Sub-theme 06: (SWG) Organizing the Public Sector: Illusions or Design?!

Christine Teelken
VU University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Haldor Byrkjeflot
University of Bergen, Norway
Heidi Houlberg Salomonsen
Aalborg University, Denmark

Call for Papers


Organizations within the public sector across Europe have been pressured in various ways to undergo many changes in recent decades. The impact of 'New' Public Management has been profound, although its trajectory across the continent – as well as across sectors – has been variegated (Pollitt & Bouckaert 2004). Nevertheless, NPM has become the new orthodoxy. We are now much more familiar with a public sector that is a mix of elements of hierarchy, networks, market orientation and self-organizing, demanding increased levels of transparency and accountability. All of this, however, has been challenged with the global financial crisis that was precipitated by the collapse of private sector banks, leading many of them being taken into public control, in turn provoking further unwanted consequences, such as the collapse of the car industry. This has involved governments in having to deal with the real possibility of a substantial rise in unemployment and looking for new ways to generate new industry and employment.

We welcome papers on public sector reform and organizations in general, but particularly appreciate reference to our specific theme on new modes of communication and its relationship with public sector reform.

One purpose of this sub-theme meeting is to discuss the consequences and use of new social media, transparency reforms and new models for risk and reputation management in the public sector:

  • Which changes can we perceive, to what extent can we expect an increased use of ICT and other new modes of communication management in public service provision?
  • What is the intention behind introducing these media and other kinds of communication practices?
  • Are they implemented in order to improve customer satisfaction or user-friendliness, or are financial reductions playing a much larger role, e.g. because providing e-service instead of face-to-face contacts is often much cheaper?
  • What are the consequences of the introduction of such media and practices of communication management for established bureaucratic procedures and ideals?
  • Who holds the responsibility for a correct and just administration of data, action, evaluations, etc.?
  • Are the responsibilities transferred from the public organizations to the customers and users of services?
  • Should such a transfer be appreciated or is it discriminating and unjust towards certain groups of users?
  • Does it actually lead to an improvement of service provision?
  • And are such media not simply very time-consuming for users?


Another purpose is to discuss the consequences of public sector reforms, and in particular the new modes of communication associated with such reforms for accountability relationships and democracy:

  • In a broader perspective, will these reforms and new manners of communication open up for new practices of democratic accountability or will they mainly introduce more managerial and technocratic kinds of accountability relationships between governments and citizens?
  • Will provision of services improve (quicker, cheaper, more individualized) or will it simply deteriorate the current provision of health care, teaching (e.g. through self-study), and social security?
  • Should we see the new modes of communication and social media as a simple excuse to let citizens 'help themselves' (e.g. by consulting the relevant websites) instead of providing services that are accessible to everybody?




Pollitt, C. & G. Bouckaert (2004): Public Management Reform. Oxford: Oxford University Press


Christine Teelken 
Haldor Byrkjeflot 
Heidi Houlberg Salomonsen