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Making public management work

in the global economy: lessons
from Europe and North America
Ian Roberge
Department of Political Science, Glendon College, York University,
Toronto, Canada, and
David K. Jesuit
Department of Political Science, Central Michigan University,
Mount Pleasant, Michigan, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to present the main themes in this special issue focusing on
the impact of transformations in the global economy on public management.
Design/methodology/approach This paper takes the from of a presentation of articles in this
special issue.
Findings The paper nds that focusing on examples form Europe and North America, public
management adaptability varies across states and regions. Capacity is identied as an important
indicator of adaptability.
Originality/value The paper introduces an issue that highlights concrete examples of adaptability
in public management. It opens the door to further research tracing linkages between changes in the
global environment and the practice of public management.
Keywords Public management, Public sector management, Public sector organizations,
Public sector services, Europe, North America, Case studies
Paper type General review
The relationship between states and markets has always been uneasy. There is no
perfect equilibrium, especially since political, economic and social circumstances
continually change. The objective of this special issue of the International Journal of
Public Sector Management is to provide some insights on public management practices
in light of turbulent times in the global economy.
The special issue is the result of a conference that was held at Central Michigan
University in September 2010 under the title, Making public management work in the
global economy: lessons from Europe and North America. The conference brought
together US, Canadian and Italian scholars, as well as practitioners from the area, to
consider comparatively various ways public management adapts to
global/national/and local economic transformations. The conference also focused on
governments role in managing various economic challenges.
This special issue broaches the topic from two angles. First, the issue considers
global, regional and national public management with a particular focus on how
governments have responded to the global nancial and economic crisis. Second, local
public policy and management considerations are addressed. What emerges is a very
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
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International Journal of Public Sector
Vol. 25 No. 6/7, 2012
pp. 421-427
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/09513551211260702
uneven pattern of public management adaptation that reects just as many concerns
about the global economy as it does about national and local circumstances. Put
differently, the issue gives hope that public management can adapt to global economic
turbulence, with the caveat that public management adaptability is not pre-ordained
and varies cross regions, states, and communities.
There are many variables to consider in relation to adaptability. Articles highlight
one variable in particular, public management and policy capacity. The concept of
capacity is at best fuzzy. For our purpose, there are two elements needed to
understanding capacity. The rst relates specically to an actors attributes: the ability
to integrate existing and new knowledge (to learn); the authority to act based on this
knowledge when necessary (make decisions); and, the required resources and/or skills
to implement and execute decisions. Second, capacity is usually relational. It depends
on how actors relate to others in the policy subsystem (Howlett et al., 2009). When it
comes to analyzing the reaction of public management across levels to transformations
in the global economy, both components are relevant. Public management practitioners
have to be able to assimilate and act on pertinent information. At the same time, there
exists interdependence between states and markets such that the relationship is one of
mutual adjustments. Many articles, especially those that focus on local public
management, highlight a shift towards more networked forms of governance. Articles,
thus, illustrate both features of capacity.
The global nancial and economic crisis
There is an extensive literature already dealing with the global nancial and economic
crisis. Howard Davies (2010), former Chair of the Financial Services Authority in Great
Britain, provides an excellent summary of all the main explanations of the crisis. What
becomes clear as one sifts through this literature is that the crisis is as much one of
politics as economics (Friedman, 2009). Articles in this issue do not lay blame for the
crisis, nor was that the purpose. Rather, they note the many challenges faced by
governments when considering reforms. The key variable is that of capacity; public
management must have the ability to learn, to adapt, to adjust, and when appropriate
to form networks with relevant partners in responding to transformations in the global
economy. Authors also consider, admittedly peripherally, the political nature of the
response and its impact on public management.
The rst article of this special issue considers cutback management. Reviewing the
literature in the eld, Cepiku and Savignon note that governments have, to a certain
extent, learned from existing knowledge and past cutback periods. They understand
the need to consider long-term planning and to see beyond the crisis. At the same time,
there are important challenges, most notably capacity the ability to implement
reform and change. The basic question of howto do more with fewer resources remains
whole. Cepiku and Savignon further remark on the politicization of decision-making,
which further complicates the adoption of best practices. At the time of writing, their
analysis seems particularly prescient in light of the US and European debt crisis.
Public bureaucracies are, once again, under pressure to reform, which is likely to mean,
in some cases, drastic cutbacks.
For his part, Costantino analyzes major nancial services sector reform in the
European Union (EU). The EUs initial response to the nancial crisis was
disorganized, ad hoc, and state-led. The EU, as a whole, did not act cohesively. Nor did
it have the capacity to manage the crisis; the creation of two new regulatory structures
was meant to remedy this shortcoming. But as Costantino indicates, the new macro
and micro-prudential regulators are sure to be hampered both by legal and
organizational issues. Yamashita (2011), in fact, suggests that governance
fragmentation in the nancial services sector remains for now Europes most
important challenge. Costantino appears skeptical that the new bodies, as presently
constituted, really improve the safety and soundness of the European nancial services
Whatever the reason and cause of the global nancial crisis, it is fair to ask how so
many people, especially on the regulatory side, just missed the story. Greitens focuses
on the performance assessment of US regulatory agencies leading to the nancial
crisis. As Greitens notes, the US performance system overly focused on outcomes, as
opposed to inputs, which meant that as long as nancial markets were performing
strongly, regulatory agencies also seemed to performwell. Regulatory agencies did not,
however, keep American nancial markets safe, even if they were deemed to perform
better than agencies in other sectors. The article raises serious questions about the
political nature of the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). Despite the
Dodd-Frank Act, and regulatory reform in the United-States, nancial services sector
regulators capacity to protect the nancial system from another meltdown is still in
contention (Schmidt and Hamilton, 2011).
Finally, Williams considers the issue of capacity by focusing specically on policy
learning, analyzing the Canadian response to the global nancial crisis. Canada came
out of the crisis largely unscathed. Canadian politicians, in particular, have taken credit
for the countrys success. In 2009, Euromoney even named Jim Flaherty Finance
Minister of the year (Avery, 2009). Canadas principal regulator, the Ofce of the
Superintendent of Financial Institutions, has also adopted this approach accepting
praise for the countrys performance (Freeland, 2009). Yet, Canada underwent during
this period the worst nancial crisis in its history, the asset-backed commercial paper
crisis (Chant, 2009). As such, Williams raises important questions about the Canadian
regulatory system. Most importantly, the discourse of success, particularly useful from
a political perspective, has prevented actors from learning and conducting a fair
analysis of the Canadian situation. Meaningful reform is at least debated elsewhere,
but it is not even considered in Canada. The country, thus, is vulnerable to another
nancial crisis due to its inability to assimilate knowledge, to use it, and to adjust.
Public management at the local level
Articles focusing on local public management provide compelling, though, contrasting
views on the ability of local authorities to adjust to global and national economic
transformations. They highlight both success stories as well as stories of management
and policy inertia. Here as well, authors raise important questions about the capacity of
local public management to bring about substantive change.
Conteh may be the most positive about how local organizations can become agents
of change. Conteh describes and analyzes the evolution of the Atlantic Canada
Opportunities Agency (ACOA) in light of changes in the global economy and new
national political imperatives. He notes the multi-layered and complex relationships
among federal and provincial governmental organizations, local public authorities and
the private sector. Ultimately, though, ACOA, a federally created entity, appears to
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have been fairly successful in working with its various public and private-sector
partners and in sustaining local economic development through its ability to navigate
institutional boundaries. Canadian public management has fully embraced the concept
of networked governance (Aucoin, 2009). Contehs case study provides an interesting
example of enhanced capacity through networks.
Jesuit and Sych, in turn, consider institutionalized regional policy in Europe paying
particular attention to the region of the Marches in Italy and the grand region in
Luxemburg. They note four variables that affect cross-border integration:
geographic/demographic, economic, political and administrative. Borders, even in
Europe, authors note are still relevant and effective cross-border governance remains
limited and bounded.
Brunet-Jailly also emphasizes the role of networks for local public management.
Capacity in this instance literally refers to the functional relations among and between
actors. The article considers two North American cross-border regions,
Detroit-Windsor and Vancouver-Seattle. Brunet-Jailly notes the level of economic
integration in both cases; the integration, he explains, has led to functional, though not
necessarily structural integration. Functionalism in international relations and
regional studies is traditionally associated with European integration. The logic seems
to apply on a smaller scale between the US and Canada.
Andersons article involuntarily provides a strong counter-argument to that
presented by Brunet-Jailly. Focusing on the Detroit-Windsor cross-border region,
Anderson clearly argues that the border acts as a barrier to integration and the
development of a coordinated public management and policy approach. The network is
institutionally under-developed and inefcient. To employ Jesuit and Sychs variables,
the political will and administrative capacity to address on-the-ground issues are not
present. The contrasting assessment of Brunet-Jailly and Anderson, in part, has to do
with the latters narrower emphasis on the management of the border. The article is
particularly useful because it presents the various pieces of an elaborate cross-border
Where to next?
Beyond capacity, there is another subtle theme that emerges from this special
double-issue: governments, across borders and levels of authority, have been cautious,
if not reluctant, to rethink and to propose new and innovative ways to conduct public
affairs. Though the prudence may have to do with capacity asking of public
management that it do more with less it can also be interpreted as a lack of
Crises, in theory, provide an opportunity to assess performance and to consider
fundamentals anew. Administrative failure relating to Hurricane Katrina in the US, for
instance, has led to serious debates about how to respond to natural catastrophes
(Public Administration Review, 2007). The on-going nancial and economic crisis that
began in 2007 does not appear to have led to a serious reconsideration, especially at the
political level, of existing assumptions about state-market relations, and public
management practices. There is an extensive literature on the global crisis already
reecting the traditional ideological divide (on the right of the political spectrum, the
Cato Journal, 2009; on the left of the spectrum, Alternatives E

conomiques, 2010). The

popular press has told the tale of the nancial crisis, and it has been willing to be
provocative (Lewis, 2010). There has been some street protest, especially in Europe, but
its discourse remains fairly supercial. Political, policy and administrative reforms, so
far, whether at the global/regional/or national level have been modest and at the
margin at best. Global Finance in Crisis edited by Helleiner et al. (2010), for instance,
debated the signicance of proposed and adopted nancial services sector regulatory
reforms at the global level and the editors are skeptical about their signicance.
Admittedly, the crisis is not over and substantive political, economic and social
reforms are hard to articulate and even harder to implement.
Articles in this issue do not directly enter into this debate. In reading through them,
however, there emerges a picture where more of the same should be expected. Cepiku
and Savignons discussion of cutback management is reminiscent of the rise of new
public management (with some adjustments). Costantino, for his part, highlights the
strict limits on the operation of the new EU-wide nancial services sector regulators.
Greitens article highlights important problems with the practice of performance
measurement. Williams is clear: Canadas so-called success prevents policy learning
and leaves the country vulnerable. Conteh is more optimistic, but his article still
focuses on the need for local communities to adapt to the global economic imperative.
Jesuit and Sych note how the lack of administrative capacity in some European regions
is impeding adaptation. Brunet-Jailly presents examples of successful economic
integration, but the political infrastructure is clearly lacking. Andersons piece is a
story of inertia with only limited progress to be expected in the near future in the
management of the Detroit-Windsor border. In all of these cases (non-exhaustive to be
sure), there is a lack of political desire to do things differently. The focus remains on
efciency, ignoring as such a basic question: how do we do better?
Strachans article, the last of this issue, may provide a small part of the answer.
Though the article can be said to be most relevant to local public management in the
US, it can also be understood more generally as a call for the empowerment of the civil
service. Democratic public management requires an engaged public service that
reaches out to the citizenry. As Strachan puts it, civil servants must cultivate their own
watchdogs. The current public debt crisis in many countries around the world is
almost inevitably to lead to cutback management. Moreover, there has been an erosion
of trust, exacerbated by the global nancial and economic crises, towards political and
economic elites (Roth et al., 2011). Strachans proposed task for administrators is,
therefore, clearly not easy. Yet, what is proposed is at the core of the expression public
service. In a country like Canada, working under the Westminster model of
parliamentary democracy, with its constitutional emphasis on responsible government
(Aucoin et al., 2004), it is the accepted convention that the bureaucracy is politically
neutral and that it serves the public by responding to its duly elected political master. It
is not our intention to question such fundamental principles, which exist in various
forms depending on the country. But, even within a tight framework, there remain
opportunities for public servants to engage citizens and debate possible futures. Doing
so might just help to reenergize democracy.
Anote on the article by J. Cherie Strachan: this has been published in an earlier issue
of the International Journal of Public Sector Management. The article can be found
online in Vol. 25 No. 2 at the following link:
This should be read in conjunction with the articles included in this special issue.
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Concluding remarks
At the time of writing this introduction, the global nancial and economic crisis has
morphed into a public debt crisis. In turn, the debt crisis is leading to market volatility
with high risk of another worldwide recession. The impact of globalization on the
nation-state, public management and public policy is already well-debated (Hay, 2006).
The profound adjustments currently taking place in the global economy undoubtedly
already affect public management across levels of authority in multiple ways. Articles
in this double-issue provide a glimpse of some of the changes under way. The
argument to be taken from articles as a whole is not that public management can, or
cannot, adapt to global economic transformations. There are clearly circumstances in
which adaptation has or can take place, and other circumstances that are more
problematic. One of the essential variables for adjustment is that of capacity.
Governance through networks, which is an expression of relational capacity, provides
an indication of success or failure, particularly at the local level, to adapt. Though this
may prove in the end to be overly optimistic, the future may offer a renewed chance for
public management. The last article by Strachan offers hope that administrators can be
part of the solution in fostering a greater space for public debate a truly more
democratic form of public management. Through the current uncertainty for public
management, there exists, at the very least, some hope for those working hard to serve
their fellow citizens.
Alternatives E

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Corresponding author
Ian Roberge can be contacted at:
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