Christensen, Tom; Lægrid, Per; Roness, Paul G.. (2007):

Organization theory and the public sector: instrument, culture and myth

Routledge, Florence, KY, USA





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3/6 2014

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This is a textbook in organization theory that focuses specifically on the public sector. An organization-theory approach to the public sector presupposes that one cannot understand the content of public policy and decision-making in public organizations without analysing the organization and operational modes of the public administration. The need for a textbook in organization theory that provides empirical examples from the public sector and draws on academic research in political science is obvious. Moreover, this need is particularly great in a period when public sectors are facing comprehensive reorganization and modernization processes.The book is anchored in an academic tradition that combines organization theory, political science and empirical studies of decision-making in formal public organizations.

We focus on three perspectives, one instrumental and two institutional. A key distinction between these perspectives is that an instrumental perspective looks at public organizations as tools for leaders, whereas institutional perspectives are open to the idea that organizations have their own culture, values and norms that exert an independent influence on decision-making. Hence organizations do not, in any simple and unproblematic way, adapt to shifting signals from leaders.

Within an instrumental perspective we distinguish between a hierarchical variant, where a leader’s control and rational calculation are key factors, and a negotiation-based variant, which allows for articulation of interests, compromises and negotiation between actors with partly conflicting goals. As for institutional perspectives, we distinguish between a cultural perspective – where the main notion is of institutionalized organizations with a unique internal organizational culture and traditions – and a myth perspective – which embraces the idea of institutionalized environments, where the focus is on the significance of values and norms found in an organization’s environment.

In spite of a significant grey area between public and private organizations, our point of departure is that public organizations are different from private organizations in fundamental ways.What distinguishes public organizations from private ones is that they have a citizen-elected leadership, are multifunctional and have to cope with partially conflicting considerations. Moreover, most public organizations do not operate within a free and competitive economic market.With this book, we aim to challenge the one-sided economic analysis of policy and society by drawing upon more central aspects of democratic theory and organization theory. From the vantage point of an organization theory approach anchored in political science, it is insufficient to focus attention just on economy and efficiency. The public sector’s operational mode must be described, analysed and evaluated using a democratic– political approach that focuses on the sector’s values, interests, knowledge and power base.

First, the main features of an instrumental perspective,a cultural perspective and a myth perspective are presented in individual chapters. Thereafter we outline four central aspects of public organizations: goals and values, leadership and steering, reform and change, and effects and implications. For each theme, we discuss how it is treated in light of the three perspectives. The book’s concluding chapter deals with understanding and design. It discusses the relationship between the three perspectives and outlines how one might arrive at a transformative approach and a prescriptive organization theory.

We have tried to simplify and popularize insights culled through many research projects and years of teaching. Emphasis is placed on providing examples from empirical studies of the operational mode of representative public organizations and actual administrative reforms.We have chosen not to add references in the text, but for each chapter we have included a list of literature that covers the themes discussed. The selection could have been much larger, and we have therefore been unable to acknowledge adequately all the colleagues whose work we have drawn upon in writing this book. We have specified learning objectives at the beginning of each chapter, and a chapter summary and discussion questions appear at the end.

Christensen, Tom; Lægrid, Per; Roness, Paul G.. Organization Theory and the Public Sector : Instrument, Culture and Myth.
Florence, KY, USA: Routledge, 2007.
ebrary collections. 3 Jun. 2014
Copyright © 2007. Routledge. All rights reserved.