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 14: What we know so far and how to proceed: contextual variables in NPM reform research

Isabella Proeller


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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