Sub-theme 06: (SWG): Organizing the Public Sector: Changing Shapes and Assemblies

Christine Teelken
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Nicolette van Gestel
Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Ewan Ferlie
King's College London, UK

Call for Papers

Have recent upheavals in financial markets along with other aspects of globalisation and ecological concerns meant there is about to be paradigm shift with the public sector? Are we to see the disassembling these organisations, with greater privatisation or quasi-privatisation – or will there be more of a reassembling with a greater role for the state?

The organizations within the public sector across Europe were isomorphically pressured to undergo many changes over 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. But all of this has been challenged with the global financial crisis that was precipitated by the collapse of private sector banks which led many of them being taken into public control. This has led to 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.

Within these turbulent times, issues of governance and public management are central, or would appear to be so, for with the failure of the market has led to renewed interest in Keynesian economics and with it a potential for a refocusing (reassembly?) of the welfare state and its organisations. This highlights the role of central government in strategic redesign of the public services as well as local agencies.

In terms of our 4 subthemes, we identify a range of questions concerning reassembling organisations, their governance and the implications for public management and leadership.

1. Consumerism (clients) versus democracy (citizens)

To what extent has public sector governance arrangements focused on the local service delivery organisation, for example, a school of hospital? How far has consumerism been effective in shaping (assembling) public sector provision, for example, through parent choice of schools, and patient choice of hospitals? Are the low-trust governance structures becoming dominant and undermining the quasi-markets of consumerism? What kind of impact will economic restraints have on social welfare policies? How can the tensions between increased taxation and the needs of vulnerable citizens be best balanced? And will central government move to restrict choice if it becomes unaffordable?

2. Professionalism versus managerialism

The classic dualism of professional – manager has changed fundamentally, perhaps we are all managers now as Grey (1999) suggested a little while ago. Certainly there is much more interest in the reassembly of professionals and professionalism as 'hybrids' (Noordegraaf, 2007). Services are delivered predominantly by a professionalised workforce, but whether this indicates occupations with expert knowledge or ones that behave responsibly – and can be trusted can be unclear: the indeterminacy/technicity ratio identified by Jamous and Peloille (1970) may be being turned on its head as protocollisation of professional practice makes, in principle, professional work processes more transparent and accessible to management control. It would therefore, be timely to revisit and reassess the fashionable classics, perhaps including a critical review of Freidson (2004), or a reassessment of Abbott (1988) particularly on the question of changing jurisdictions and boundary work in recent times.

3. Individual actors and organizations in the public management change process

The proliferation of protocols and guidelines across the public sector – and the private providers too have raised the question of shifting assemblies as providers find ways of providing the required output or measure by finding informal devices for getting around the sometimes contradictory and often very time consuming demands of the formal system. In English, these have become known as 'work arounds' and are generally a means of ensuring work gets done, rather than overtly fraudulent practice. However, there is also the practice of improving formal performance figures by devious devices to massage figures, for example, cancelling appointments to reduce clinic waiting times. All of which points to a new type of 'street level bureaucrat' who reflects sometime the negative and unintended outcomes of public sector governance regimes. Some public sector managers may be charged with 'downsizing' the public services. How will they do this and what resistance will they face? Will central government take on a strategic role in downsizing?

4. Autonomy and control of public sector organisations

How far have public sector organisations been disassembled and/or reassembled over recent years? What has been the effectiveness of moves to greater local autonomy (e.g. NHS trusts in the UK)? What have been the implications for redrawing organisational boundaries and the flow and accessibility of client/citizen information as well as that of our public representatives? What has been the impact on the 'rechstaat' – or 'Bismarckian' –as compared to the more social democratic and/or 'Beveridge' – countries of globalisation.

Concerning the submission of short papers, we would appreciate the following information to be included: the purpose of the research, methodology and theoretical approach, (preliminary) findings, and the originality of the paper or work in progress. Particular details concerning the chosen theoretical approach and the way the investigations have been carried out should be made explicit.



Abbott, A. (1988): The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Freidson, E. (2001): Professionalism: The Third Logic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Grey, C. (1998): "On being a professional in a 'Big Six' firm." Accounting, Organizations and Society, 23, 5-6, 569-587.
Jamous, J. & H. Peloille (1970): "Changes in the French University Hospital System." In: J. Jackson (ed.): Professions and Professionalisations. London: Cambridge University Press.
Noordegraaf, M. (2007): "From 'pure' to 'hybrid' professionalism: Present-day professionalism in ambiguous public domains." Administration Society, 39 (6), 761-785.
Pollitt, C. & G. Bouckaert (2004): Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Guest convenors

  • Louise Fitzgerald: Visiting Professor, Manchester Business School & Emeritus Professor, De Montfort University, UK. Her research interests focus on innovation and the implementation of change in complex organizations. Recent work has examined the introduction of service improvements in health care; the management of networks and knowledge exchange between researchers and practitioners.
  • Mike Dent: Professor of Health Care Organisation, Faculty of Health, Staffordshire University, UK. He published widely on organisations in the health care sector, particular by using a comparative perspective.


Christine Teelken 
Nicolette van Gestel 
Ewan Ferlie