Public Management and Complexity Theory: Richer Decision-Making in Public Services, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Public Management and Complexity Theory

Richer Decision-Making in Public Services, 1st Edition

By Mary Lee Rhodes, Joanne Murphy, Jenny Muir, John A. Murray


232 pages

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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.


'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.

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

About the Authors

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.

About the Series

Routledge Critical Studies in Public Management

The study and practice of public management has undergone profound changes across the world. Over the last quarter century, we have seen

  • the increasing criticism of public administration as the over-arching framework for the provision of public services
  • the rise (and critical appraisal) of the ‘New Public Management’ as an emergent paradigm for the provision of public services
  • the transformation of the ‘public sector’ into the cross-sectoral provision of public services
  • the growth of the governance of inter-organizational relationships as an essential element in the provision of public services

In reality these trends have not so much replaced each other as elided or co-existed together – the public policy process has not gone away as a legitimate topic of study, intra-organizational management continues to be essential to the efficient provision of public services, whist the governance of inter-organizational and inter-sectoral relationships is now essential to the effective provision of these services.

This series is dedicated to presenting and critiquing this important body of theory and empirical study. It will publish books that both explore and evaluate the emergent and developing nature of public administration, management and governance (in theory and practice) and examine the relationship with and contribution to the over-arching disciplines of management and organizational sociology. Books in the series will be of interest to academics and researchers in this field, students undertaking advanced studies, and reflective policy makers and practitioners.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Industries / Service Industries