Process not Outcomes in New Public Management? ‘Policy Coherence’ in Australian Government

Michael Di Francesco, University of Sydney


Declining state capacity to deliver policy coherence is a fixed feature of contemporary public policy literature, and in the Westminster democracies the ‘hollowing out’ thesis has emerged as the latest account. In the rush since the early 1980s to transform bureaucracy and force public services onto a ‘market’ footing — referred to as the ‘new public management’ (NPM) — governments have, according to the thesis, unwittingly weakened their ability to influence and manage public policy outcomes. Despite NPM’s focus on managing for outcomes, the changes are not delivering the intended results. The aim of this paper is to briefly reassess this argument by reorienting the decline of policy coherence debate in Australia from a focus on policy outcomes to a more traditional understanding of coordination as a process. Using the evaluation of public service policy advising as an example, it will show that NPM techniques that embrace procedural coordination — as opposed to coherence in policy outcomes — are more sensitive to the political nature of public policy management and hence provide more leverage for policy improvement.

Dr Michael Di Francesco is an Editor of The Drawing Board, and Lecturer in Government in the School of Economics and Political Science at The University of Sydney. He is currently on secondment with the Office of Financial Management, NSW Treasury. Responsibility for comments lies solely with the author.

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