A vehicle for change? A case study of performance improvement in the 'new' public sector

Holloway, Jacky; Francis, Graham and Hinton, Matthew (1999). A vehicle for change? A case study of performance improvement in the 'new' public sector. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 12(4) pp. 351–365.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/09513559910282849


This paper critiques the notion that a single approach to performance improvement can alone be responsible for significant organisational transformation. We draw on phenomenological case study evidence, placed in the context of an ongoing series of studies of the nature and prevalence of best practice benchmarking in the UK, including large-scale questionnaire surveys and longitudinal case studies of the rich experiences of a number of practitioners and organisations. We argue that complex approaches to performance improvement such as benchmarking, however technically powerful they may be, are only as effective as the people who apply them and their compatibility with the organisational context in which they are used. The contribution of such methods is often difficult to separate from other variables. In addition to internal organisational characteristics, external contextual factors play an important part both in establishing a need to use such approaches, and encouraging commitment to their use. Some of the clearest examples of the distortion of the potential impact of new management practices by the wider policy context can be found in public services such as the National Health Service, from which examples are drawn in this paper.

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