Sub-theme 51: In the Shadows of Public Sector Reforms

Alessandro Hinna
University of Rome "Tor Vergata", Italy
Jean-Louis Denis
Ecole Nationale d'Administration Publique, Montréal, Canada
Sandro Mameli
National School of Administration, Rome, Italy

Call for Papers

In the last three decades we assisted to a considerable development of a scientific body of knowledge built around the analysis of innovation in public organizations. Such analysis follows the waves of reforms that allegedly reshaped the panorama of public administrations around the world. Even though we can say that the literature produced did not lack in critical perspectives, those were mainly focused on discussing the validity of new public management as a paradigm and subsequently, according to the authors preferences, either the championing of new paradigms or the recognition of regional versions of this "universal concept" (public governance, new public governance, public value, new Weberian state). Another focus of research has been the gap analysis between the rhetoric of reforms and their actual implementation. Such research focuses mainly on macro-level analysis of compliance to the new legal or regulatory frameworks such as new management policies or performance management systems.

There has been, on the contrary, very little reflection on the organizational impact, in terms of power relations inside and outside public organization, organizational design and HR policies of broad reformative templates. The analysis of the roles of "street level" bureaucrats and front line workers in public administration reforms have, however, highlighted both the need for such a reflection and the need to broaden its scope, departing from a dichotomy between micro/macro perspective (i.e. individual coping vs. change management strategies) to embrace a more practice-oriented and contextual perspective on transformative capacities within public sectors.

The broadening of the scope should enable to explore and discuss the impact of such reform frameworks and the way organizations cope with the contradictory demands of reforms (i.e. managerial autonomy/disciplinary-control systems; customer orientation/standardization; competence development/behavioral alignment).

The main issues addressed by this sub-theme are framed in way to address possible gaps in research concerning (1) the repercussion of private-like management systems in public administrations, departing from a successful/unsuccessful approach to focus on how these are enacted by public organizations; (2) the comparative analysis of cross-sectoral and cross-national experiences of public management reform, focusing on the deconstruction/reconstruction of cultural/professional paradigms and identities within administrations rather than limiting to the identification of macro (social, cultural) or micro (individual behaviors) determinants; (3) the role of various strategies to develop capacities that are broader than the more traditional focus on training.

For example, we expect that some works will go beyond the dominant view of training and capacity development as an organizational/HR function, especially in the context of reform implementations:
First, we would like to address the issue relates to the shortcomings of performance management systems in the public sector, in particular the difficulty to connect input, output and outcome in organizational contexts that are characterized by a strong interdependency among different institutions and a considerable uncertainty on the variables affecting outcome (i.e. the impossibility for the public administration to control all the variables at stake despite expectations regarding accountability and performance). This can lead, from an organizational perspective, to paradoxical situations where the push for managerial autonomy is counterbalanced by an ever-growing body of restrictions and disciplinary/control systems measures that form a new kind of bureaucratic culture (i.e. the new Weberian state; cf. Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2011). The consequences of this trend on managerial competences needs further theoretical and empirical development capitalizing on various streams of research including more careful analysis of the role of public managers in implementing change, and in public sectors at large (Dopson & Neumann, 1998; Emery & Giauque, 2003; Tummers et al., 2009; Chauvière, 2010; De Gaulejac 2009; 2010; Tummers, 2011).

Second, the generalizing assumptions behind the rhetoric of public management tend to brush aside the differences among types of administrations (regulatory, productive, services) and countries as regards the organizational impact of reforms. We argue that there is a need to deepen our understanding of possible differences and convergence in cross-sectoral (e.g., health, education, judicial) researches in regards of the various organizational accommodations developed to cope with these contradictory demands (Ackroyd et al., 2007). The need for more comparative analysis emerges also from a country perspective, as the reform trajectories have produced a high variety of organizational responses in terms of performance evaluation, competency identification and development and institutional arrangements (Van Wart et al.,  2014).

Third, public sector reforms face the challenge of operating in a relatively short time period organizational development at large-scale to support implementation and more suitainable changes (Barzelay, 2001), calling upon an organizational transformation influencing both the political (Mintzberg, 1979) and cultural aspects (Driscoll & Morris, 2001) of public organizations. Within this perspective, although the relationship between human resources and implications for organizational development is a common topic in change management research, we seldom encounter a more reflexive approach on civil servant training, on its nature and on the way it actually contributes to change. On this topic, even the management debate called for further research and publications (Rothwell et al., 2013; Kettl, 2010). In public sector, education and training at large is certainly a topic of interest, but it is treated often as being instrumental to the broader policy agenda. This issue will be discussed with a preoccupation to engage a dialog with institutions responsible for the development of capacities in public sectors (schooly of public administration, higher education, vocational fraining) and to inform the management of policies and strategies in this domain (PISA indicators, quality of research, etc.).

Within this overarching frame and set of issues, our sub-theme aims at examining theoretical, empirical and practice-based research questions such as:

  • The varieties of organizational accommodation following public sector reforms and the "side-effects" of the managerialist cure in public organizations
  • The consequence of recruitment and HR policies on organizational capability to cope, implement and co-develop reforms
  • Challenging the assumptions behind approaches to managerial competence development in public organizations
  • Professional involvement in the development of managerial innovations and strategies for reforms
  • Innovative training approaches to develop capacities in support of public sector reforms
  • Institutional power-relations and the role of higher education in preparing for public Administration




  • Barzelay, M. (2001): The New Public Management: Improving Research and Policy Dialogue. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Chauvière, M. (2010): "De l'impératif d'intégration au travail social libéral, les dégâts du New Public Management." MANA, Revue de sociologie et d'anthropologie MANA, 17–18, 181–197.
  • De Gaulejac, V. (2009): La Société malade de la gestion. Éditions du Seuil, Paris.
  • De Gaulejac, V. (2010): "Le Management entre contradictions et paradoxes." MANA, Revue de sociologie et d'anthropologie, 17–18.
  • Driscoll, A., & Morris, J. (2001): "Stepping out: rhetorical devices and culture change management in the UK civil service." Public Administration, 79 (4), 804–824.
  • Dopson, S., & Neumann, J.E. (1998): "Uncertainty, contrariness and the double bind: Middle managers' reactions to changing contracts." British Journal of Management, 9, 53–70.
  • Emery, Y., & Giauque, D. (2003): "Emergence of Contradictory Injunctions in Swiss NPM Projects." International Journal of Public Sector Management, 16 (6), 468–481.
  • Kettl, D.F. (2000): "The transformation of governance: Globalization, devolution, and the role of government." Public Administration Review, 60 (6), 488–497.
  • Mintzberg, H. (1979): The Structuring of Organizations: A Synthesis of the Research. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
  • Pollitt, C., & Bouckaert, G. (2011): Public Management Reform: A comparative Analysis – New Public Management, Governance and the Neo-Weberian State. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rothwell, W.J, Arneson, J., & Naughton, J. (eds.) (2013): ASTD Competency Study: The Training & Development Profession Redefined. Alexandria, VA: ATD Press.
  • Tummers, L.G., Bekkers, V.J.J.M., & Steijn, A.J. (2009): "Policy alienation of public professionals: Application in a new public management context." Public Management Review, 11 (5), 685–706.
  • Tummers, L.G. (2011): "Explaining the willingness of public professionals to implement new policies: A policy alienation framework." International Review of Administrative Sciences, 77 (3), 555–581.
  • Wagner, J.A. (1978): "The organizational double bind: Toward an understanding of rationality and its complement." Academy of Management Review, 3 (4), 786–795.
  • Vigoda-Gadot, E., & Meiri, S. (2008): "New public management values and person-organization fit: A socio-psychological approach and empirical examination among public sector personnel." Public Administration, 86 (1), 11–131.


Alessandro Hinna is Associate Professor of Organization Studies at "Tor Vergata", University of Rome, Italy, where he currently teaches Organization Theory, People Management and Public Management and is acting as Scientific Director of the International Master in Economics of culture: policy, government and management. Nowadays, is Professor of Public Management at the Italian School of Public Administration. He is Editorial Board Member of the 'Journal of Management and Sustainability', the 'International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics' and the 'Open Journal of Leadership'. He is Editor of "Studies in Public and Non-Profit Governance" (Book Series) for Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Jean-Louis Denis is Full Professor at the École Nationale d'Administration Publique (ÉNAP) and holds the Canada Research Chair on governance and transformation of health care organizations and systems at ÉNAP. He is a Visiting Professor at Euromed Management (Marseille, France) and researcher at the Institut de recherche en santé publique de l'Université de Montréal. His current research looks at integration of care and services, health care reforms, medical leadership and leadership in professional organizations, strategies for health care improvement and the role of scientific evidence in the adoption and implementation of clinical and managerial innovations. He was the founding academic coordinator of the FORCES/EXTRA initiative from 2003 to 2007, a training program which aims at developing Canada's health managers' competencies in research use. Jean-Louis is involved in numerous initiatives with policy-makers, managers and clinicians to improve the delivery of care and services in Canada.
Sandro Mameli is currently Professor and the Head of Public Management and Head of the Public Management, Organization and Human Resources Department of the Italian National School of Administration (SNA). Previously Adviser in the cabinet of the Minister for Public Administration and Innovation (2008-2010), he was involved in the drafting of the 2009 Public Administration Reform in Italy. He participates in various international programs of Managerial and Civil Servants competence development (MENA region, China) and is currently coordinating the capacity building activities of the Albanian School of Public Administration under the EU-funded Twinning program with Albania aimed at preparing the Country's accession to the European Union. His research focuses on the role of public managers, the clinical approach in training and organizational studies and the shortcomings of public administration reform implementations.