1st Edition

Public Management and Complexity Theory
Richer Decision-Making in Public Services

ISBN 9780415654029
Published July 11, 2012 by Routledge
250 Pages

USD $62.95

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Book Description

That public services exhibit unpredictability, novelty and, on occasion, chaos, is an observation with which even a casual observer would agree. Existing theoretical frameworks in public management fail to address these features, relying more heavily on attempts to eliminate unpredictability through increased reliance on measurable performance objectives, improved financial and human resource management techniques, decentralisation of authority and accountability and resolving principal-agent behaviour pathologies.  Essentially, these are all attempts to improve the ‘steering’ capacity of public sector managers and policy makers.

By adopting a Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) approach to public services, this book shifts the focus from developing steering techniques to identifying patterns of behaviour of the participants with the ultimate objective of increasing policy-makers’ and practitioners’ understanding of the factors that may enable more effective public service decision-making and provision.  The authors apply a CAS framework to a series of case studies in public sector management to generate new insights into the issues, processes and participants in public service domains. 

Table of Contents

Introduction. The Case for CAS 1. Setting the Stage for a CAS Analysis 2. Urban Regeneration in Ireland 3. Healthcare Information Systems in Ireland 4. Advancing the Case for Complex Adaptive Systems in Public Administration 5. The Impact of Boundaries: Identity, Community and Place 6. The Vision Thing: the Dynamics of Involvement 7. The Role and Effect of the Private Sector 8. Core and Locale: The Tension between the Governing Intent and the Implementing Outcome 9. In Conclusion

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Mary Lee Rhodes is Lecturer in Service Delivery & Systems at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

Joanne Murphy is Research Fellow in Governance, Public Policy and Social Research at Queen's University Belfast, UK.

Jenny Muir is Lecturer in Spatial & Environmental Planning at Queen's University Belfast, UK.

John A. Murray is Professor of Business Studies at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.


'In sum, the book is useful in teaching students about how to view real world problems with a CAS framework and shows that traditional bureaucratic approaches to accountability may frustrate flexible management of the CAS dynamics.'- Sungho Lee, Samsung Economic Research Institute


"This is an interesting and brave attempt to apply complexity theory to the nitty-gritty and messy world of public services" - Graham Room, University of Bath, Social Policy and Administration, Vol. 48, No.5, October 2014.