how policy analysis is to go about achieving them.
Yet, even in Wildavsky's cautious interpretation there is this same idea that policy analysis constitutes a distinct social inquiry to be pursued by means of its own methodological structure. Policy analysis is both an art and a craft, Wildavsky claims. What, more specifically, are the methods and tools used in the conduct of policy analysis?
Perhaps the main argument with Wildavsky is that policy analysis is not some conventional technique employed in ongoing public decision-making and implementation. Policy analysis is an art where the creativity that is necessary for arriving at a deep understanding cannot be produced by the mechanical application of information systems like planning, programming, budgeting systems (PPBS), zero-based budgeting (ZBB) and management by objectives (MBO), program, evaluation, review technique (PERT) and social indicators (Coombs and Jenkins, 1992; Henley et al., 1993). Wildavsky states: ‘Policy analysis is an applied subfield whose content cannot be determined by disciplinary boundaries but by whatever appears appropriate to the circumstances of the time and the nature of the problem’ (1979: 15). Here we again confront this idea that there exists a distinct social science of public policies – applied social research with an interdisciplinary orientation. Perhaps it is self-evidently true that policy analysis is what is hoped for in the policy school. Yet sometimes it may pay to question the most basic assumptions.
Why would policy analysis be more of an applied social science than pure social research, whatever could be meant by this distinction when it occurs in the social sciences? Why could social theory not model the policy process and its various components in a manner that is relevant for practical politics? Moreover, in the same way, the requirement of interdisciplinarity does not make sense, because there would certainly be valid contributions forthcoming from political science, economics, sociology and psychology separately.
Policy analysis is an art, because it is based on the conduct of social inquiry employing the standard canons of scientific study. Wildavsky writes:
Analysis is imagination. Making believe the future has happened in the past, analysts try to examine events as if those actions already had occurred. They are strongly committed to ‘thought experiments’ in which they imagine what might have been in order to improve what may come to pass. Theories are discarded instead of people. Naturally, this is risky. (1979: 16)
Creativity in art like originality in social research will not be forthcoming through the application of some set of tools as in the practice of a craft. What matters more than craftmanship is scientific fantasy, unrestrained by any constraints that could be involved in an applied research setting.
[Page 326]Policy analysis is a craft, because it is a problem-solving activity. Wildavsky writes: ‘Policy analysis, to be brief, is an activity creating problems that can be solved. Every policy is fashioned of tension between resources and objectives, planning and politics, scepticism and dogma. Solving problems involves temporarily resolving these tensions’ (1979: 17).
As a policy in real life involves ends and means, so policy analysis must be a set of theories about the relationship between ends and means. Policy analysis implies rationality – means searching for ends – as well as responsibility – proper resources achieving suitable objectives. Since policy analysis deals with contested and value-ingrained materials, it must be practical, evaluative and reconstructive.
Yet even practical recommendations have to be based on solid theoretical foundations. What matters more than the identification of the objectives and the resources in policy-making organizations is the causal hypothesis about how means have an impact on ends. The arrival at relevant guesses about the means-end relationship depends on both dogma and scepticism, but so do all kinds of knowledge about people in general. Wildavsky writes: ‘These, then, are the tasks and tensions of policy analysis: relating resources to objectives by balancing social interaction against intellectual cogitation so as to learn to draw the line between scepticism and dogma’ (1979: 19).
Few would argue with this sound identification of policy analysis. Actually, there is only one drawback. While it certainly identifies what typically goes on in policy studies, it fails at the same time to distinguish how the policy orientation differs from the ordinary conduct of social inquiry.Conclusion
‘Public policy’, like some other words such as ‘politics’, ‘public administration’ and ‘public management’, has a double meaning standing for both the science of something and the object studied. It could either mean the public sector as it appears in various phenomena – public resource allocation, income redistribution and public regulation – or it could stand for some framework for or approach to the interpretation of these appearances. As a matter of fact, public policy as an academic discipline was launched in the form of new courses, departments, institutes or schools where policy analysis would be practised, replacing the outdated public administration framework.
However, two difficult problems arise in relation to the ambition to identify a distinct social science enterprise, the policy analysis orientation:
- Does such a distinct approach to the understanding of the public sector exist that we may comfortably speak about policy analysis as an art and craft in its own right?[Page 327]
- Could policy analysis in the future deliver a new general framework for the study of the public sector?
I would be inclined to answer ‘no’ to both these questions. Nor do I see the advantages of pursuing the policy school's ambitions. Policy analysis is first and foremost analysis. As such it requires both the rational and the irrational components in the ordinary conduct of social inquiry.
Since the public policy vogue faded there has been an intense search for new ways of modelling the public sector and its organizations. New concepts, models and approaches that are relevant for the reorientation of traditional public administration are now forthcoming, focusing on the place of motivation or interests and institutions or rules within the public sector.
The common focus on the public sector, amorphous as it is in the era of big government, used to be bureaucracy. Since the bureaucracy concept is elusive, if not essentially contested, there are disadvantages in the traditional public administration framework. There was no clarification either of the extent to which public sector problems are due to the operation of bureaucracies, or the extent to which public bureaucracies are different from private bureaucracies. It is true that the concepts of bureaucracy tie in with another crucial notion – the state, but the emerging public policy approach in the 1960s and 1970s did not manage to explain fully how bureaux in the public sector operate.
It was recognized that there were drawbacks in starting from the bureaucracy perspective. The crux of the matter was that there is no connection between the meaning and the reference of the term. Bureaux exist all over the public sector at various levels of government – that is the denotation of the concept. However, what is the connotation of the concept? Here, we find fundamental dissensus and contrary proposals as to what are the distinctive properties of bureaux: efficiency, impersonality, social rationality or waste, partiality and rigidity.
However, it is doubtful whether the launch of the policy approach solved all the problems inherent in the public administration approach. Just like the public administration approach, public policy models failed to clarify how interests and institutions interact within the public sector. If the classical public administration framework, the top-down policy-making model or the so-called Napoleonic state concept are not enough for understanding the public sector in its various manifestations – allocation, redistribution and regulation – then we must move towards some new approach which recognizes the role of private incentives and public institutions. Clearly, there is a set of proper functions for government, but how are we to go about interpreting its rules and the motivation of its personnel?
[Page 328]One could claim the policy approach(es) amounted to an attempt at creating a unified paradigm for the analysis of the public sector from a political science standpoint. It sought unification after the public administration framework had been more or less shattered by the proliferation of new approaches after the Second World War (see the overview in White and Adams, 1994). However, although it managed to integrate politics and administration to an extent that the public administration framework never did, the policy approach remains just one additional framework for the analysis of the public sector besides others such as the management, public choice and neo-institutionalist approaches.
One must admit that there is no new synthesis in sight coming from the political science and public administration foci upon the public sector, and the continuation of various sharply competing approaches to the interpretation of the public sector seems inevitable. To get a perspective upon the present research predicament and how the policy sciences fit into that one could speak of two major syntheses preceding the present multiplicity of perspectives: the practical science of public administration and the theoretical model of administrative man/woman in organizational theory.
The practical science of administration in government was developed by scholars in different countries around 1900. One may mention names such as Max Weber, Woodrow Wilson, Fredrick W. Taylor and Henri Fayol. The emphasis was distinctly upon normative problems in reforming government, enhancing performance judged by different criteria such as efficiency and accountability. The strength of this approach was to be found in its recommendations for creating modern governments which would fulfil the combined requirements for legality or the rule of law as well as technical efficiency. The drawback was that the practical science of public administration lacked a theory about how the public sector actually works – the is, sometimes in glaring contradiction to the proverbs or practical recommendations, the ought.
If the practical science of public administration delivered a first and normative synthesis focusing on how the basic materials of public sector activities – cases – were to be handled in a neutral, objective and rule-efficient way, then organizational theory came up with a second and realistic understanding of how administrative man/woman functions in governmental agencies. The is may actually be at some distance from the ought according to scholars like Herbert A. Simon, James G. March, Dwight Waldo, Charles E. Lindblom and Aaron Wildavsky. Existence in the administrative state results from bounded rationality and satisfying behaviour according to incremental criteria which diverge from the rationality norms.
Yet, the tension between existence and norm cannot be done away with in the study of the public sector. Not only do we need more [Page 329]knowledge about how public programmes actually operate, but we are also keenly interested in reform and evaluation in terms of normative criteria. The four major approaches in the study of the public sector relate differently to both these concerns. They include: (a) the management approach; (b) the public choice approach; (c) the public policy framework; and (d) the neo-institutionalist frameworks. One may question whether there is not too much heterogeneity within these approaches, making such a classification rather meaningless. However, be that as it may, the two former frameworks, (a) and (b), are heavily orientated towards evaluation and efficiency – ought – whereas the two latter frameworks are more committed to understanding and explanation – is.
The key concept in the management perspective is that of the objective, in the public choice approach it is the conception of self-interest, whereas in neo-institutionalism it is the rule, or, as it is also called, ‘institution’. The policy perspective is perhaps still the approach that is closest to the concerns of political science and public administration, because its concept of the policy or the public programme explicitly targets what decisions or non-decisions politicians take in government and Parliament.
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