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Introduction: Sparked by privatization and business-model prescriptions for government, a debate has emerged as to the primary responsibilities of public managers. There are those who see public administration as akin to a business—providing a choice of services to citizens, at the lowest possible cost. Others believe that public management’s responsibilities extend beyond this, to the preservation of public values such as equity, accountability and citizen voice. From this debate stem questions about the nature of citizenship, and the proper relationship between a democratic government and its citizens.

The New Public Management

The New Public Management is a concept articulated by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler in their 1992 book, Reinventing Government. It applies the business customer service model to government. Citizens are seen as customers and the administrative role is streamlined by converting policy alternatives into market choices. This approach focuses on results and promotes competition inside and outside government. We highlight the debate and recent empirical research.

Warner, Mildred E. 2008. "Reversing privatization, rebalancing government reform: Markets, deliberation and planning." Policy and Society 27: 163–174.  

  • Following the emergence of the New Public Management model in the late 20th Century, Warner argues that governments are now seeking a more balanced approach to public service provision by incorporating civic engagement as well as private market dynamics.

Osborne, David, and Ted Gaebler. 1992. Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.  

  • The authors describe how ten new operating principles, many adapted from the private sector, can revamp the way government functions, providing numerous examples.

Osborne, David, and Peter Plastrik. 1997. Banishing Bureaucracy: The Five Strategies for Reinventing Government. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.  

  • This followup to Reinventing Government details the practical application of principles designed to make government more effective, entrepreneurial, responsive, creative, and accountable.

Tendler, Judith (1997).  Good Governance in the Tropics. Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.  

  • Tendler’s research is unique in that it centers on the good government practices and the role of central government in ensuring effective decentralization. Cases are drawn from Cearà, Brazil.

Feldman, Barry, M. 1999.  "Reinventing Local Government:  Beyond Rhetoric to Action."  The Municipal Yearbook.  Washington, DC, ICMA.  

  • Town manager Barry Feldman initiated a study to find out how much the rhetoric of Reinventing Government has gone from academic debate to actual implementation.

Ballard, Michael J. and M.E. Warner 2000. "Taking the High Road: Local Government Restructuring and the Quest for Quality."  Pp 6/1 - 6/53 in Power Tools for Fighting Privatization, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: Washington DC.  Available here.   

  • Using detailed case studies, this report outlines two alternative strategies for improving local government service delivery—the "high road” which uses new management innovations to increase internal productivity, and the “low road” which focuses on downsizing and contracting out.

Schick, Alan (1998). "Why Most Developing Countries Should Not Try New Zealand’s Reforms.World Bank Research Observer 13(1):123-131.  

  • Schick outlines why developing countries need to first establish a formal public sector, a strong rule-based government, and an internal market as a foundation in order to successfully apply New Zealand’s public management model.

Sager, Tore. (2009). "Planners' Role: Torn between Dialogical Ideals and Neo-liberal Realities, " European Planning Studies, 17(1): 65-84.

  • Tore Sager argues that in neo-liberal societies planners are caught between divergent values of Communicative Planning Theory (CPT) and New Public Management (NPM). While the principles of CPT have informed the values and attitudes of many planners, NPM has transformed the public sector economically and politically.

Labor Management Cooperation: An alternative to external restructuring is process improvement within government itself.  For more information on labor-management cooperation generally, click here


McDonald, D.A. (2014) “Ambiguity and Multiple Meanings of Corporatization,” pp 1- 30 in Corporatization and Public Services in the Global South, ed by D. McDonald, New York, NY: Zed Books. 

The New Public Service

The New Public Service is a reaction to the New Public Management. It focuses on the mission of government, and how to determine the collective pubic interest. The authors believe that there are considerations that should come before cost and efficiency, and that citizen participation should be a major factor in decisions. They see the role of the administrator as very complex: synthesizing the needs of citizens, interest groups, elected representatives, etc.

Denhardt, Janet and Robert Denhardt. The New Public Service: Serving, Not Steering. M.E. Sharpe, Armonk 2003.  

  • In Janet and Robert Denhardt’s 2003 book The New Public Service, the authors offer a synthesis of the ideas that are opposed to the New Public Management presented by Osborne and Gaebler. Their model for governance builds upon and expands the traditional role of the public administrator, which they call the Old Public Administration, and contrasts with the New Public Management.

Denhardt, Robert B. and Janet Vinzant Denhardt (2000).  "The New Public Service: Serving Rather than Steering."  Public Administration Review 60(6):549-559.  

  • The authors examine the theoretical basis of the reinvention movement, such as 1) its use of the market model, 2) its emphasis on customers, and 3) its glorification of entrepreneurial management, in the light of “democratic governance,” which especially emphasizes “citizenship.”

Blanchard, Lloyd A., Charles C. Hinman, and Wilson Wong, 1997. "Market-Based Reforms in Government: Toward a Social Subcontract?Administration and Society 30(56) 483-512.  

  • The authors employ the concept of the Social Contract to examine changes in government/market relations within the US context, historically. The article starts by defining the fundamental reciprocal relationship between governments and citizens and examines how this relationship is being changed due to government restructuring.

Moore, M. H. (1995). Creating Public Value: Strategic Management in Government. Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press.  

  • Moore sees the role of the public administrator as grounded in a clear sense of ethics and public mission—what he calls “Public Value.” Moore believes that citizens receive adequate opportunity to have their voices heard from the electoral process. Therefore, it is up to the administrators, using their professional ethics and sense of mission, to make substantive judgments as to what is valuable and effective.

Social Capital and Citizen Empowerment 

Social Capital theories recognize the importance of norms and networks in determining social, political and economic relations. There can be a positive synergy between citizen participation and governmental effectiveness. This is why planners place so much attention on citizen participation.

Robert Putnam has popularized the concept of social capital in America. While Putnam focuses primarily on inter-personal relationships, Skocpol emphasized the role of government in encouraging the development of social capital. Their debate is chronicled in the articles below.

Robert D. Putnam, "The Prosperous Community: Social Capital and Public Life" The American Prospect no. 13 (Spring, 1993) (Available here at The American Prospect Web site.)

Robert D. Putnam, "The Strange Disappearance of Civic America," The American Prospect no. 24 (Winter 1996). (Available here at The American Prospect Web site.)

Theda Skocpol, "Unravelling From Above," The American Prospect no. 25 (March-April 1996): 20-25 

Robert Putnam, "Robert Putnam Responds," The American Prospect no. 25 (March-April 1996): 26-28.

Warner, M.E. 1999. "Social Capital Construction and the Role of the Local State." Rural Sociology. 64(3):373-393.  

  • This paper looks at the role the state can play in building social capital. Three key factors: autonomy, linkage and returns on investment for both intermediaries and participating residents, are shown to affect social capital construction.

Feldman, Martha & Anne Khademian (2001). "Principles for Public Management Practice from Dichotomies to Interdependence."  Governance and International Journal of Policy and Administration 14(3):339-361.  

  • The authors emphasize the role of society, the primacy of process that invites public participation and monitoring, and the need for administrators to be open to change.

Frug, Gerald E. "Alternative Conceptions of City Services," in City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.  

  • Frug presents his concerns over the Tiebout model of public choice and other scholars’ attempts to amend it. He responds to these individualistic and consumer-oriented city models with one of his own, the fortuitous association model.

Crocker, Jarle, William Potapchuck and William Schechter 1998. Systems Reform and Local Government: Improving Outcomes for Children, Families and Neighborhoods.  Washington DC:  Center for Community Problem Solving.  

  • The authors of this booklet believe that reforming local governments can result in positive change in the lives of children and families. They offer ideas local governments can adopt to spur citizen involvement in communities and neighborhoods.

Abers, Rebecca, 1998. "From Clientelism to Cooperation: Local Government, Participatory Policy and Civic Organizing in Porto Alegre, Brazil,Politics and Society 26(4): 511-537.  

  • The authors describe the Grants for Blocks program, which began in 1993 in Savannah, GA, as an example of a local government initiative to increase citizen involvement in the community. The program gives small grants to citizens for neighborhood improvement projects of their own design.

Holston, James and Arjun Appadurai. 1999. "Introduction" in Cities and Citizenship, ed by James Holston, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.  

  • Holston and Appadurai discuss the changing meaning of "citizenship," the relationship of the citizen to the state, and how forms of citizenship is practiced.

Frug, Gerald E. 1999. City Making: Building Communities without Building Walls. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Frug reconceives the subjectivity of cities according to postmodern thought and seeks to empower them for the purpose of greater democracy and heterogeneity in communities. Increased participation in decision-making and exposure to strange people and ideas will build strong, vibrant communities.