The Competing Values of Public Management Reform in the Digital Era

Prof. Evert Lindquist

Years ago, Dunleavy and Margetts (2006) asserted that the New Public Management model was dead as a guiding force for public management reform, and that ‘digital-era governance’ – informed by access to a preponderance of digital tools and access to data – would provide the foundations for the next wave of reform. It is hard to dispute that ‘digital’ is washing through governments and their public service institutions, that it is often disruptive not only of the sectors which government ostensibly tracks and regulates but of government and politics, and that it now provides new language and narratives for governments and public service leaders as well as external reformers. But have the precepts and values associated with the New Public Management really died, and is it true that ‘digital-era’ ideas and tools are anti-ethical to the bundle of approaches we associate with the New Public Management? Could the opposite be true, that digital-era possibilities are finally allowing elements of NPM models to be finally realized? Could the same be said about how digital tools and ideas might be furthering traditional public administration and new public governance and public value movements? This paper will argue that these distinct reform movements and analytic perspectives have had different narratives, values, contradictions, and limitations, and that the digital era is infusing each with different possibilities, opportunities, and downsides. While advocates will continue to debate which is more relevant, these different reform models are each legitimate and best understood from a competing values perspective, which provides a more balanced view of the complexity of reforms and for evaluating progress and debates about reform over longer periods of time.