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Blog Post

Ideas for government reform

04-Oct-2012 [6801]

B. Guy Peters
Maurice Falk Professor of American Government at the University of Pittsburgh

I just finished a quick read of a The Politics of Bureaucracy: An introduction to comparative public administration (6th edition, 2010). It's a textbook by B. Guy Peters, a specialist in the field.

It was a reality check, and sure enough, the problems we have in Toronto are universal.

A quick note about common reform approaches referenced in the section on Administrative Reform:

  • the market, applying market management ideas to government, including treating citizens as "customers"
  • participation, improving productivity through enlarging participation in decision-making, including front-line staff and government "clients"
  • deregulation - reduce the rules by which public administration managers are constrained, particularly those to do with the personnel process (hiring and firing)
  • flexible government - an emerging idea of allowing and even promoting relatively rapid changes in government organization, the better to meet requirements of a changing society

I favour the "participation" model, since I've seen it work in Ward 18, and I favour it philosophically.

The most influential ideas since the 1980's of government reform are collected under the term New Public Management, which relies on the notion of market forces and business management approaches to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public administration. It often involves privatizing of partnering work that used to be in the government domain. There are a number of negative effects of this approach, including confusion of the concept of citizenship (having been replaced by the notion of "customer" of government services).

There is some indication that the notion of the New Public Management is in decline, in favour of more participatory models, including digital involvement, and the notion of Public Value.