The Role and Strategies of Senior Public Administrators and Institutional Entrepreneurs in Performance Management Reforms

The public management literature rarely theorizes or systematically explains the role and strategies of institutional entrepreneurs in reforms and change. This omission is particularly striking because the organizational and management literatures, on which many NPM ideas rely, engage with this concept quite frequently (Battilana et al. 2009; Campbell 2004). As explained earlier, this is an important factor in performance management reforms that needs further exploration.

Institutional entrepreneurs are actors who leverage resources to create new institutions or transform existing ones (DiMaggio 1988; Garud et al. 2007; Maguire et al. 2004). They can be organizations or groups of organizations, or individuals or groups of individuals (Fligstein 1997; Maguire et al. 2004). They are certainly not always the elite but rather may be people such as social activists, labor leaders, academics, or public administrators, who are relatively remote from decision-making processes, who try to change institutions (Campbell 2004). Battilana et al. (2009) suggested that institutional entrepreneurs are change agents, who both initiate changes and actively participate in the implementation of these changes.

The literature highlights two types of factors required for an institutional entrepreneur to evolve: (1) field characteristics such as crises in the form of social upheaval, technological disruption, competitive discontinuity, and regulatory changes as well as a scarcity of resources (Child et al.

2007; Durand and McGuire 2005); and (2) the actors’ social position, which might affect both their perception of a field and their access to the resources needed to engage in institutional entrepreneurship (Battilana et al. 2009; Lawrence 1999). However, in public sector reforms in general and performance management reforms in particular, such characteristics are necessary, whereas resources are sufficient conditions for enabling the activity of institutional entrepreneurs (Mizrahi 2013).

Campbell (2004) underscored the central role that institutional entrepreneurs play in processes of institutional change in various ways. First, they have a crucial role in articulating and framing problems in clear and simple terms. Second, entrepreneurs involved in social networks and organizations learn new ideas that they can transform into radical institutional changes. Third, successful entrepreneurs mobilize resources and allies, present evidence that the suggested changes have succeeded elsewhere, and demonstrate how programs for innovation fit the interests and views of decision makers and accord with the sentiments of the general public.

To a large extent, senior public administrators have these capabilities and access, making them pivotal players in the processes of public sector reforms (Mizrahi 2013). Given the political and administrative barriers to performance management reforms that we discussed previously, senior (and to limited extent also junior) public administrators emerge as the key players in initiating, and certainly in implementing, such reforms. The strategies they use and their ability to overcome barriers is therefore a main factor in explaining and planning the specific components of performance management reforms. A detailed mapping of power relations and interests in accordance with rational choice institutionalism provides insights into these areas. Indeed, the framework described in the previous section can and should be a practical tool for entrepreneurs in planning their strategies for initiating change.

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