Governance (GOVN) 505

Innovative Public Management (Revision 2)

Revision 2 is closed for registrations, replaced by current version

View previous syllabus

Delivery Mode: Grouped study

Credits: 3

Prerequisite: There are no formal prerequisites for this course, however, a previous course in public administration, management, or political science is recommended.

Precluded Course: GOVN 505 cannot be taken for credit if credit has already been obtained for Athabasca University's GOVN 405.

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Program: Master of Arts Integrated Studies

check availability

**Note: Students in Group Study courses are advised that this syllabus may vary in key details in each instance of the course. Always refer to the Moodle site for the most up-to-date details on texts, assignment structure, and grading.**


In 1979, Margaret Thatcher launched a comprehensive plan to reform public administration in Britain. There were three main dimensions to her plan: first, the power of the civil service was to be diminished to make the state apparatus more responsive to political direction; second, private-sector management practices were to be introduced to promote economy and efficiency in government; and third, individual citizens were to have increased freedom to counter the domination of state control over the design and delivery of public services (Aucoin 1995, p. 1). Focus on the second dimension brought major changes in organizational design and managerial practice, resulting in what came to be called the "new public management" (NPM).

Thatcher's approach was quickly emulated in the early 1980s by other Western governments that had identified similar priorities: the reduction of public spending, deficits, and debt; a reversal of the serious decline in public trust in government; and the need to modernize and streamline public service management in the new era of global competition. The resulting changes in public management—led by governments in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, especially—shifted public sector organization from its traditional hierarchical, rule-based, process-oriented, and bureaucratic structure, toward a flatter, innovative, risk-taking, and quality service and results-oriented focus. Thus, a new form of public management has been evolving over the last two decades (although there are many who would call it revolutionary, rather than evolutionary, change). Its emphasis on increased flexibility, enhanced responsiveness, and careful management of resources and programs requires that public servants, both managers and staff, be prepared to demonstrate the basic skills of risk taking, innovation, and creative planning. These reforms to public service organizations have been supported more enthusiastically by some players than by others, and all have also been irrevocably affected by the rapid advances in information technology.

Some reforms have been more successful than others, but countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and to a lesser extent, the United States, have struggled to revitalize, modernize, and even reinvent their public services. The emphasis in these public service organizations has been on shifting from a traditional, classical bureaucratic model (hierarchy, control, rule-based, and cautious) to a post-bureaucratic model involving innovation, flexibility, less central control, empowerment, competition, and continuous learning.

Large organizations do not yield easily to efforts to restructure and redefine their internal and external relationships, but it is clear that major upheavals have occurred in the theory and practice of public administration in most Western countries. The financial crunch, widespread criticism, and global challenges that these countries faced in the 1980s and 1990s precipitated a shared desire to do things differently. Many public managers were receptive to political efforts to impose organizational change, and their creative efforts brought change from the bottom up. It is necessary to examine and assess these trends in public administration to gain a better understanding of what has been achieved and what the future possibilities are. A caveat to bear in mind is that reforms often bring unintended consequences. As Sharon L. Sutherland has said, "Every Reform Is Its Own Problem" (1991).

This course will, therefore, take both a historical and a contemporary approach. It will attempt to answer the following questions: What challenges are inherent in efforts to realize major organizational change, and what are the implications for democratic governance? The course readings and commentary are permeated with comparative discussion, as there are few public sectors that have not been influenced by these reform efforts.

Course Objectives

The purpose of this course is to enable students to explore, and to think critically about, the fundamental changes that have taken place throughout bureaucracies in the Western world, and to enable students to evaluate these changes from a comparative perspective. The course is designed so that students will have the opportunity to work with colleagues to:

  1. Enhance their own critical reading skills.
  2. Discuss the major differences between old and new approaches to public management: its structures, relationships, objectives, methods, and implications.
  3. Assess major environmental changes that have led most Western governments to alter their approach to public management
  4. Assess changes in public management in Canada from a comparative perspective.
  5. Evaluate the efforts to innovate and pursue alternative methods of delivering public services.
  6. Evaluate theoretical arguments that support and reject the adoption of the principles of New Public Management (NPM) and assess the advantages and disadvantages to the public sector of pursuing major reform
  7. Reflect critically on the long-term implications for democratic rule and citizenship of the focus on new methods of public management.

Course Outline

  • Unit 1 Old — and New — Public Management
  • Unit 2 What is Innovation?
  • Unit 3 Organizational Change
  • Unit 4 Culture and Values
  • Unit 5 Comparative Aspects
  • Unit 6 Managerialism and Empowerment
  • Unit 7 Political, Public Servant Relationships and Accountability
  • Unit 8 Alternative Service Delivery (ASD)
  • Unit 9 Examples of Innovative Management
  • Unit 10 Continuous Learning and Sustaining Momentum
  • Unit 11 NPM and the Evolution of Public Sector Management

Student Evaluation

To receive credit for this course, students must participate in the online activities, successfully complete the assignments, and achieve a final mark of at least 60 per cent. Students should be familiar with the Master of Arts—Integrated Studies grading system. Please note that it is students' responsibility to maintain their program status. Any student who receives a grade of "F" in one course, or a grade of "C" in more than one course, may be required to withdraw from the program.

The following table summarizes the evaluation activities and the credit weights associated with them.

Course Activity Weighting
Online Participation 20%
Assignment 1 20%
Assignment 2 20%
Assignment 3 20%
Assignment 4 (Book Review) 20%
Total 100%

Course Materials

The package you receive should contain each of the items listed below. If anything is missing, contact the Course Materials Production division of Athabasca University. If you live in Edmonton or Calgary, we encourage you to call the Learning Centre in your city and use the automated telephone attendant to connect with Course Materials Production (the extension is 6366). If you live outside Edmonton or Calgary, but within Canada or the United States, you may call the automated attendant using Athabasca University's toll-free number, 1-800-788-9041 (extension 6366). If you live outside Canada or the United States, or if you prefer not to use the automated system, you may call Course Materials Production at (780) 675-6366. You may write in care of Athabasca University, 1 University Drive, Athabasca AB, T9S 3A3; or you may send e-mail to


  • Charih, Mohamed, and Arthur Daniels, eds., 1997,New Public Management and Public Administration in Canada / Nouveau management public et administration publique du Canada. Toronto, The Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC).
  • Kernaghan, Kenneth, Brian Marson and Sandford Borins, 2000. The New Public Organization, Toronto, The Institute of Public Administration of Canada, (IPAC).

For Review (See Assignment File):

  • Good, David A. 2003. The Politics of Public Management: The HRDC Audit of Grants and Contributions. Toronto: The Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) / University of Toronto Press.

Athabasca University Printed Materials

Reading File: The Reading File contains selected articles from various sources that are required reading for this course.

Athabasca University Online Materials

Course Home Page: You will find Course Information (including the Assignment File and other pertinent information) at the top of the course home page. You will also find your Study Guide presented unit by unit online. You will find your assignments and links to submit your work to your professor on the course home page.

Athabasca University Library: Students are encouraged to browse the Library's Web site to review the Library collection of journal databases, electronic journals, and digital reference tools:

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 2, January 2, 2010.