Public Management Reforms now and in the future: does technology matter?
For more than two decades in Western European countries, and even more frequently in all transition countries, we have been witnessing waves of public management reforms. Sometimes they turn out to be ‘tsunamis’ with very diverse outcomes. During the same period and simultaneously an intensive process of implementation of new technologies, in particular ICT, was taking place at all levels within the Public Sector, which culminated in the development of e-government a decade ago. Although e-government is bringing about profound changes in processes, services, communications and structures, it is very seldom regarded as a public management reform. In classical texts on PMRs, technology in general is considered neither as an instrument of reform nor an influencing factor, let alone the key driving and enabling force behind them. Hence public sector is confronted with two different kinds of change processes; both aim to promote better government and governance and run on very different principles and drivers. The notion of public management reform is by and large reserved for the politically driven top-down directed large-scale projects of changes in PA systems. While computerization has only recently culminated in e-government, until the end of last century it was predominantly a bottom-up driven process that brought technological change to the public sector. However only in this decade have these technological changes attracted the attention of politicians and become a strategic issue.
Both processes are conceptualized, designed, driven and researched by very different groups of professionals and/or academics.
The field of public administration/management - its development and, in particular, its reforms - is predominantly driven by principles stemming from ‘classical’ administrative or NPM doctrines. The framework serves political/social sciences or administrative law. In the debate, there is rarely mention of ICT let alone technologies in general. Even some of the most prominent contemporary academics in the field such as Christopher Pollitt and Geert Bouckaert in their book Public Management Reform do not find much space for the role of technology. But if according to Pollitt and Bouckaert “public management reform consists of deliberate changes to the structures and processes of public sector organizations”, e-government should be considered as one of the most profound PMR, bringing about radical change to processes (already visible) and to structures (not yet as much as needed).
By contrast, the field of e-government is dominated by a different set of professionals/academics coming from computer science, informatics, organizational sciences and business administration; it is based on different principles. In their papers, journals and books public administration/management principles and theory are difficult to find. The focus is not on theory but the technological revolution going on in the public sector.
Although these two professional groups share the same ‘subject of discourse’ their approaches, principles, language, even aims and objectives are quite often very different. This can be proved by taking a closer look at programmes of professional and scientific conferences or leading journals.
During EGPA and NISPAcee conferences most attempts to narrow the gap and bring these two arenas closer together, to organize special working groups focusing on ICT in PA and e-government, have only been partially successful.
The main aim of TED 3 is to try to narrow the gap between ‘classical’ administrative science and the newer field of technology-based and driven change/reform in the public sector (which has already generated profound change) and to construct bridges between both shores of the same river, notably via open discussions among leading academics and professionals in both fields. Discussions should be based on questions which are important for furthering development in both fields, such as:
- What is the role of technologies in general (ICT, surveillance technologies, including CCTV, scanners, DNA testing and phone logging etc.) in advancing the development of the public sector?
- What are the organizational frameworks for new technology-related departments, functions and services in the public sector (e.g. IT departments, CIOs, security services etc)?
- What is the role of ICT in the modern PMR?
- What will be the leading organizational paradigms in the future in PM and how will ICT and other technologies influence PM?
- What will be the impact of ICT and technologies in general on the classical principles of PA/PM, including such issues as centralization/decentralization, transparency, openness etc,
- What organizational patterns will become evident: hierarchical/network/virtual?
- Will there be competition: bureaucracy versus infocracy, etc?
During TED3 there will be a discussion on the possible impact of non-ICT technology on Public Management and its reform, especially of new emerging bio- and nanotechnologies. How might – although this is highly speculative – future technologies impact PA/PM? What are the optimal PA/PM structures for supporting the development of future technologies? Our focus on these future technologies will also help us see ICT in context, because there will eventually be a ‘post-ICT’ era. It will also enable us to discuss more clearly the relationship of technology and governance (the PA/PM aspect of it), and particularly the mutual interdependence and indeed dependence of ICT-PA; thus taking us back to key elements involved in the ICT-PA-debate. This is all the more important as academic PA has been rather ‘technology neglectful’ over the past decade or two, and therefore we have missed out on most of the debate about the role of technology which is going on in economics and sociology. At TED3 we will try to link up with that discourse once again, as it has major implications for PA and Public Management reform as well.