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Numerous governments have adopted innovative policy instruments to deal with important environmental policy challenges and negotiated instruments offer the potential to improve performance beyond what regulation alone can accomplish. Dutch covenants, which represent negotiated agreements with sectors of industry as targets of behavioral change, provide useful evidence of the determinants of success. For improving environmental performance, certain features of the policy setting explain much of the variance in ambitions and outcomes: attitudes of decision makers in the affected businesses, attention to cost minimization, and possibly the degree of ambition built into the agreement. Modeling to explain the extent of ambition and compliance offer further insights. While some Dutch lessons may be restricted to more corporatist policy settings, others may help improve the effectiveness of negotiated agreements in many national settings.
Chapter 5 mentioned that, in the classic Sherlock Holmes tale “Silver Blaze,” Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective infers an important finding lurking behind an apparent non-event. Similarly, in the last section of the previous chapter we built from something that did not happen – in this case, a very limited negative impact on public program performance even in the face of sizable and negative budget shocks from the environment – to highlight ways that public managers are able to protect their organizational systems from unanticipated and unpleasant disruptions to maintain performance in the face of adversity. Because managers made a series of decisions that reflected key priorities and long-term goals, the “dog that didn't bark” in this latter instance was a set of school systems that did not appreciably suffer – at least in the short run.
This chapter follows the earlier analysis, at the intersection of public management and organization theory, to explore a more general process that bureaucracies use in the face of potentially disruptive circumstances. We first examine the question of whether and how the presence of managerial capacity in public organizations might provide protection or support for public agencies facing environmental battering. Apart from the day-to-day efforts on the part of managers to encourage efficient and effective production, in other words, we ask if reserve capacity has positive impacts on performance. Can capacity be activated in times of crisis to protect the organization? This is the first core research question explored here.
When people think of what public managers do, often the tasks and responsibilities that come most readily to mind are those tied to the internal functioning of a public organization: motivating staff, organizing tasks, structuring work relationships, handling the budget and other resources such as information technology, appraising individuals' performance, and the like. We begin our empirical examination of public management from another angle: the externally oriented actions of managers as they seek to do their jobs and advance their organization's causes. We do so for two reasons. First, this aspect of public management is often given short shrift in standard accounts, and yet – as explained earlier in this volume – contemporary governance arrangements typically enmesh the actions and objectives of specific public organizations in a web of relations with other actors. Second, in the development of our own research program, we began by studying the external efforts of managers and sought to explore their performance-related implications. Accordingly, in this book we proceed in like manner.
Networks and networking
As noted earlier, public programs and public organizations are often situated in networks – arrays through which many aspects of contemporary governance are handled. Networks are structures of interdependence involving multiple organizations or parts thereof, in which one unit is not merely the formal subordinate of the others in some larger hierarchical arrangement. Networks exhibit some structural stability but extend beyond formally established linkages and policy-legitimated ties.
How do organizations and governance systems shape performance, and how do managers influence what happens? In this chapter, we develop a model to answer these questions and guide our exploration of the real world of management. We model two distinct levels: the organizational and the network. While much of the empirical work developed later in this book focuses on how management makes a difference on the organizational level, many programs are implemented via complex networks that combine the efforts of multiple organizations. This structural variance means that it is important to discuss management in the context of the broader patterns of governance now evident in many public programs.
Since much of the rest of the book explores these theoretical ideas empirically, we also discuss data and data requirements. We start with an assessment of the type of data needed to test our theories. We then discuss the Texas schools data set, our primary data set, and its relative strengths and weaknesses. We then note other data sets used in various work in the public management–performance research agenda, including in some of our own studies. Several of these other data sets have enabled researchers to explore in other venues some of the important questions examined in this book, and we refer to a number of such studies in later chapters. Finally, we provide a specific discussion of performance measures for the Texas schools data set as well as the production function used in subsequent analyses.
How effective are public managers as they seek to influence the efforts of public organizations to deliver policy outputs and outcomes? How, and how much, is management related to public program performance? What aspects of management can be distinguished, and can their separable contributions to performance be estimated? How do managers deal with internal operations, opportunities in the environment, and threats or shocks from outside the organization? Can the networking behavior of managers and the networked structures in which many public organizations sit shape policy results – for good or ill?
In this book we address these salient questions – and more. Whereas in an earlier volume (Meier and O'Toole 2006) we explored the relationship between democratic governance systems and public bureaucracy via the literatures of political science and public administration, and used empirical analyses to sort through the issues, in this new book we put the politics-and-administration theme to one side – mostly – to focus on management and performance. This approach does not mean that we reconstruct some sort of implicit politics/administration dichotomy. Indeed, the role that public managers occupy includes some highly political elements, and some of our work on management and performance demonstrates some explicitly political patterns. It turns out, for instance, that managerial interactions with external stakeholders shape the outcomes of their organizations in ways that reflect the distribution of power in their settings.
How effective are public managers as they seek to influence how public organizations deliver policy results? How, and how much, is management related to the performance of public programs? What aspects of management can be distinguished? Can their separable contributions to performance be estimated? The fate of public policies in today's world lies in the hands of public organizations, which in turn are often intertwined with others in latticed patterns of governance. Collectively, these organizations are expected to generate performance in terms of policy outputs and outcomes. In this book, two award-winning researchers investigate the effectiveness of management in the public sector. Firstly, they develop a systematic theory on how effective public managers are in shaping policy results. The rest of the book then tests this theory against a wide range of evidence, including a data set of 1,000 public organizations.
In this book on public management and performance, we began by noting the importance of networked relationships among organizations as a key part of contemporary public managers' institutional settings. We also explored at length the question of how what managers actually do shapes the results of public programs. We have analyzed managerial networking behavior, among other aspects of management, but thus far we have not assessed how networked structures themselves – as distinct from the networking behavior of managers – shape policy outputs and outcomes. To put it in terms of the elements of our model, we have unpacked several elements of “M” but largely ignored the structural aspects of the core organization's environment – an aspect of the “X” term.
The reasons for this focus were explained in Chapter 2, and it should be clear from the extensive reliance of our empirical exploration on the Texas school district data set that researchers inevitably face real limitations in fully exploring structural influences with such a sample. School districts internally look much like each other in structural terms, so the range of variation is quite limited. Moreover, sketching the full networks in which they may operate would require labor-intensive data gathering among many actors in each of the more than 1,000 districts in the sample. The task is not practical without large amounts of time and resources for extensive fieldwork.
Governments around the globe cope with critical issues and thorny policy challenges: encouraging economic growth, combating climate change, educating young people, protecting against disease, building and maintaining infrastructure, planning urban communities, providing social security, and a great deal more. Talented policy designers, and the contributions of policy analysts, can render many of these difficult tasks less daunting. Governments can also learn from each other's experiences, so that mistakes do not necessarily have to be repeated in many places before policy learning can occur (Rose 1993). To convert sensible policy ideas into reliable and effective streams of programmatic action, however, much more is needed.
Few policies are self-executing. Typically, public programs require the concerted effort of many people, often coordinated via formal organization, to achieve their intended results. While some policy interventions can avoid the need for substantial coordination – monetary policies and other governmental efforts to shape market conditions, for instance, rely for much of their effectiveness on individuals' uncoordinated responses to reconfigured incentives – the great bulk of policies are delivered into the hands of intended implementers, whose responsibility it is to make policy come alive in patterns of goal-oriented behavior. Indeed, the promise of democracy in advanced nations is fundamentally tied to the ability of representative institutions to deliver regularly on their policy commitments through such processes of converting public intention into action.
Governments typically face these implementation challenges with regard to numerous policy objectives and programmatic initiatives.
Our basic model hypothesizes managerial influences on public organizational and program performance, when managers exert effort on external management as well as when they perform the standard internal functions that comprise managers' responsibilities. Chapter 3 has demonstrated that managers do operate externally – presumably to buffer against negative shocks, and also to exploit resources and opportunities in the organization's environment on behalf of the agency and its programs. Indeed, that chapter illustrated the nonlinear interaction of managerial networking with key resources for school districts. The chapter also showed that managerial efforts outward generate performance dividends, although these are not neutrally distributed to stakeholders; networking can have inequitable distributional consequences. Before we address the subject of internal management (Chapter 5), we need to revisit both managerial functions and introduce an aspect of internal and external management that is implied in the initial model but thus far not incorporated into the empirical analyses: the actual quality of management. We proceed to show that quality not only affects performance but links to managerial networking in interesting, nonlinear ways.
The “M” terms in the model obviously refer to managerial functions that have both a quantity, or degree of activity, aspect as well as a quality component. Our measure of managerial networking, introduced in the preceding chapter, obviously has advantages – including validity and reliability; but it lacks a “quality” component.
This book has presented a perspective, a model, and a large set of empirical findings. The results speak to a broad agenda occupying many scholars and practitioners: understanding how public managers shape agency and program performance. In this chapter we draw the volume to a close by undertaking two tasks. First, we review and tie together what we have learned about public management and performance. We then sketch a new agenda for some of what, we believe, remains to be explored.
What does the evidence show?
This research program has developed many findings about whether, how, and how much public management influences the performance of public organizations. Most findings explain what is going on in school districts within one state; but, we argue strongly, this “limitation” should not diminish the record. Although this work should be replicated in other empirical settings – and although we have initiated that ourselves, as have others discussed in earlier chapters – the patterns analyzed here should not be marginalized. First, the sample included in most of our empirical studies consists of more than 1 percent of all governments in the United States. Second, no larger sample of public organizations has ever been analyzed for determinants of performance. Third, the analyses develop and report on numerous types of managerial influence. While the findings sometimes show that managers shape performance in ways that some might find to be expected, the results do not merely theorize or speculate about such channels of influence; they demonstrate the influence with systematic evidence.