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 10: Contexts and administrative reforms: a transformative approach

Tom Christensen and Per Lægreid


Christopher Pollitt (2003: 161; Pollitt and Bouckaert 2004: 197) indicates that the theory of context as a way of understanding public decision-making and reforms is underdeveloped. His own contribution to the theory has been to single out a number of variables that are important as context variables. One such variable is ‘type of task’; three others are ‘time’, ‘scale’ and ‘direction’ (Pollitt 2008: 13–14; Pollitt and Dan 2011: 35). The first aim of this chapter is to outline rather briefly what is meant by these four context variables, asking whether they are unambiguous concepts and how they might be related.1 The second aim of the chapter is to relate Pollitt’s take on context variables to a wider theoretical framework, in other words to interpret and analyse the concept of context according to several different theoretical approaches or perspectives. One such rather varied framework is the organizational theory one, encompassing instrumental and institutional elements (Peters 2012). In our own work, we have outlined what we call a transformative approach (Christensen and Lægreid 2001, 2007; Christensen et al. 2009), which bears some similarities to the analytical framework that Pollitt and Bouckaert (2011) use in their seminal book on comparative public reform. Our approach, based on a combination of American and Scandinavian organization theory, comprises three main perspectives: a structural-instrumental, a cultural-institutional and an environmental.

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