The Missing Link?
Edited by Christopher Pollitt
Chapter 14: What we know so far and how to proceed: contextual variables in NPM reform research
The Missing Link?
To take “context” into consideration is a common practice. It is widely acknowledged that intervention and context dynamically interact and that there is no “one size fits all”. The knowledge and research gap appears as soon as we start to question the precise conceptualization of the “context” of reforms and its operationalization in empirical research. By context, we refer to the background, the environment, or a set of circumstances that surrounds an event or a behavior. From a sociocognitive perspective context is what is defined to be relevant to a situation (von Dijk 2009). While there is common agreement that context influences public management (and vice versa), there are no standard references on how to integrate, model and operationalize context or variables of contexts. Or, context is a part of and is addressed in theories – for example, in institutionalist theories – which are used to embed and frame public management research, but rather difficult and sketchy as regards to how to actually incorporate it in research designs and models. In this chapter, I want to highlight some observations in the current public management reform literature and reflect on their implications on how context – deliberately or implicitly – is studied. Therefore, the following is not meant to develop a framework or a result in terms of an operationalization of context, but rather seeks to stimulate our awareness for conscious and systematic reflection and its incorporation in research studies.
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