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3Public Management Models

Public Management Models


Public management is considered as a subfield of public administration which studies the interaction between the political system, bureaucracy, and the public sector. Public administration can be defined as the study of the art and science of management which incorporates specific subject matter such as political, social, cultural and legal environments which have an effect on the running of public institutions (Thornhill & Dijk 2010, 96). The theory of public administration and public management focuses on the structures as well as the functions of the public service sector (Ashworth et al. 2013, 5).

Globalization and the pluralization of the provision of services have contributed to the dramatic change in public administration in the 21st century. Developed nations have drawn on a range of public management models that apply to different contexts to deal with the complexities that have arisen (UNDP 2015, 2). This paper discusses three public management models and points out their relevance in the modern world. These three models of public management are; the old public administration, the new public management, and the new public service models. The paper also provides a response to the argument that public service systems have become hybrids that are based on elements of several models.

The Old Public Administration Model

The old public administration model was influenced by Max Weber’s ideas which became the prevailing approach to public administration for much of the twentieth century. The model has its foundation on the model of bureaucracy based on the principles of hierarchy and meritocracy. The old public administration model relied on centralized control with set rules and guidelines. It also separated the making of policies from the interpretation and incorporated a hierarchical organizational structure (Pfiffiner 2004, 443). The model put forward several features which were central to its implementation. First, the model recommended that there be a separation between politics and administration. The model suggested a system where elected politicians were separated from appointed administrators. The model also recommended that administrators be appointed based on their qualifications as opposed to through favoritism which initially dominated government decisions (UNDP 2015, 5).

The approach coined from the old public administration model was referred to as the command and control approach to public administration. Max Weber emphasized that control should be exercised from top to bottom in the form of a monocratic hierarchy (Mazur 2013, 97). Policies were to be set at the top and were to be carried out through various offices. The distinct feature of this model is the fact that each worker is supposed to report to one superior for purposes of accountability (Pfiffiner 2004, 444).

One of the major advantages of this model is the fact that it sought to create a hierarchical system of governance that ensured that there was accountability at all levels. This model is relevant in the modern world in the fight against corruption and poor governance, especially in developing nations (Mazur 2013, 99). The successful implementation of this model in the developing countries could ensure that each public official is held accountable to ensure democratic leadership and to weed out corruption. The implementation of this model in post-independence Singapore, for example, led to the development of four policies. These policies included the reform of the civil service, enforcement of strong anti-corruption measures, decentralization of the public service commission and the payment of high salaries to attract and retain the best-qualified staff in the public service (UNDP 2015, 5). The implementation of these policies led to economic growth as is evident in Singapore.

The New Public Management Model

The new public management model (NPM) arose from a series of approaches to public administration and management that were developed in several OECD states in the 1980s. The model is made up of a variety of techniques intended to overcome the inefficiencies that were present in the old public administration model. The principles of competition and management in the private sector form the foundation of the new public management model. The model, unlike the old one, favors delegation of discretion, decentralized administration, the use of competition and customer service as a way of improving performance and contracting for goods and services (Pfiffiner 2004, 446).

The model’s managerial thinking is derived from ideas emanating from the private sector and imported to the public sector. The role of politicians under the new model is to set goals while civil servants are supposed to be autonomous managers. The accountability of civil servants is implemented through performance arrangements and incentives (Christensen 2012, 1). The model suggests the replacement of the bureaucratic hierarchy system with the management of public services based on market rules. The intention behind this new model is to improve the quality of public services, reduce the public expenditure, make the implementation of services more effective and improve the efficiency of government operations. One of the common features of the countries that adopted the new model was that they all faced problems related to the amount of public expenditure and the cost of public services. As a result, NPM has been associated with the introduction of certain concepts in the public sector such as decentralization and downsizing (Mongkol 2011, 35).

The second strand of NPM is the fact that it also focuses on markets and competition. Some of the elements of this second strand of NPM include contracting out and the adoption of styles of management practice that are used in the private sector (Petrescu 2010, 411). In this second strand, NPM is seen as an ideology that is based on business-like management ideas.

Despite the wide acceptance of the new public management model, there are several limitations that have been associated with this model. Critiques of this model argue that the insistence on the reduction of costs in NPM could lead to the implementation of policies on short-term effects which would undermine the capacity of the state to have long-term policies on areas such as education and health. Further, the fact that NPM seeks to give public managers more authority to manage programs may lead to a situation where decision-making is concentrated in them (Mongkol 2011, 36).

Despite these criticisms, the new public management model provides better means of improving public service efficiency than the old public management model. There is an increased autonomy in public managers which means that they can enforce programs without interference, for example from the politicians (Katsamunska 2013, 80). Due to the increased complexities in the public service delivery, certain principles such as privatization and contracting out become relevant. In New Zealand, for example, the government privatized state enterprises such as oil production, insurance, telephone services and post office (Peters 2003, 8).

In the modern world, in countries where the economy is affected by wastage of public funds by civil servants, the adoption of the new public management model can ensure that public service becomes efficient. Where public expenditure is high, this model can also be used to save on costs and ensure that there are benefits to the public. In some developing countries today, the problem of increasing wage burden has become rampant. The introduction of the concepts of decentralization and downsizing can help reduce the wage burden and ensure that effective delivery of public services is not compromised. Further, the privatization of certain sectors controlled by the government can also be appropriate in such situations.

New Public Service Model

The new public service model is considered as the most coherent of the public management models. It seeks to cater for the insufficiencies of the old public administration model and the new public management model. The new public service model is based on the premise that public management should focus on the citizens, the community and the civil society (Denhardt & Denhart 2000, 551). According to this model, the role of public servants is to help citizens to meet their interests. The model is based on plurality and engagement of the citizenry (UNDP 2015, 10).

The new public service model views public management from the theory of democratic citizenship. The model is premised on the idea of having an active and involved citizenry where the citizens give greater consideration to wider public interest issues compared to narrow self-interests. The role of the public officials according to the model is to make way for more opportunities to facilitate the engagement of the citizens in finding solutions to national problems. The public managers are not seen as those with the capacity to control the society but rather as those with the ability to find solutions to societal problems through the involvement of the people (Denhardt & Denhart 2000, 552). The model recommends a system of governance that is open, accessible, accountable and responsive to the interests of the people. Accountability of civil servants and other leaders extends to creating accountability relationships with the citizens. The proponents of the new public service model stipulate that new public administration should focus on four key elements namely; building collaborative relationships with the citizenry, involving citizens in government activities, encouraging sharing of responsibilities and providing free access to information to foster an understanding of public issues (Denhardt & Denhart 2000, 552).

The new public service model proposes a form of public administration whose focus is not on the government or the public officials but rather by the citizens. The model seeks to ensure that the focus of government officials is in addressing the issues affecting the citizens through the involvement of the citizens (Ocampo 2013, 251). The citizens are not seen as on-lookers but rather as participants in finding solutions. Today there are numerous problems such as global warming, scarcity of certain resources and the increase in lifestyle diseases. Such problems have become complex for the government to deal with on its own. It would be appropriate if the governments across the globe would involve the citizens more in decision-making to ensure that the solutions found are consistent with the public interest (Villanueva 2015, 130).

Public Service Systems as Hybrids

I agree with the argument that public service systems today are hybrids that based on elements of different models of public management. Governments across the globe are encountering numerous challenges and pressure from all sides to improve public sector performance and at the same time limit the amount of public expenditure (Curristine & Joumard 2007, 3). The existence of challenges such as an increase in the aging populations and the increase in health care has not made the situation any better since even in the midst of such challenges, the citizens continue to demand more government accountability. Such challenges have resulted in the development of new strategies to ensure efficiency in the public sector. These strategies borrow heavily from the elements of almost all public management models (Cooper & Robinson 2013, 1).

Due to the pressure from the citizens, some governments have adopted corporate change strategies which have cloned managerial practices from the private sector. Such practices are based on the elements of the new public management model (Brown et al. 2003, 4). The fact that some states have adopted the concept of devolution may be seen as a form of the new public service model which recommends the involvement of the citizenry in public matters (Christensen 2012, 2). There is also the change in the structure of organizations to ensure accountability in the public sector which is an element of the old public administration model and the new public management model. These elements borrowed from different models make up the current public service model making it more of a hybrid system (Cooper & Robinson 2013, 1).


The old public administration, the new public management, and the new public service models are some of the approaches public administration and management that have been developed to ensure effective delivery of public service. While the old public administration model focused on creating a bureaucratic system where there is a top-down kind of governance structure, the new public management model suggests a better approach which involves decentralization of power and incorporation of private managerial practices in the public sector. The new public service model addresses the insufficiencies of the earlier models and suggests a public administration that focuses on the public rather than private interests.


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