Public entrepreneurship: rhetoric, reality and context

Edwards, Charles; Jones, Geoff; Lawton, Alan and Llewellyn, Nick (2002). Public entrepreneurship: rhetoric, reality and context. International Journal of Public Administration, 25(12) pp. 1539–1554.



The concept of entrepreneurship has entered the discourse of public management amongst practitioners and scholars across a range of different public service organisations in different countries. It has been recognised, for example, in the UK,[1]the USA[2]and Australia[3]and variously interpreted by its promoters as: An integral part of a transformational political philosophy, affecting not just the delivery of public services but also community life (e.g., the ‘Third Way’ in the UK).More modestly, a response to the ‘dead hand’ of bureaucracy which inhibits public organisations becoming more responsive to their customers, clients and communities,A way of allowing public service managers the ‘freedom to manage’, deploying skills and approaches identified with private sector management.
Entrepreneurship is used primarily to make normative judgements. The form that entrepreneurship takes in a public service management context and the extent to which it exists, are undeveloped empirical questions. This paper examines three main sets of questions: Why there has been a call for entrepreneurial government–the rhetorical dimension.What practising managers perceive the term to mean to the services they are responsible for–the reality dimension.Whether public entrepreneurship has any meaning outside of the particular political, economic and social context found in western, industrialised democracies–the context dimension.
The paper explores the nature of the discourse within which notions of public entrepreneurship are located and given legitimacy by different groups of stakeholders. It also seeks to uncover some variables that have an impact upon the practice of public entrepreneurship in different countries, organisations and social, economic and political cultures and organisations.
Although organisations such as the OECD identify universal themes and trends in the delivery of public services, there is little empirical evidence of convergence or universality.[4]This paper notes that although the concept of entrepreneurship is not unique to one or two contexts, there is limited convergence on what it means and whether and how it is ‘practised’.

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