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Public Administration Review, published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the American Society for Public Administration.

The third and final installment of the first phase of the co-production research that I have undertaken with Kevin Orr, professor of public management at Hull University Business School.

This article was published in Public Administration Review, an American journal, that holds the highest ranking of any public management journal.

We reproduce the final paragraphs below. For those wanting to download the full article it is HERE (Public Administration Scholarship and the Politics of Coproducing Academic–Practitioner Research, Orr & Bennett, July/Aug. 2012, Volume 72, Number 4).

Conclusion: Reflecting on the Politics and Practice of Coproduction in Public Administration Research In this article, we engage with widespread calls to foster a reconnection between academics and practitioners in public administration scholarship. Situating the current interest in academic–practitioner research collaboration within a historical context enables us to highlight that the continuing development of public administration scholarship is part of a long-standing, highly contested, and fluid de- bate about the values and purpose of research, the roles and responsibilities of academics, the expectations of practitioners on the academy, and the basis of academic–practitioner relations. We use Raadschelders’s traditions to illuminate the lines of these debates. Our second contribution is to offer insights about the practical and political dynamics of joint research by reflecting on our experience of coproducing research. Turning the lens on our- selves as participants in a collaborative project allows us to highlight the interplay of our own conduct and context—how we negotiate the interacting traditions of scholarship and research practice and the norms and demands of our professions. Through the reflective vignettes, we illustrate that the dilemmas and choices we face are intertwined with the way in which wider traditions, expectations, and imperatives play out in our sectors. Thus, our article provides a macro analysis combined with attention to situated research prac- tices, highlighting the many connected layers of politics. We hope that this exercise contributes an initiating framework for others to consider the politics of their collaborative practices. Joint projects may mark a return to some of the roots of public administration scholarship, but they also present a set of ongoing challenges. For their advocates, they promise a way forward for integrating theory and practice and contributing knowledge for the benefit of both academics and practitioners. Coproduction may confer practical benefits, including access to elites and other worlds and the capacity to build trust quickly, the better to surface stories, experiences, and insights into practice. Coproduction may also offer the potential to draw practitioners closer to the benefits of academic inquiry and perhaps may enable academics to inquire about the worlds of practice in less condescending ways. However, we have emphasized the ways in which such research takes place within a political environment, requiring the continual negotiation of different interests, including those of the members of the team, the communities to which they belong, and the structural imperatives at the inter- section of universities and the public sector. All research is purposeful and involves people who owe allegiances to others, but coproduction appears to give rise to distinctive expressions of these dynamics. Though it is tempting to sweep tensions and dilemmas under the carpet lest they get in the way of a movement toward greater connectedness, paying attention to these dynamics is worthwhile, as it can contribute to a richer set of understandings of the context of joint endeavors and the roles, relations, and stakes involved.

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The full article is HERE (Public Administration Scholarship and the Politics of Coproducing Academic–Practitioner Research, Orr & Bennett, July/Aug. 2012, Volume 72, Number 4).

Here’s a slightly longer version of my piece the LGC has published this week (behind the paywall). This fuller version includes some examples from the archive ….
2011 ended on a particularly sour note for a number of chief executives who found themselves unwanted by their political bosses. After the surprise Wiltshire defenestration, we had the tortuous, self-mutilation in Kent followed by the brutal re-branding of Reading as the issuer of press releases least likely to attract future talent. Aside these most dramatic examples, there was a flurry of other departures leading many to suspect foul play behind the most innocent of early retirements.

Defenestration (in Prague, absolutely not in any UK local authority)

However, taken together with ministerial malice and local political machismo, these events have made some on the local government circuit wonder whether chief executives are about to become extinct.

It is certainly true that it is a hostile environment for senior professionals right now, with councillors  from all parties cutting senior staff as a symbol that the council shares the community’s pain. Of course, some politicians will see this as an opportunity to bolster their own power base, but these will be the exceptions to the rule.

What we see today is a new staging of organisational dramatics, designed to play to external audiences as much as anything. This is as old as theatre itself, of course. It is often gory to watch, it is rarely good value for money, but it allows politicians frustrated by their impotence in the face of the cuts, to put on a show to the voters that they are in control of something, at least.

We frequently see these issues after elections, when new leaders come to power, and we have seen it before during the transition to cabinet government. But normally these are short, if recurrent, trends that lead to evolution, rather than revolution, in the chief executive’s role.

Indeed history is littered with the senior officer casualties who have had their wings clipped, and then with the bodies of politicians who fly too close to the sun. And while the top job remains a cross between a permanent and a political appointment, that risk will remain. The flip side is that many relationships thrive on that tension and ambiguity.

None of which is to say there is nothing new. The particular mix of poisons this year is particularly toxic, and I have no doubt that more of my former colleagues will meet gruesome ends in 2012. But I do not believe that politicians will, as a whole, decide to dispense with senior, independent advice or that we face the end of chief executives as such. Local government has a long and varied history and it is difficult to do anything wholly original. On the appointment of a chief executive again after 10 years operating without one, the then leader of North Tyneside said, “What seemed right in 1992 is now different in 2002.” What goes around comes around.

From the archive

January 2000, Bristol make chief executive post, held by Lucy de Groot, redundant.

July 2001, 4 senior officers share chief executive post in Birmingham while the council consults on new political executive arrangements.

April 2002, North Tyneside announces it will reappoint a chief executive after ten years without.

June 2003, Labour leaders in Hull propose to delete chief executive post remove the chief executive role and run the council through a head of paid service, a city treasurer and a town clerk.

July 2003, Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham, proposes to put chief executive post, then held by Lin Homer, on an annual contract. Chief executives needed, “more incentive to do well in the job at an earlier stage,” he said.

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