Post-bureaucracy and reanimating public governance: A discourse and practice of continuity?

Budd, Leslie (2007). Post-bureaucracy and reanimating public governance: A discourse and practice of continuity? International Journal of Public Sector Management, 20(6) pp. 531–547.



Purpose 'Seeks to examine changes in the environment in which public policy and public management operate and the claim that bureaucracy has been replaced by post-bureaucracy as a result of these changes.
Design/methodology/approach – It proposes reanimated public governance as a concept that occupies the space between public administration and restructured public governance (including reinvented government and New Public Management (NPM). Rather than accepting the existence of post-bureaucracy, per se, the paper argues that there has been a process of extending bureaucracy that cuts across public and non-public boundaries rather than the development of post-bureaucracy per se.
Findings – In examining the claims for post-bureaucracy, we are witnessing a discourse and practice of continuity rather than difference. The need for economies of scale and scope, standardisation and the existence of indivisibilities in public services suggest that public sector reforms and proposals for new governance models establish extended or flexible forms of bureaucracy rather than post-bureaucratic organisational forms. Attempts to introduce ICT-based services and the need for regulatory agencies to oversee the contracts with private and non-profit service providers reinforce these findings.
Research limitations/implications – The arguments in this paper are based on marshalling the literature and debates surrounding public sector reform to advance a central thesis. It draws on real world examples but does not advance direct empirical evidence. There is scope for internationally comparative case-studies of different public service functions and discourses and practices in different countries
Practical implications – Policy makers and managers should treat the clarion call of post-bureaucracy as a way of liberating public services from a lack of creativity, innovation and accountability with healthy scepticism. In particular, the view that public sector reforms through post-bureaucratic re-organisation will lead to efficiencies is one to be challenged. Reforms in any service driven organisations are not zero-cost and any implied operational cost saving should be considered against increased transaction costs.
Originality/value – There have been heroic claims made for post-bureaucracy in many organisations enabled by developments associated with the concepts of information society and knowledge society. By locating public sector reforms under the rubric of 'restructured public governance' a deeper investigation of the implications for the discourses and practices associated with public sector reform is advanced.

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