PFI Blues

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s somewhat opportunistic outburst about PFI debts in the NHS yesterday brought the whole issue of PFIs back onto the agenda. (I was on BBC Radio 4’s PM program yesterday talking about it). The debate about PFIs usually generates more heat than light, as protagonists and antagonists slug it out. In reality PFI are neither wholly good nor bad, but have often been badly implemented. Continue reading “PFI Blues”

Buddy Can You Spare a Dime? Ministers and Big Business to “Buddy up”

The government is to launch a new scheme for Ministers and Big Business leaders to “buddy up”, says an article in today’s Times. These arrangements giving business leaders direct and privileged access to Ministers is fraught with dangers, not least the taint of corrupt practices such as ex-Ministers being parachuted into jobs with their former ‘buddies’. Continue reading “Buddy Can You Spare a Dime? Ministers and Big Business to “Buddy up””

Universities and the logic of public interest


My trade union, UCU, is campaigning against the establishment of “private” universities in the UK. They have a point about the way in which this is being done, which is in my view with reckless disregard for quality and probity issues which could damage the whole UK higher education sector. Continue reading “Universities and the logic of public interest”

Apple and the perils of success – lessons for public management

The shine has just come my Apple experience. I still think they produce the best computers, but my experience over the past week points to some potential problems for them, and some lessons for public management. Continue reading “Apple and the perils of success – lessons for public management”

Fuzzy Performance [and fuzzy-set comparative analysis call for papers]

Last week I did a session at the Audit Commission (yes, despite Mr Pickles best efforts they are still there, just).

The subject was “Fuzzy Performance” and I outlined to about 40 expert staff why I and some colleagues are exploring using “fuzzy-set comparative case” analysis to explore issues of performance in public organisations.

I should explain that “fuzzy” here absolutely does not mean unrigorous or sloppy or anything like that – quite the opposite: fuzzy-set technology is widespread – your washing machine or fridge, if it’s new enough, probably has some fuzzy-set based controls on a chip in it somewhere.

In social science Charles Ragin has spent 20 years or more developing a rigorous application of set theory, and most recently fuzzy set theory, to exploring complex causal relationships and finding a way of teasing out the configurations that lead to specific outcomes. He and colleagues have developed various methods and software which go under the generic title of “Qualitative Comparative Analysis” or QCA.

Several researchers are already using QCA to explore public management and related issues – for example:



One way we want to take these developments forward Philipp Krause and I are trying to organise a panel at the next IRSPM conference in Rome. Below is the call for out Panel:

IRSPM XVI Rome 2012


Beyond the Paradigm Wars: Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) -impacts and prospects as an approach to advancing public management knowledge

Colin Talbot, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK and Phillip Krause, World Bank, Washington DC, USA

Research on public management has been dominated for many years by two radically different approaches that are usually seen as mutually exclusive – ontologically, epistemologically and methodologically. On the one had there has been a great deal of qualitative case-study work, including usually fairly small-n case comparisons. On the other, there has been a lot of quantitative analysis of large-n data sets.

Both approaches have produced useful work and major problems – the former often reach conclusions that are difficult to generalise whilst the latter often produce precise but weak conclusions. Proponents of both approaches have often engaged in somewhat futile debates about their relative merits.

An alternative approach using systematic comparison of small to medium-n cases using ‘Qualitative Comparative Analysis’ (QCA)[1] – has been gaining ground in recent years – mostly in political science (e.g. comparative politics, democratic systems, etc) and historical sociology (e.g. welfare state studies) (Rihoux and Ragin 2009). But it has made smaller, but still significant, contributions in public policy and management (e.g. Peters 1997; Kitchener, Beynon et al. 2002; Krause 2009; Rizova 2011).

The purpose of this panel is to assess the contribution so far, and future prospects, of the broad QCA approach in public management. The approach appears to offer many advantages in the analysis of complex causal configurations. It perhaps also can be used to take advantage to the large number of data sets that have emerged about public administration and management in recent tears, both within and between countries, as a result of the ‘performance movement’ (Radin 2006; Talbot 2010).

Papers are welcomed that either apply the QCA approach (with an emphasis of the contribution of the approach) or take a broader view of the methodological issues posed by QCA for public management research (including reflections on previously published research).

Colin Talbot and Phillip Krause

Kitchener, M., M. Beynon, et al. (2002). “Qualitative Comparative Analysis and Public Services Research – lessons from an early application.” Public Management Review 4(4): 485-504.

Krause, P. (2009). A Leaner, Meaner Guardian? A qualitative comparative analysis of executive control over spending. Discussion Paper, Deutsches Institut fur Entwicklungspolitik (German Development Institute).

Peters, G. B. (1997). “Policy Transfers between governments: the case of administrative reform.” West European Politics 20(4): 71-88.

Radin, B. (2006). Challenging the Performance Movement: Accountability, Complexity, And Democratic Values, Georgetown Univ Pr.

Rihoux, B. and C. C. Ragin, Eds. (2009). Configurational Comparative Methods – Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and Related Techniques. Applied Social Research Methods Series, Sage.

Rizova, P. (2011). “Finding testable Causal Mechanisms to Address Critical Public Management Issues.” Journal of Comparative Policy Anlysis 13(1): 105-114.

Talbot, C. (2010). Theories of Performance – organizational and service improvement in the public domain. Oxford, Oxford University Press (forthcoming).

[1] QCA is used here to denote the general approach rather than detailed or specific techniques.





Soviet Planning Meets Parliamentary Boundaries, and it’ll end in tears

The imposition of soviet-style ‘one size fits all’ Parliamentary constituencies on the complex organic realities of England is an extraordinarily clumsy and contentious move.

It smacks of moving towards Amercan-style boundary ‘Gerry mandering’, as well as distancing Parliamentary representation from real local communities. From a government supposedly committed to ‘localism’ this is a strange move, to say the least.

Now the realities of what these changes mean have become obvious, the legal changes needed to implement it look to be in severe danger from disgruntled MPs and Peers. Look out for another screeching U-turn in the near future.

Politicising the Met Won’t Help Policing

The appointment of Bernard Hogan-Howe as the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is a political appointment, and all the poorer for it.

I don’t mean Mr Hogan-Howe is a Tory, although he has been publicly cosying up to their law and order agenda. I mean that the decision to appointment him, as opposed to Hugh Orde, was clearly politically motivated.

With public concern about the Met at a high level, and especially worries about relationships between the police, politicians and press after the phone hacking scandal led to the departure of the last Commissioner, it seems extraordinary that such a clearly politically motivated appointment should be made.

Most informed insiders thought Hugh Orde was the best qualified candidate, as did the two panels who looked in detail. But they have been overruled by the political concerns of the Tory Home Secretary and Tory London Mayor. This is bad news for the future of policing.

Virtual Life… after Death

This doesn’t really have anything to do with Whitehall or Public Management, but I got this extraordinary Press Release this morning and was so taken aback I just thought I needed to share it.

Maybe it should be relevant to public management – should government provide an e-death service along with all the other e-gov services?

“A long-needed service for our digital age, being unveiled today at the DEMO technology conference in Silicon Valley, now allows people to easily manage their “virtual” presence after death.

The company I-Postmortem today launched the websites I-Memorial ( and I-Tomb ( I-Memorial is a dynamic, secure, private site that chronicles milestones and thoughts, and allows people to prepare personal multimedia messages to be shared posthumously with loved ones. Additionally, I-Memorial is designed as a storehouse for a person’s digital life (account info, usernames, passwords, instructions, etc.), and allows that info to be shared after death so the deceased’s “virtual” existence can be managed

I-Tomb is The World Virtual Cemetery where I-Memorial entries are posted after death. Anyone anywhere can visit I-Tomb to learn about and honor a departed’s time on earth. People can create I-Tomb pages for loved ones and store cherished narratives, videos, audio recordings and photos there.”

Democracy and Public Administration

The ‘Arab Spring’ has raised, yet again, the issue of how modern publication administrations can be created in emerging and transitional states – especially ones that have long lived with some sort of autocratic regime.

At next years IRSPM Conference in Rome (11-13 April 2012) Beryl Radin (American University) and I are organising a panel on this important issue. The ‘Call for Papers’ is below, for those who might be interested. Continue reading “Democracy and Public Administration”