Sub-theme 18: Escaping the iron cage of bureaucratic control or bringing the bureaucracy back in: New and old forms of autonomy and coordination in the public sector

Gerhard Hammerschmid
Hertie School of Governance Berlin, Germany
Per Lægreid
University of Bergen, Norway
Tamyko Ysa
ESADE Business School, Ramon Llull University, Spain

Call for Papers

Public sector and governmental organizations are traditionally not associated with creativity or innovation. In contrast government's traditional legal-rational bureaucracy is characterized by inertia and what Max Weber has described as the "iron cage" of rule-based, rational control. For most scholars as well as practitioners public sector creativity and innovation seem to be more an oxymoron with a strong rhetorical quality than part of organizational culture.

However, the issue of innovation has also gained relevance within the public sector itself throughout the last decade as increasing attempts have been made at making public sector organizations more innovative, responsive, flexible and performance oriented. An entrepreneurial view of leadership focuses on innovative behaviors of leaders in public sector organizations. It emphasizes an increased attention to the demands of the environment and to the preferences of external stakeholders. The creativity, nonconformity, risk propensity, public sector commitment and dynamism of strong leaders who do not feel constrained by the weight of tradition and formal rules is regarded as essential.

A broad stream of current research holds as one of its key ideas that new governance structures and mechanisms – especially less hierarchical, more autonomous and partnership-like, collaborative forms of organizing – should be applied to foster more innovative solutions both in public policy and public management. Especially agencies and public private partnerships (PPPs) have been increasingly promoted as stimulus to innovation in many countries. But we also see a tendency of 'bringing the bureaucracy back in', 'rediscovering bureaucracy' and a trend towards a NeoWeberian bureaucracy combining traditional Weberian features and more modern organizational structures and processes. This hybrid and more complex organizational model might also have a strong innovative potential.

It is also argued that participatory and deliberative models of governance, cutting across public and non-public boundaries are more effective in harnessing complexity because they increase interaction within systems and thereby system diversity and creativity. The interesting question then arises what kind of innovation is triggered by these developments if more and more public goods and services are produced in autonomous units segregated from the core public sector or jointly produced with NGOs and private enterprises, both of which are often assigned a high degree of inherent flexibility and innovativeness.

The task at hand is to study how far public sector institutions offer room for both organizational and policy-related innovations and which changes in workplace attributes, structures, procedures and leadership of governmental organizations to open new room for innovative and creative solutions can be observed? We welcome conceptual, theoretical and empirical papers which should address one or several of the following research questions:

  • How can creativity and innovation in and around public organizations be organized? Is creativity linked to ad hoc structures or can it be integrated in the established hierarchy?

  • Does the establishment of new governance structures and forms of collaboration and participation open room for new patterns of interaction and new solutions at the policy level?

  • Public private partnerships and agencies serve as manifestations of innovation as they provide larger freedom and autonomy. What changes in autonomy, accountability and coordination of public sector organizations can be observed and which is the impact and implications of such new organizational forms?

  • Are the proposed changes in governmental organizations towards 'innovative public governance' mere rhetoric or can we actually talk of evidence of a paradigmatic shift?

  • What challenges of fragmentation, coordination and 'joined-up' government can be observed in the aftermath of increasing autonomy and collaboration with private sector? What new forms of regulation, control and auditing emerge?

  • Which are the risks of entering this relational management in certain institutional domains?

  • What is the role of creative groups and entrepreneurs in establishing new forms of governance or innovative solutions in the public sector? How do they transpose and blend different sectoral or professional logics?

  • What are the shared tacit assumptions, i.e. norms, values, beliefs, which underlie administrative behavior and how are they related to innovation, flexibility and creativity? Do these assumptions differ within the public sector and where (e.g. different types of government organizations), and under which conditions can we observe a climate of innovation and creativity?

  • How do leadership and new (information) technologies influence innovativeness and creativity of the public sector?

  • What policies can promote and support the development and success of new ventures? Are there models of actuations to help policymakers to develop new projects?

  • What is the relationship between public sector and creative industries in the context of public policies focusing on this area? Can we observe tensions between different sectoral logics and how can they be overcome?

Gerhard Hammerschmid 
Per Lægreid 
Tamyko Ysa