Public Sector Reform in a Context of Political Instability: Italy 1992–2007

Mele, Valentina and Ongaro, Edoardo (2014). Public Sector Reform in a Context of Political Instability: Italy 1992–2007. International Public Management Journal, 17(1) pp. 111–142.



The article addresses two principal questions: how public management reforms develop in a context of high government turnover, and how, under these circumstances, features of the specific area of public management policy affect the dynamics of the reform and in particular its “technical feasibility.” The research questions are addressed through the case study of the Italian administrative context between 1992 and 2007, a period marked by tumultuous government turnovers. The article presents reforms in two policy areas of public management: civil service reform and innovation, over a three-period time span covering 15 years. The brief duration of political leadership represents a threat to the approval and implementation of policy interventions irrespective of the political salience of the issue and the need for legal enactment. Therefore, the success of a public management reform process in an unstable political context characterized by frequent government turnovers depends on meeting certain conditions for successful policy entrepreneurship: the a priori expertise of policy entrepreneurs, their ability to repackage the issue, keep a community of practice alive, and maneuver the dynamics of the legal process. However, implementation, being a less visible phase, suffers from greater discontinuity as “maintenance activities” necessary for the success of reform are disregarded. Thus, the consideration of the temporal dimension of the policy cycle and the area-specific effects on public management reform dynamics exerted by diverse levels of political salience and legal enactment represent the main contributions of this work to the theories on public management policy change.

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