Context in Public Policy and Management
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Context in Public Policy and Management

The Missing Link?

Edited by Christopher Pollitt

‘Putting into context’ is a very common phrase – both in the social sciences and beyond. But what exactly do we mean by this, and how do we do it? In this book, leading scholars in public policy and management tackle these issues. They show how ideas of context are central to a range of theories and explanations and use an international range of case studies to exemplify context-based explanation. The book uncovers the complexity that lies behind an apparently simple notion, and offers a variety of approaches to decipher that complexity. Context is indeed a missing link, which enables us to make sense of the vital relationship between the general and the particular.
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Chapter 8: Can cultural theory give us a handle on the difference context makes to management by numbers?

Christopher Hood


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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