Chapter 8: Can cultural theory give us a handle on the difference context makes to management by numbers?
For much of his distinguished career, Christopher Pollitt has been concerned with evaluation and performance indicators as part of his broader concern with public management and public services. Among his many contributions to this field are the links he has traced between performance indicators and modern managerialism in public services (e.g. Pollitt 1990: 56), his work with Stephen Harrison on the development of performance indicators in health systems over time in two different countries and his interest in tracing out the sometimes paradoxical effects of ‘management by numbers’ (e.g. Pollitt 2011). If there is a common theme in Christopher Pollitt’s many contributions to this field, it is perhaps the view that ‘management by numbers’ should always be taken seriously but never uncritically, that ‘best practice’ is never unproblematic and that the working of performance indicators needs to be understood in context. But to what sort of problem in ‘management by numbers’ could ‘context’ be the answer? And how might ‘understood in context’ itself be understood?
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