Public Administration Global Journals : Origin and
theoretical basis of New Public Management
The NPM movement began in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Its first
practitioners emerged in the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Margaret
Thatcher and in the municipal governments in the U.S. (e.g., Sunnyvale,
California) that had suffered most heavily from economic recession and tax
revolts. Next, the governments of New Zealand and Australia joined the movement.
Their successes put NPM administrative reforms on the agendas of most OECD
countries and other nations as well (OECD, 1995).
The development of administrative thought in the United States
The conscious study of public administration in the U.S. began in a time when
its public administration was in a state of disrepute. In the late 19th century,
the administrative mechanisms in the U.S. were dominated by the spoils
system—administrative positions were distributed to those who contributed to the
victorious party’s electoral success. Administra- tive personnel, therefore,
changed frequently. Incompetence, inefficiency, and corruption were common
(Weber, 1956, p. 839ff; Van Riper, 1987; Stone and Stone, 1975; Schachter,
In reaction to this corruption, the Progressives created a movement to reform
politics and administration, pressing for a more interventionist state, the
separation of politics and administration, the merit principle (tenured,
neutral, and competent administrators), and sound financial management. The
Progressives achieved several notable successes: a career civil service
(Pendleton Act, 1883), line-item budgets, and less political partisanship and
corruption (Eisenach, 1994; Lee, 1995; Waldo, 1948).
Classical public administration
In the Progressive movement, the New York Bureau for Municipal Research was a
key player. Influenced by Frederick Taylor’s scientific management, the New York
Bureau believed that efficiency was the best solution to the problem of
corruption and incompetence. These progressive reformers imported techniques and
studies from scientific management (e.g., on efficient street paving and snow
removal). They were the first to use performance indicators to benchmark the
efficiency of public organizations, one purpose of which was to identify
corruption (Schachter, 1989). In the 1920s, some practitioners and academics
created the science of public administration on the fundamentals of the
progressive reform successes—particularly the presupposition of loyal
bureaucrats, honest politicians, and the politics-administration dichotomy.
These reformers—the new scientists of public adminis- tration— built a theory of
organization that they supplemented with the concept of manage- ment.
These principles were:
Y The principle of division of work and specialization.
Y The principle of homogeneity.
Y The principle of unity of command.
Y The principle of hierarchy with respect to the delegation of authority.
Y The principle of accountability.
Y The principle of span of control.
Y The staff principle (Gulick, 1937; Urwick, 1937; Mooney, 1937; Graicunas,
The reformers expected public managers, working within organizational
structures built on these principles, to perform the following functions:
Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting and
Budgeting— or, in Luther Gulick’s shorthand: POS- DCORB (Gulick, 1937, p. 13).
The reformers also advocated reorganization to streamline and consolidate
organizations and to standardize administrative procedures (Lee, 1995; Henry,
1975; Arnold, 1995).
During the New Deal of the 1930s, the scope of government activity and the
public administration of the U.S. was dramatically expanded— but still guided by
the principles of public administration. The New Deal followed (and realized)
the societal vision of the progressives. Government in the U.S. became more
involved: it regulated more activities; it followed social-democratic ideals; it
seemed to be built on scientific objectivity; and it promised material freedom
(Egger, 1975; Waldo, 1948; Van Riper, 1987).
I call this cluster of organization and management concepts and the closely
related ethos of orderly government an active state, and label the belief in
objective knowledge that serves to control the social and physical environment
classical public administration.
Neoclassical public administration
After World War II, academics began to reassess and question the principles
of classical public administration. One of the most rigorous critics was Herbert
Simon, whose work set the tone and direction for neoclassic public
administration. His dissertation, with the title Administrative Behavior: A
Study of Decision-Making in Administrative Organization, contained the buzzwords
of the era: behavior, decisions, and organization.
Simon said that the principles of administration are not scientific, but
inconsistent prov- erbs that were drawn from common sense (Simon, 1976). He
suggested founding public administration on rigorous and scientific observation
and on (inductively) derived laws of human behavior. He advocated separating
facts from value judgments and dividing science into pure and applied branches
(Simon, 1976; Simon, Smithburg, & Thompson, 1962). From this perspective,
objective scientific knowledge serves to control the social environment.
Simon’s ideas significantly influenced a host of scholars who undertook
studies of behavior and decisions in administrative organizations and created a
new, more precise vocabulary and research methodology. This neoclassical public
administration (and Simon himself) followed the common trends of behaviorism,
structural functionalism, and systems theory, and employed the theoretical
underpinnings of welfare economics and decision theory.
Nevertheless, during this time, governmental reformers continued to follow
the Progres- sives’ ideals and classical theory: organizations and jurisdictions
were streamlined and consolidated; executive power was strengthened and unified.
Still, the main practical event of this period was the invention of the
Program, Planning, and Budgeting System, or PPBS (Waldo, 1969). PPBS was based
on microeconomic decision techniques and a strong belief that central planning
of the national administration (and economy) could lead to successful
optimization. PPBS applied the logic of systems analysis and rational planning,
and employed the systems-theoretical vocabulary of inputs, throughputs, outputs,
outcomes, programs, and alternatives (Schick, 1966; Greenhouse, 1966; Gross,
1969; Schick, 1969). Unfortunately, the implementation of the PPBS suffered
serious shortcomings, the system never worked as intended, and in 1972, the U.S.
govern- ment formally terminated it (Schick, 1973). So, while neoclassical
public administration seemed to alter its standards and methodology, practice
continued to rely on the principles of the classics and on the administrative
strictures of the Progressives (Lynn, 1996; Kramer, 1987). Thus, advocates of
the neoclas- sical approach adapted themselves to the principles and structures
of classical public administration and carried them on, improving the analytical
basis for performance mea- surement, auditing, budgeting, and the
rationalization of jurisdictions and organizations. What they especially added
was a focus on analysis and a shift from a bureaucratic management style toward
a more rational and analytic one. But there were other indirect consequences of
the neoclassical approach. Social science research about organizations,
behavior, and leadership was finding that human beings are complex (Schein,
1965), that modes of leadership other than the classical, directive style are
possible, and that organizations can be structured not only in mechanistic but
also in organic ways (Burns and Stalker, 1971). These findings didn’t have
direct, practical, consequences, but they were generating interest in the
Another consequence of neoclassical reassessment was that public
administration lost its unity (Waldo, 1965). A lot of scholars did follow
Herbert Simon’s lead— but not all. Some felt unqualified to use the new
scientific standards and thus continued doing what they did before; so the
classical approach not only survived in the Progressive structures of practical
government but in public-administration theory, too. Other scholars refused to
accept the separation of facts and values, because they thought this would cut
off public administration from its foundations—from political philosophy and the
search for the public interest (Waldo, 1965; Subramaniam, 1963). Thus, at the
end of the 1960s, the field of public administration included a classical line
of thought, a neoclassical line of thought, and a group of politically oriented
scholars. Still, these divided groups did share one common creed: the
Progressive vision of an active state and belief in objective knowledge. But
other scholars were creating new approaches that seriously questioned this basic
belief of public-administration scholars.
Public choice and modern institutional economics
The first of these rival approaches was public-choice theory. The main event
of the institutionalization of the public-choice approach was the founding of
the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy and Social
Philosophy by James Buchanan and Warren Nutter at the University of Virginia.
Buchanan and Nutter wanted to build a platform for all scholars who were
interested in a society based on individual freedom (Buchanan, 1986).
Furthermore, Buchanan, Nutter, and their colleagues employed methodological indi-
vidualism as their basic theoretical approach. They sought to explain social
phenomena by aggregating the behavior of individuals. This approach is based on
the assumption that individuals pursue their own aims and act according to their
preferences. It assumes a different concept of rationality than Simon did. From
the public-choice perspective, rationality is not bounded compared with a
theoretical optimum; rather, rational behavior is when a person acts to pursue
his or her aims according to his or her knowledge of the situation. For example,
a Native-American who believes that raindancing produces rain and who begins to
dance in a severe drought is behaving rationally (Tullock, 1965). Public-choice
theorists deductively develop models to explain social phe nomena from a set of
assumptions about individuals’ aims and their information about their
Fig. 1. The logic of individualistic explanation (Coleman, 1990).
This approach also created a natural normative benchmark for assessing social
reality. Because individual preferences and the free choice of individuals are
central to the public- choice approach, its benchmark for political institutions
is whether a free individual would willingly agree to such structures and to
their outcomes (Buchanan and Tullock, 1962; Buchanan, 1975). One could call this
a contractarian vision of the state and its constitution.
Using this framework, public-choice scholars assessed the modern welfare
state that the Progressives and their public-administration companions built.
Their conclusions were highly critical. Their theoretical explanation of
representative democracy found that the use of the simple majority rule without
constitutional safeguards can lead (through logrolling) to the exploitation of
minorities by majorities, that such majorities have an incentive to waste
resources that the minority pays for, and that the notion of a public interest
or a common good postulated by classical democratic theory is highly
questionable (Downs, 1957; Buchanan and Tullock, 1962). Public-choice scholars
further showed that tendencies for inefficient use of resources and the
exploitation of certain groups are enhanced by traditional budgeting by
representative committees, and by the executives within bureaucratic organi-
zations (Niskanen, 1971). They also demonstrated that bureaucratic organizations
(defined as organizations that are partly or wholly not evaluated on markets)
have a number of serious deficiencies. From a public-choice perspective, these
deficiencies include a strong tendency toward the accumulation of tasks and
resources, toward excessive conservatism, and toward a law-like inability to
accomplish certain tasks (Downs, 1966; Tullock, 1965).
According to their explanation of state failure and based on their individual
ethical premises, public-choice scholars made a number of reform proposals.
Their main issues were the invention of constitutional safeguards against
exploitation (political exploitation can be assumed if the sum of taxes an
individual pays is greater than the value of public goods he or she receives)
and the invention of a polycentric administrative system (in contrast to the
monocentric system of the Progressives). In such a polycentric administrative
system, the provision and the production of services are separated. Private
vendors and public vendors compete1 for production contracts.
The size of production units and public consumption units (jurisdictions) are
not neces- sarily identical (allowing economies of scale and efficient
intergovernmental contracting, and contracting between public consumption units
and production units, which belong to other public consumption units). Such a
system would function best if it was highly decentralized and federal. Thus, a
polycentric system would use transparent financing systems such as user charges,
vouchers for public goods, and opportunities for citizens (as consumers) to make
choices (Ostrom, 1973, 1977; Savas, 1982).
In a polycentric system a lot of individuals would make decisions according to
their personal preferences and knowledge; there would not be a single (and
usually distant) decision center, but many of them (Hayek, 1960, 1969). Every
component of public-choice theory—the methodology, the ethical benchmarks, and
the recommendations— directly con- flicts with classical and neoclassical public
administration. Vincent and Elinor Ostrom presented this as a new approach to
public administration and found some supporters (Ostrom and Ostrom, 1971).
Other approaches of modern institutional economics include neo-Austrian
economics, property-rights theory, principal-agent theory, and transaction-costs
economics. Neo-Aus- trian economists deal mainly with the dilemmas of planned
and unplanned social order and share much of the public-choice perspective
(Hayek, 1960, 1969). Neo-Austrian economists have a very strong preference for
individual freedom, and stress the necessity of laws (including tax laws) that
do not discriminate in any way. They oppose the welfare state, which they view
as a form of tyranny (Mises, 1944). Property-rights theory deals with the
efficient allocation of property rights over resources (Demsetz, 1967).
Principal-agent theory focuses on the problems that superiors have in monitoring
the behavior of their subordinates and in creating incentives for subordinate
behavior (Pratt and Zeckhauser, 1985). Transac- tion-cost economics mainly deal
with the question of when markets or hierarchies are used as efficient
arrangements for the organization of production (Williamson, 1975).
All of these approaches present a major challenge to both classic and neoclassic
New Public Administration and its successors
Classical and neoclassical public administration were challenged not only by
public- choice theory. Even in the heyday of neoclassical public administration,
some voices dissented from the dominant stream of behavioral and positivist
research. In matters of management, the human-relations school, based on the
concept of Maslow’s self-actualizing man, sought to put humans at the center of
management (McGregor, 1960): people should get opportunities to develop
themselves and to live a healthy life within organizations. Within public
administration, a number of scientists charged that the separation of facts and
values cut off public administration from its vital roots in political
philosophy (Appleby, 1947; Harmon and Mayer, 1986, p. 22). Despite the attacks
by Arrow (1951) and Schubert (1957), these scholars continued their search for
the public interest.
In the late 1960s when the U.S. was in a time of turbulence and revolutions
(Waldo, 1968), Dwight Waldo organized a conference about the future of public
administration to which he invited only younger members of the discipline. These
young men brought the revolutionary spirit of their times to the conference and
initiated a movement called New Public Admin- istration (NPA), incorporating
ideas from the human-relations movement and the political faction of public
administration (Marini, 1971).
Basically, NPA was a critique of classical and neoclassical public
administration. The conference participants raged against a society that was, in
their eyes, full of discrimination, injustice, and inequality, and they argued
that public administration supported— both prac- tically and theoretically—this
unbearable status quo. All the theorizing about the politics- administration
dichotomy, the separation of fact and value, and accountability in represen-
tative democracy was (in their opinion) serving the status quo of repression and
alienation (Harmon, 1971; White, 1971). Therefore, the conference participants
urged a reorientation of the discipline: public administration should move away
from the pursuit of efficient admin- istration toward more democratic structures
within and without public organizations (par- ticipation was the buzzword of the
movement) and it should try especially to further social equality. La Porte
(1971, p. 31) wrote: “I would argue that our primary normative premise should be
that the purpose of public organization is the reduction of economic, social,
and psychic suffering, and the enhancement of life opportunities for those
inside and outside the organization.” This discussion moved the center of
theoretical gravity towards a normative approach.
The problem with new public administration was that it did not offer much
more than this normative reorientation. When in the 1970s the U.S. discovered
that it was not nearly as affluent as it had assumed in the previous decade, NPA
proposals for administrative and democratic experiments became unrealistic. In
the midst of recession and unemployment, productivity seemed to be more
important (Campbell, 1972, p. 345ff.). Still, the field did not forget the
arguments that normative questions matter for public administration, and that
there is another possible vision of a participative and socially equitable
Moreover, this vision was reinvented through the back door. In the early
1980s, when bureaucrat bashing was a common sport among politicians and
journalists, John Rohr (1978, 1986) developed a justification for public
organization that was based on a highly creative interpretation of the American
constitution. Rohr’s constitutionalism became a flag to rally the defenders of
public administration, including veterans of the NPA movement, e.g., Philip
Kronenberg and Orion White. Rohr and his colleagues at the Virginia Polytechnic
Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, continued their defensive work and developed
the Blacksburg perspective, which incorporated ideas from NPA (Wamsley et al.,
1990). Another develop- ment of the 1980s that carried on the normative thrust
of NPA was communitarianism. Critiquing modern society with its individualistic
and rootless members, communitarians urged more participative political and
administrative structures (Cooper, 1991; Barber, 1994). The basic (revived) idea
was that human beings are political beings and that people can only be fully
human if they have the possibility to participate in political life. The
structures of public administration would have to be accommodated to such a
social change, the administrators would become citizens among peers, and they
would assume the role of facilitators for participative action. The third
successor to the NPA movement was the discourse theory of public administration.
Fox and Miller (1995) proposed that public administration should assume a
moderator’s role in public policy networks, or energy fields where interested
individuals and organizations find solutions for public problems in a situation
that comes as near as possible to ideal speech.
All three approaches—the Blacksburg perspective, communitarianism, and
discourse theory—share with NPA a normative basis and practical proposals for
reform. Indeed, within public administration, they seem to make up an
alternative postmodern movement. They all prefer proactive and politically
acting bureaucrats, pursue values beyond efficiency, and heavily criticize
representative democracy and progressive administrative structures. All three
offer reforms that (both within public organizations and in the private sector)
empha- size participation, community, self-actualization, and the development of
human potential. Interestingly, their commonality goes as far back as to their
very scientific roots. They are all heavily influenced by phenomenology, which
argues that reality is socially constructed; therefore, for scientists to
understand their subjects and their actions they need to share the frameworks
through which their subjects see the world. The other main influence is critical
theory; based on a critique of the reign of instrumental reason in society, it
tries to unmask false social appearances behind which domination is covered. An
important further devel- opment of critical theory is the discourse theory of
Habermas (1979), who tried to show which ideal communicative situation is
necessary for overcoming domination. Important elements of discursive thoughts
can be found in every one of the three successors to NPA—for example,
communitarian writers frequently refer to it when they develop their
participative ideal of democracy. Thus, in the early 1970s, public
administration was splintered and under fire. The discipline was divided into
its classical and neoclassical branches. It was challenged by modern
institutional economics (and, in fact, some public-administration scholars
adopted this approach), and criticized by the NPA. Moreover, some scholars
brought to the field two very different scientific perspectives: critical theory
Then, still another competitor emerged. In the early 1970s, political
scientists who sought to identify and rectify the causes for the failure of many
social policies of the 1960s founded the discipline of policy studies or policy
analysis (Parsons, 1995). From its beginning, policy analysis could mean two
things: the analysis of policies that described and partially explained
practical political developments, the main actors, and the outcomes (Anderson,
1975); and analysis for policy that tried to find optimal solutions for
political problems (Nagel, 1980). Both branches were strongly related to Simon’s
neoclassical research program. The analysis of policy tended to focus on the
behavioral aspects, while the analysis for policy employed various decision
techniques. It is no accident that scientists like Merriam and Lasswell, who
were closely related to Simon, were leading figures in the policy-studies field.
Policy analysis was compatible with the scientific roots of neoclassical
public administration—separating fact and value, and employing logical
Indeed, many policy makers began to exploit the information and practical
insights provided by policy analysis. In practice, the approach of analysis for
policy became ex- tremely prominent. Intensive analysis was frequently used to
provide information for policy makers. The idea was that policy makers who
employed policy analysis could make more rational choices. But policy makers who
seek to make rational political decisions need more than information about
optimal policies; they also need evaluations of existing policies and analysis
of implementation strategies. By enlarging their field to include such political
concerns, these researchers closed the conceptional circle of information
gathering, analysis, decision, implementation, and evaluation, creating a
conception of rational policy making (Parsons, 1995).
Because the approaches of public administration and policy analysis were
highly com- patible, the two were not in theoretical conflict. Nevertheless,
conflict did emerge. Policy analysis and public administration were competing
for the same audience, the same students, the same research funds, and the same
consulting projects. In this contest, adherents of policy analysis argued that
public administration, with its institutional focus, was outdated and that
policy analysis, with its focus on policies, was more modern and relevant (Lynn,
1996). Faced with this criticism, public-administration scholars were bitter,
although they often did include policy-analysis themes in their
Moreover, policy analysis had its own problems. Its early conceptual core was
soon questioned. The popularity of the discipline and its success in acquiring
students and research funds drew researchers with other approaches. Soon, it was
not just scholars employing the optimizing framework of systems analysis who
were doing policy research. Scholars who preferred methodological individualism
joined the business (Parsons, 1995). Later, critical scientists and
phenomenologists—with the even more different approaches of naturalistic inquiry
(Henry, 1990), and with a consulting approach that was called interpretative
forum (Kelly and Maynard-Moody, 1993)— began to do policy research. So despite
its success, policy studies suffered the same fragmentation as public
Another institutional creation of the 1970s is the field of public
management. When schools of policy analysis began to train students for
executive positions in the public sector, they soon realized that more is needed
than the skill to create optimal policies. After all, the opportunities to do so
are rare. Executives also need skills in management; therefore, schools of
policy analysis created new courses (Bozeman, 1991a; Moore, 1995). Because
public administration was a competitor, they called their approach public
management. [In the market for students, schools for business administration and
schools of generic management, which began to offer public-management courses,
were also competitors.]
The content of such public-managements courses—and of the discipline— drew on
the findings of generic management research from the heydays of the neoclassics.
Although this neoclassical research had little impact on the Progressives’
practical and theoretical approach to public administration, it was highly
influential in the private sector—and then transplanted back to the public
sector via public management. [All this raised the heavily debated question:
what is the public in public management and what are the consequences for
management (Murray, 1975)?] These private-sector transplants can be grouped into
two classes. Some tend more toward rational or mechanistic management styles and
instruments, while others tend more toward styles and instruments that are
humanistic or organic.
From the rational side came zero-base budgeting (Lerner and Wanat, 1992),
management by objectives (Drucker, 1954; Sherwood and Page, 1976), techniques of
performance measurement and accounting (Henry, 1990), public-sector marketing (Kotler,
1975), and rational, strategic management (Wechsler and Backoff, 1986). These
rational approaches possess a heavy bias towards the gathering and analysis of
information in the search for optimal answers to management problems. The
rational approach also emphasized the objective measurement of performance and
the rewarding of organizational leaders based on documented results.
During the 1970s, such rational thinking dominated public management almost ex-
clusively. But in the early 1980s, the book In Search of Excellence by Peters
and Waterman (1982) changed the scene. Peters and Waterman showed that the best
and most successful American companies did not employ a rational management
style; instead, they used organic structures, humanistic strategies, and a thick
culture to lead their employees. In Search of Excellence provoked an intense
public discussion and helped turn business towards a more humanistic style—and
soon this movement began to spread in public management. More and more scholars
asked whether it might be possible to make public organizations excellent by
adapting Peters and Waterman’s ideas. Important examples for organic and
humanistic styles and approaches are orga- nizational development (Golembiewski,
1969), total quality management (Milakovich, 1991; Swiss, 1992), or culturally
oriented strategic management, which uses mission statements for leadership
purposes (Moore, 1995).
Unfortunately for the field there was not yet found a conceptual unity to
bind all these approaches together. “If recent assessments of public management
research and theory are valid, then the field is not yet ready to take its place
alongside more mature and theoretically rich social science disciplines,” wrote
Bozeman, a leading figure of the field. “One should not expect theoretical
mastery in a field that is relatively immature. There is no paradigm for public
management research and theorizing; rather, ours is a preparadigmatic field
conform- ing closely to Ravetz’s model of an ‘immature and ineffective field of
inquiry’ ” (Bozeman,
1991b, pp. 29, 33).
It is easy to see that public management and public administration have close
ties. Their researchers address similar problems, ask similar questions, and
employ similar techniques. Still, the relationship between the two is strained,
for they certainly do compete. Moreover, public-management scholars think of
themselves as founders of a new science that is independent of public
A descriptive model of the behavioral-administrative sciences
In the United States, the behavioral-administrative sciences are a melee of
approaches and disciplines. Some disciplines (i.e., public choice) are
relatively unified. Others (i.e., public management) are heavily fragmented.
Some disciplines (i.e., public choice and new public administration) have some
significant conflicts in their basic approaches. Others (public administration
and public management) use compatible approaches but are in competition for
students, audiences, and research funds.
If, however, I ignore the disciplinary labels and look for the scientific
bases underlying behavioral and administrative research, I can bring order to
the scene. Indeed, using a variety of fundamental distinctions, I can trisect
the field along various dimensions.
If I group researchers according to their basic values, I find that they fall
into three categories. Some prefer order, a notion of material freedom (the
ability to participate in the welfare of a nation), and efficiency that is
pursued through planning. Other scholars lean heavily towards individual freedom
(freedom from interference), innovation, and efficiency that is pursued through
creative adaptation. Still other scholars prefer values like community,
political freedom (freedom to participate in political processes), and the
development of human potential.
Similarly, if I group researchers according to their scientific approaches, I
again find that they fall into three categories. I find that most employ some
variations of the scientist as omniscient observer. Adopting this approach, the
scientist assumes an objective and dis- tanced position (where he has superior
knowledge about his subject) and gathers more knowledge which he uses for social
control. This approach meshes well with the ideas of optimization. Some
scientists, however, rely on methodological individualism. (Like Hayek, I
distinguish between true and false individualism, which leads to a more modest
approach towards science.) These researchers realize that they do not know
substantially more about the myriad facts of everyday life and especially about
specialties of time and place. They especially know that, given their limited
knowledge, they cannot steer or control anything perfectly and that their
scientific laws are just forecasts of patterns. In contrast to the
constructivist or immodest rationalism of the omniscient observer, these
scientists employ a more critical rationalism. A third common approach is
critical and interpretive and is closely related to the dialectic method.
Scholars who use this approach begin with the notion that the truth is not
really out there to be uncovered by some persistent researcher (with access to
the X-Files). Rather, these scholars accept that reality is socially constructed
and can therefore only be understood by learning about the frameworks of the
humans who are their research subjects. Moreover, these researchers seek further
insights by demasking dominative rela- tionships in social situations that they
think they already understand.
If I group scientists according to their method, I find another three
categories. One group uses empirical studies to inductively generate scientific
laws; usually, however, if they have gathered enough data to be sure of their
findings, they speak of verification. Another group deductively develops daring
hypotheses based on certain premises and tests these hypotheses empirically; if
they find their daring ideas empirically wrong, they usually speak about a
falsification. The third method of learning the framework of human beings and
their world is phenomenological.
If I group scientists according to the gravamen of their statements—the
nature of their main utterances—I find another trinity. All scientists describe
more or less, and all try to explain, to prescribe, and to talk about values.
One group, however, has a heavy bias towards prescriptive statements, another
has a strong explanative bias, and a third has a strong normative bias.
These biases are reflected in Herbert Simon’s (1947) distinction between pure
science (explanative) and applied science (prescriptive), and Robert Behn’s
(1996) distinction between science (explanative) and engineering (prescriptive).
The normative bias could be characterized as political or philosophical. Pure
science, however, is never really pure. Scientists with the explanative bias are
seldom satisfied with just giving an explanation; inevitably, they end with a
short prescriptive conclusion or a critical normative comment.
If I group scientists according to the nature of their technological
recommendations, I find that they normally lean towards three different
mechanisms of social coordination. One group has a bias towards hierarchy, a
second towards markets, and a third towards commu- nities or clans (Ouchi,
If I group scientists according to their assessment of social problems, I
find three more categories. One group tends to see change, adaptation, and
social complexity as the biggest problems. The second group assesses social
petrifaction, the coercion of the welfare system, and the protection of
individual freedom as the main problems. The third group sees alienation,
individualization, and sustainable development to be the main questions that
scientists and society have to answer.
If I organize these various groupings and their different centers of gravity,
I get three different scientific worldviews, each of which is internally
consistent but is, on most issues, incommensurable with the others. For example,
I can identify a group of scientists who prefer values of community and
political freedom, employ critical and interpretive scientific approaches, use a
phenomenological method, have a strong tendency towards normative utterances,
recommend community oriented solutions for social problems, and identify
alienation and individualization as two of society’s main problems. A second
group of scientists with a coherent scientific worldview value individual
freedom and creative adap- tation, use methodological individualism as a
scientific approach, follow a deductive method, prefer positive analysis, rely
mainly on market mechanisms as technological solutions, and see petrifaction and
coercion as main social problems. The scientists who hold the third worldview
value order and material freedom, believe in efficiency through planning, use a
scientific approach of objective observation, derive scientific explanations
inductively from empirical data, commonly utter practical prescriptions, offer
hierarchy as a technical solution for social problems, and see change and other
stability endangering situations as major social problems.
In Fig. 2, the three columns describe these three worldviews. Each of these
is internally consistent. Yet each is incommensurable with the other two.
Consequently, scientists who share one of these perspectives can easily
communicate with each other. When, however, they attempt to talk with scientists
who employ one of the other two worldviews, they talk past each other. They may
commonly use the same words—spelling them invariably and pronouncing them
consistently—yet fail to communicate their ideas. Each group lives in a
different world, employs a different scientific compass, and thus cannot
communicate across either of its borders. Nevertheless, a horizontal circle (in
Fig. 2) is an area that implies one can position oneself more or less near the
borderlines of the pie slices. Thus, scientists in the behavioral-administrative
sciences usually position themselves somewhere within the circles on every level
of Fig. 2. Scientists who always position themselves on pie slices which are
piled up neatly have a coherent scientific worldview—those who don’t may get
into difficulties with some of their colleagues.
Fig. 2. Dominant patterns of scientific worldviews.
To name these three worldviews, I have chosen the words emancipatory,
rationalistic, and individualistic. Although each term comes from a different
level of the worldview diagram, each reflects its group’s dominant focus.
Y Rationalists believe that the world can be ordered and controlled with the
help of objective scientific knowledge.
Y Individualists share a commitment— both methodological and normative—to
placing the individual in the center of their deliberations.
Y Emancipators possess an ardent desire to free individuals from domination, to
realize a far-reaching social equity, and to cure society by a daring experiment
with basic forms of marketplace democracy.
The extreme proponents of each of these worldviews—for example, Nagel and the
(early) Samuelson for the rationalists, Hayek and Buchanan for the
individualists, and Barber and Thayer for the emancipators— have little to
say to people from the other two schools except that their respective approaches
and recommendations are irrelevant, insensible, or unbear- able.
Having developed an overview and a descriptive model of the
political-administrative sciences in the United States, I will now examine the
origins and theoretical bases of New Public Management. First, however, I want
to note an interesting observation that follows from these findings.
From the work of Mary Douglas (Douglas and Wildavsky, 1982), Thompson, Ellis,
and Wildavsky (1990) developed a cultural theory: there exist exactly five
viable cultural worldviews or “perceptual screens through which people interpret
or make sense of their world and the social relations that make particular
visions of reality seem more or less plausible” (Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky,
1990, p. XIII). They call the adherents to these five worldviews egalitarians,
hierarchists, individualists, fatalists, and hermits.
Y Egalitarians have strong group boundaries and offer few social
prescriptions. They are mainly interested in equality, they believe that human
beings are born good and are corrupted by evil institutions, which explains
their determined critical stance towards the system that they view as coercive
and inequitable (Thompson, Ellis, and Wil- davsky, 1990, pp. 6, 9f. 34, 59ff.).
Y Hierarchists also have strong group boundaries but offer tight role
prescriptions. They see individuals as sinful beings who have to be rescued by
well ordered institutions. In addition to their belief in rules and regulations,
hierarchists rely on the judgments of experts (Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky,
1990, pp. 6, 11, 35, 45, 61).
Y Individualists live in a social context with few prescriptions and low
group incorpo- ration. From their point of view human beings are self-seeking,
and their self-interested energies have to be channeled. They explore new ways
of creating wealth, and, if they fail, they tend to attribute this to bad luck
or personal incompetence—not to the system (Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky,
1990, pp. 7, 34, 60ff.).
Y Fatalists are “people who find themselves subject to binding prescriptions
and are excluded from group membership” (Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky, 1990,
p. 7). They see life as a lottery: luck comes and goes, and they cannot change
the way it goes.
Y Hermits position themselves outside of society. They try not to be
controlled by their membership in some group and do not seek to control others.
Thus fatalists and hermits take a passive approach to life, while
egalitarians, hierarchists and individualists lead an engaged life (Thompson,
Ellis, and Wildavsky, 1990, pp. 36, 60).
In comparing my three scientific worldviews with the five worldviews of
Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky, I find some striking parallels. Both
egalitarians and emancipators condemn the system, believe in a good human
nature, criticize markets and hierarchies. Both hierar- chists and rationalists
believe in regulation, knowledge and experts. The two individual- ists—in
everyday life and in science—search for innovation and believe in the
possibility to channel self-interested behavior. So are my scientific
emancipators, rationalists, and indi- vidualists reflections of the three
engaged cultural groups? Are scientists who adhere to one of these three
scientific worldviews also members of the corresponding cultural group? Or are
they at least expressing a desire to install in politics and administration a
particular cultural style, which they are themselves not able to live in?
Are fatalists and hermits not found in science (or are at least not identifiable
as a group) because they withdrew themselves from society (hermits) or are
driven to its edges (fatalists)? Ellis and Thompson (1997) asked these questions
for environmental policy; it would be interesting to answer these questions for
The theoretical basis of New Public Management
As I have already argued, New Public Management has many components. But what
are the theoretical bases for these components? What ideas have influenced the
inventors of the reforms that were later labeled NPM (or Reinventing
Government)? First, I examine the undisputed characteristics of NPM, then the
Budget cuts need no explanation. All types of scholars (except perhaps those
with an emancipatory worldview) would recommend budget cuts in times of money
shortages. Privatization comes from public-choice theory, the neo-Austrian
school, and property-rights theory. But proposals to privatize also come from
rationally oriented management scholars (especially Drucker, 1968).
The separation of provision and production can be derived from the Ostroms’
model of a polycentrical administrative system, but this recommendation comes
from Drucker as well. Contracting out reflects both rational and humanistically
oriented management. It was influenced by transaction-costs economics, but
public-choice scholars, like Niskanen, also recommended it. And if contracting
out can be designed to strengthen community organi- zations, emancipators will
advocate it too.
User charges are mainly proposed by public-choice adherents, but they can
also be derived from consumerists’ views and marketing (rational management).
The same can be said about vouchers. The customer concept can be traced back
directly to marketing approaches. Certain applications of the concept—like
one-stop shops or case management— are the outcome of organic management
conceptions and even of NPA.
Competition in the public sector comes mainly from public-choice theory. When
compe- tition is designed to motivate departments within an organization
(internal competition, revolving funds), it can emerge from organic management
models. To give managers the freedom to manage—to give them flexibility—is
merely a matter of managerial indoctrina- tion and the design of incentives.
The separation of politics and administration can obviously be traced back to
the Progressives and classical public administration, to the influence of policy
analysis for politics, and even to certain branches of public management.
Decentralization is also a concept that comes from neoclassic thought, from
public choice, from transaction-cost economics, and from NPA and its followers.
Accountability for performance can be traced back to classical thinkers and
their idea to benchmark public organizations. It reappeared in neoclassical
public administration, in policy analysis, and in rational, public-management
circles. The same is true for the techniques of performance measurement and
improved accounting. Nevertheless, public- choice scholars, like Tullock,
recommended them too (though with some reservations).
The reform ideas for financial management and performance auditing can be
traced back to this approach, with a particular stress on rational public
management that used transplants from the private sector. Interestingly, the
whole branch of output-oriented steering and evaluation shows heavy influences
of PPBS. The whole language now used in this area—inputs, outputs, outcomes,
products, programs, alternatives—was invented in the wake of the PPBS. But one
can also identify ideas of principal-agent theory in this cluster of reform
Strategic planning and changed management styles reflect the influence of the
two branches of public management. One must distinguish between transitions from
bureaucratic to rational management styles and from rational or bureaucratic to
humanistic management styles. The same is true of improved personnel management
systems and incentives. But these latter can also be traced to the influence of
However, the use of information technology seems to be a characteristic of NPM
that has no special theoretical roots. It is strictly a pragmatic idea, used
where it is useful.
For the debatable attributes of NPM, the center of gravity of the theoretical
origins seems to move a little bit away from management: legal budget
constraints are surely a creation of the constitutional deliberations of
public-choice scholars (especially Buchanan). Improved regulation can be traced
back to property rights theory and the theory of regulation of public choice
approach to regulation (especially Stigler (1971) and his colleagues of the
The rationalization of jurisdictions and the streamlining of administrative
structures can again be traced back to classical administrative theory and the
Progressives; later they were taken up by neoclassics, policy analysis, and
rational public management scholars. The role of policy analysis for the use of
policy analysis and evaluation in the reforms is self- explanatory.
Democratization and enhanced citizen participation can mainly be traced back to
NPA and its three subsequent approaches, although consumerist views and public
choice have also played a role.
Source : Gernod Gruening
Arbeitsbereich Public Management, Hochschule fuer Wirtschaft und Politik,
Hamburg, Germany Published in International Public Management Journal