Relational public management: Complexity and public sector governance in a developing context

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This essay advances critical theoretical insights into the idea of ‘relational public management’ and its implications
for public administration and management in developing countries (DCs). In doing so, the paper sets out new agendas for
public service governance in DCs that recognizes the changing nature and emerging complexities of both the public service
and of society. The paper explores critically the limitations of traditional public administration and the New Public
Management (NPM) perspective and argues that public sector management in DCs are embedded in complex dynamics
between power relations, complexity and social norms, and should therefore, focus on building relationships as a means to
deepening trust and enhancing cooperation among critical actors. The case for a shift in focus to ‘relationality’ reflects
changes in the wider global political economy, including emerging complex and multi-faceted policy problems that require
heterodox and context-sensitive responses from governments and greater collaboration among key stakeholders. The idea
of relational public management proposed here, draws on new ideas in management theory, HRD theorizing, leadership
studies, policy analysis and discourse theory. It argues for a shift from a preoccupation with conventional organisational form
and functions, to place greater emphasis on social networks and relationships, as a way of improving management efficiency
in the public services of DCs. Overall, the purpose of this essay is more to stimulate critical debates around innovative
strategies for managing the modern public service in DCs in order successfully tackle emerging complex and wicked policy
problems, instead of providing a prescriptive model or the so called ‘best practice’ perspective on public sector management.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 5th International Conference on Management Leadership and Governance ICMLG 2017
Place of PublicationReading, UK
PublisherAcademic Conferences and Publishing International Ltd
Pages137 - 154
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-911218-28-9
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • public sector reforms
  • public service management and governance
  • developing countries
  • policy implementation
  • complexity
  • relational public management

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Global Development Institute


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