1st Edition

Complexity and the Public Sector

Edited By Chris Mowles, Karen Norman Copyright 2023
    234 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    234 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Since the early 1990s, public sector organisations have been overwhelmed with what has come to be termed New Public Management (NPM) methods. NPM idealises performance, metrics, transparency and marketisation. This book explores some of the tensions which arise in institutions where NPM methods prevail, introduces different ways of thinking about the task of managing for public good and offers a radical challenge to the dominant assumptions regarding why and how professional communities of practice may (or may not) come to change their working practices.

    In this third book in the Complexity and Management series, the expert authors bring together their experiences to provide vibrant accounts of how to manage in everyday public sector organisational situations using practical judgement. The book includes a brief introduction to complexity and public sector management, real-world narratives illustrating concrete dilemmas in the workplace and a concluding chapter that draws together the practical and theoretical implications of a complexity perspective.

    With both theoretical grounding and practical insights from senior managers and consultants, the book provides an ideal resource for students on management or executive leadership programmes for the public sector, as well as managers in and consultants to the sector.

    1. The Complexity of Managing in the Public Sector: Introduction 

    Chris Mowles and Karen Norman 

    2. Calls to Interprofessionalism and ‘Best’ Practice in Healthcare Distract Attention from Everyday Experience: Practical Implication for Leaders and Practice Consultants 

    Marion Briggs 

    3. The Double Bind of Metrics 

    Emma Elkington 

    4. Working with Difference: The Emergence of Prejudice When Integrating Care in the National Health Service (NHS)  

    Fiona Yung 

    5. Trust, Metrics and Complexity in Meaning-Making 

    Sara Filbee 

    6. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the UK University: From Idealism to Pragmatism 

    Jana Filosof 

    7. Reflections on How Differing Values and Power Relationships Impact on the Local Implementation of Central Policy Directives in the UK National Health Service 

    Sheila Marriott  

    8. Reworking Meaning through Process Consultancy Interventions  

    Åsa Lundquist Coey 

    9. Complexity and the Public Sector: Key Themes 

    Chris Mowles and Karen Norman 


    Chris Mowles is Professor of Complexity and Management at the University of Hertfordshire Business School and Director of the Doctor of Management programme there. He is the author of Complexity: A Key Idea for Business and Society (2021) also published by Routledge.

    Karen Norman is Visiting Professor at the University of Hertfordshire Business School, UK, and Visiting Professor at the School of Nursing, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, UK. She also works as a Non-Executive Director at Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

    "Across the globe, it is widely assumed that management is natural and universal, serving everyone’s interests equally. So it is refreshing to read a new book which challenges these assumptions in the context of public services, and which recognises the interests being served by the managerialist systems which now dominate many country’s public sectors. Its international set of authors all hold senior positions and are trying to get things done, in spite of the ideological dominance of today’s quasi-competition and league tables. Their work is complex, and any successes are often paradoxical, but their personal narratives in the book are all the more compelling for the challenges involved. Their stories represent vital reading for anyone who wants to make a similar difference when faced with the neoliberal modes of governance that have become so widely used in today’s society."

    Mark Learmonth, Professor Emeritus, Nottingham Trent University

    "A refreshing perspective on managerialism and a highly recommended read. The book offers a unique window into senior practitioners’ lived experiences of their management role within the public sector within the UK and internationally. A very useful resource for managers, consultants and academics faced with complexity and the dilemma of making sense of their role and the context they find themselves in."

    Dr Julia Gale, Associate Dean (Special Projects), Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, a joint enterprise of Kingston University and St. George’s, University of London

    "Resonates absolutely with the reality and tumult of public sector leadership. The authors clearly describe the realities of improvement in the public sector, and help our understanding of the mismatch between overly simplistic rhetoric and the complex reality leaders and their teams experience."

    Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers, Deputy CEO of the NHS Confederation