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  • Author or Editor: Justine Grønbæk Pors x
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The Orchestration of Potentiality

This textbook is the first to examine how new trends such as “radical innovation”, “co-creation” and “potentialization” challenge fundamental values in the public sector.

The authors bridge traditional public management approaches that tend to exclude social and societal problems, with broader social theories apt to capture new dilemmas and challenges. The book shows how the effects of new forms of managerialism penetrate the state, local governments, welfare institutions as well as professional work and citizens’ rights. It facilitates a discussion about how basic values are put at stake with new reforms and managerial tools.

The book is ideal for postgraduate students in the area of public policy and public management with an interest in managing and leading public administration units and welfare institutions.

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What does it mean to govern the public sector without knowing the possibilities and challenges of the future? How can we invest in a future that is basically unknown and uncertain? How can specific strategies for an organisation be planned, and simultaneously, how can its ability to adapt quickly to developments that cannot be predicted be strengthened? How can we educate public managers when we do not know which qualifications for management will be needed in the future?

These are the questions that drive today’s demand for improved public management. They are the result of an ideal about constant adaptation, which began to influence the public sector in the 1980s. The ideal does not preach adaptation to a specific scenario, but rather adaptation to adaptation. This creates a radically transformed concept of time in organisations, which has subsequently spread like wildfire, causing fundamental changes to our ways of organising and managing in the public sector.

The problem today is not simply the difficulty in public administration of planning solutions to problems when the future turns out differently than what was expected. The challenge is more radically the fact that reality as it exists in the present is perceived as an obstacle for the ability to imagine the future, let alone formulate strategies in relation to it. The big question that many managers face today is how to formulate strategies for the future that do not lock public organisations into specific future scenarios, since this might reduce the organisation’s flexibility and hence its capacity for rapid adaptation when the future turns out differently than expected.

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Is it possible to steer society from a position outside of society? Today’s political system acts as if it is, and most radically so when the US for example and shifting partners have been engaged in military actions. Was the Iraq war not an attempt to implement a new social order from the outside? A democracy, at best? Can a bank bailout rescue or change the forces operating in the financial system? One bailout quickly led to another. What are the prevailing ideas when society becomes the object of governance?

We begin our descriptions of welfare management using society as the point of observation. We are interested in the basic conditions for governing society. The first premise for speaking about the public sector and governance is the fact that society is multicentred. Society has become centre-less, and no social system can assume a privileged position from which it controls other social systems in society. Regulatory efforts have to accept that they can only, at best, work as productive misunderstandings.

One of the most traditional conceptions of society, which is often brought up in conversations about management and governance, is the notion of civil government, which took shape in the decades around 1900. The basis of this principle of government is the division of society into three parts: the state, the public (the market) and individuals. Individuals come equipped with freedoms and rights such as property rights, freedom of speech, and so on. Freedom, however, can only be realised in a public social context where freedom becomes restricted.

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What does it mean to govern within the public sector in a way so that its multifaceted activities and elements are coordinated horizontally? How is it possible to maintain a form of hierarchical unity as the complexity in the public sector continues to grow? Does increased reliance on self-governance also increase the capacity for handling complexity? How does one govern self-governance? And what does it mean to govern while simultaneously encouraging the governed bodies to think along and develop their own innovative solutions?

Today, freedom and self-governance are perceived as highly effective governance strategies. Local autonomy and independence are seen as vital resources for central governance efforts. The hope is that by governing through independence, public administration can increase the speed of adaptation of individual units and their ability to take local responsibility for issues in the welfare state. The hope is also that local freedom will generate possibilities for finding and reaping the potential inherent in the exploration and rethinking of what quality means in specific situations for individual citizens.

In this chapter we explore the relation between governing and governed bodies in public administration today. We show how the formal hierarchy in public administration has been transformed, first into supervision administration and subsequently into what we refer to as potentiality administration. Today’s public administration frames the relationship between governing and governed bodies in various and cryptic ways. Trying to govern subordinate units and institutions through independence means that any attempt at governance entails the risk of limiting institutions’ capacity for self-governance.

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What does it take to innovate and reimagine welfare services? What would it mean to raise the quality of welfare by placing individual citizens and their needs at the centre of welfare efforts? How do we reap the benefits of new welfare technologies? Each of these questions defines the welfare organisation as the solution to problems in the welfare state. The individual welfare organisation becomes the site where questions of lacking adaptability and innovation can be solved. We accumulate more and more expectations about what individual welfare organisations are supposed to deliver. And we perceive more and better institutional management as the solution to countless problems. The question is, however, how are specific management conditions in a nursing home, a secondary school, a group home or a rehabilitation facility affected by public administration ambitions about potentiality governance? What does it mean to manage a welfare organisation in which management is restricted by central rules and regulations, has to implement central planning, is supervised in its effort to create an independent profile, and is required to reimagine and innovate welfare services?

We discussed in Chapter Three the way that public administration has evolved from a formal bureaucracy via sector-based administration to supervision and potentiality administration. That historical narrative is about the need to maintain unity and a comprehensive vision while managing increasing differentiation and complexity in public administration. It tells the story of shifts and twists to the relationship between governing and governed bodies, and the emergence of a form of governance whose objective increasingly becomes the capacity for selfgovernance among governed institutions.

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How do individual welfare organisations choose and prioritise conflicting interests? Any manager of an institution knows that important decisions require the interplay of different rationales. Ideally, economic, political and professional interests come together to form a perfect union, but this does not always happen. How can welfare organisations create and maintain a focus on central responsibilities when they are also expected to accommodate a wide range of other interests? What, first of all, constitutes the central responsibility for a daycare centre of a group home today? What level of professionalism does the potential organisation require of professionals? And how does that affect management conditions?

Here, we pursue the same question that we introduced in Chapter Two, that is, the relationship between differentiation and unity, but we focus on the way in which this question presents itself for the individual organisation. Is it better to manage a multiplicity of interests on the organisational level than on the level of society? Is it easier to represent the unity of society in an organisation than on the level of society?

A municipal preschool has to balance a set of interests. A preschool is a care institution, whose job is to establish a sense of security for the children in its care. But it is also an educational institution with responsibility for the children’s development. The ‘same child’ is not the same child observed from the perspective of the two different codes, and there are no guarantees that the challenges the institution seeks to provide the children with from an educational perspective coincide with the sense of security that the care perspective strives for.

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We have described the gradual differentiation of society. We have shown changes to notions of temporality in organisations due to ‘the logic of adaptability’. And we have provided a description of the disassembly of hierarchical structures in the public sector and a development in the direction of a rather complex potentiality-seeking public administration dependent on independent welfare institutions that continually question themselves. Finally, we have described a shift from homophonic to communication-seeking organisations.

Such shifts also include radical changes to the conditions of possibility for horizontal relations among welfare institutions. Today, we have a great number of independent welfare institutions – public, private and voluntary – each with its specific programmes and strategies. At the same time, each individual case involves numerous welfare institutions. In certain cases, the involvement of welfare institutions can be arranged successively (for example, one institution refers a citizen, then the citizen is sent to another institution for treatment, and finally the citizen is sent to an institution for rehabilitation). However, in many cases the case requires simultaneity among institutions. An at-risk child changes school. The change of school and the question of the successful integration of the child activates a number of different institutions, which are designed to support the child in different ways while still pulling in the same direction – the psychologist from the counselling centre, the municipal social worker, the police officer from the social services collaboration unit, a health professional, youth workers and teachers, and, of course, the school principal.

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How can employees be managed to become innovative? How do public managers establish expectations for employees to self-manage when expectations to the organisation constantly change? How can managers establish expectations when all that can be expected is the unexpected?

The acceleration of expectations for individual welfare organisations to create innovation and change also affect the relation between organisation and employee. As a manager, it is no longer possible to unambiguously represent the unity of the organisation and use that as a platform from which to define and delegate responsibilities. The manager is forced to manage in response to employees’ selfmanagement and hope that the sense of unity, which the manager is unable to conceive, might be more accessible for individual employees.

With the potential and communication-seeking organisation, management can no longer be described as the effort to shield employees from a turbulent world through complexity reduction. The hope is precisely that the contingency of individual encounters between welfare professionals and citizens can be used as the springboard for new possibilities and better quality. Complexity is transferred down through the organisation to individual employees because, as they say in the human resource policy in Randers municipality, ‘knowledge about the type and complexity of a problem is greatest in the place where the problem arises. Those employees who encounter the problems have the competence and authority to address them’ (Randers Kommune, 2009, own translation).

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This chapter represents our final exploration and focuses on the relationship between public administration and citizen. Our claim is that the self-relation of citizens becomes the object of public welfare management. Increasingly, citizens and the activation of their resources are seen as the key to improving the welfare society. The differentiation of society plays a central role in this process, since the way in which public administration perceives citizens depends on the function system it connects to.

Several questions guide our exploration. First is the way in which citizens come into being as potentiality. Second is the way in which the function systems become increasingly more dependent on citizens. And third is the way in which personal responsibility is assigned new form and function. This chapter, in other words, addresses the challenges that arise when managers and professionals are expected to assume responsibility for citizens’ ability to assume responsibility for their own and others’ quality of life.

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We began high above the clouds with a general perspective on the differentiation of society, and proceeded to zoom in more closely, first with a look at the general development in public administration, then observed from the perspective of individual organisations, and finally from the perspective of the boundary between organisation and individual. Now we zoom back out again, not all the way to the level of society’s differentiation form, but to the political system and the question of the history of state forms.

In 1990, Bob Jessop, a leading writer on state theory for nearly three decades, asked the question ‘What is the state?’:

Is the state itself best described by its legal form, its coercive capacities, its institutional composition and boundaries, its internal operations and modes of calculation, its declared aims, its functions for the broader society or its sovereign place in the international system? Is it a thing, a subject, a social relation, or simply a construct which help to orientate political action? (Jessop, 1990, p 44)

We address two questions. The first is: what are the governance possibilities from the perspective of the political system? This includes two sub-questions: How is it possible for the political system to govern other autopoietic social systems? And how have conditions for governance changed historically, for example, with changes to dominant legal and state forms? The second question is: what state form emerges from the historical trends we have described – in relation to developments in public administration, the historical development of individual welfare institutions, and the relation between state and individual?

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