Performance in the Public Sector – Plans for 2014-2015

The key aim of the Study Group for the coming two years 2014-2015 is to make contributions to debates about key challenges of contemporary public management and governance. The key questions to be addressed in such a contribution are signalled in the below drafts for call for papers. We will also aim to build on this year’s successful experiment with having keynote speeches kicking off the study group’s proceedings at the annual conference.

A further background for the group’s plans is an understanding that performance management by now is a maturing field of research. “Formulate objectives, measure performance, add incentives, evaluate and react”, the simple engineer’s intervention logic of performance management, has been useful for establishing a base of descriptive and causal knowledge about e.g. goal setting, performance measurement and performance information utilization in contextually stable and hierarchically ordered organizational settings.

The study group has contributed to establishing knowledge base, but will now aim to contribute to bringing the performance management research further. Two simultaneous trends now encourage performance researchers to take their scholarship beyond this empirical and conceptual home turf. One is the response by the broader public administration scholarly community to recent developments in the wider context of governance: PA has shown increasing interest in understanding and solving intertwined governance challenges posed by fiscal austerity, emerging forms of collaborative governance and increasing entanglement of policy tools (re. policy instrumentation). The other trend is recurring disappointments regarding the effects and effectiveness of performance management approaches (including longer term effects on public service motivation).

Still, a pendulum swing back to the state of affairs before performance management seems unlikely, if not impossible.  Societal, political and economic forces demanding accountability for outputs and outcomes are not waning, but rather becoming stronger. To maintain academic and practical relevance performance scholarship needs to ask how performance measurement and management does work and should work in complex and ambiguous settings. Without such a scholarly reorientation the significance of the performance management community for wider debates in public administration will become increasingly limited.

In light of that ambition performance scholars need not only to reconsider their empirical approaches, but also to develop more realistic performance management intervention logics, broaden the conceptual language and generally let research be more driven by theory than by data availability. We do not believe that tailor-made performance theories are needed. Rather, we envisage making use of established organizational and political theories. Theories on information use, decision-making theory, institutional theory and theories of political power are likely candidates, along with theories on policy instrumentation (tools of government), regulation, and reputation and blame management as well as executive politics more widely.

EGPA 2014: Performance management and collaboration

We know a fair deal about goal setting, performance measurement and performance information utilization within organizations and in hierarchically ordered inter-organizational settings. We know less, however, about performance management practice and its utility in more complex governance settings. For the 2014 conference SGII will encourage performance scholarship that analyzes the use, non-use and adaptation of performance management in public service collaborations and partnerships between public, private and voluntary organizations, and between public sector organizations at different levels of government. Important questions include the following: Is the value of performance management limited to simpler governance settings or can it also help coordinate and steer collaborations? How is agreement reached on goals, and does integrative, consensus-oriented processes produce voluminous goal-sets without steering effects? How do decision makers interpret performance feedback in light of cross-cutting objectives?

EGPA 2015: Performance management and policy instrumentation

We know a great deal about performance management as such, but insufficient focus has been devoted to research the interplay between performance measurement and policy tools that draws on government resources other than the ability to require information. Christopher Hood’s Tools of government approach invites research on the interplay between nodality, authority, treasure and organization. Can we e.g. establish settings where performance management needs either more or less authority to be useful (obligations to report etc.), more or less treasure (rewards, punishments, incentives) and more or less organization (re. interorganizational collaborations and partnerships)? Can such reasoning help avoid undesired trajectories such as performance management slippery-sloping into more and more hard-edged versions, eventually provoking cheating, gaming and performance paradoxes?

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