Cacophonies in the contemporary chorus about change at public worksites, as contrasted with some straight-talk from a planned change perspective

Robert T. Golembiewski, Eran Vigoda, Ben chu Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The New Public Management (henceforth NPM) has coalesced into a movement in a short period of time, virtually worldwide. Thus, inter alia, we hear about the allegedly-new focus on the “customers” of public services, which are to be provided by “public intrapreneurs” as well as by cadres of employees at all levels who are “empowered.” And so on and on—through the conventional organizational litany including cross-training, total quality, performance measurement, and eventuating in strategic planning. These emphases make for a pleasing, even convincing, organizational libretto. If the “chorus” proclaiming the NPM libretto is both ubiquitous as well as insistent, however, the chanting is often loosely-coupled, curiously directed, and at times even contradictory—at times so much so as to alert one's native cunning about what forces are really at work. Hence, the reference here to the “chorus” and also the “cacophonies” this essay detects in NPM's ardent vocalizing. This reflects our judgment that, in equal measure, NPM combines ubiquity, too much of some useful things, unreconciled diversities, and issues at sixes-and-sevens. But this essay also urges that NPM can “walk its talk.” In effect, several emphases will at once help explain how NPM was all-but-predestined to experience serious shortfalls, as well as prescribe how NPM can rise about these limitations. Particular attention gets directed at appropriate guidelines interaction and structural arrangements. Four emphases relate to these critical-cum-constructive ambitions. In preview, NPM 1. seldom even attempted detailing a useful approach to applications; 2. typically neglected systemic or millieu characteristics within which applications occurred; 3. usually did not specify a useful front-load in designs: i.e., training in values, attitudes, and interaction skills that would facilitate developing a “cultural preparedness” for appropriate applications; and 4. seldom specified supportive structural/managerial arrangements. This essay proposes to do better. This essay takes a direct if dual approach to describing the New Public Management “chorus” and its “cacophonies.” To begin, introductory attention goes to NPM as a “liberation” of theory and practice beyond the classic conservatisms of Public Administration. Then, four limitations of this NPM “chorus” will be detailed, and this quartet of “cacophonies” also implies ways to enhance NPM applications, as well as urges a stark warning against overselling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-137
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Journal of Public Administration
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Public Administration


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