What is Public Management?

publicservice2The Atlas of Public Management characterizes the field of public management

as comprising:

  • the topics taught in leading Master’s programs of public policy and public administration;
  • the topics on which international governmental organizations provide advice to governments; and
  • the government practices pertaining to policy development, policy implementation, administrative functions, and program operations.

We think that our use the term public management in an expansive way that includes policy analysis, is consistent with the way the term is used by many scholars.

In his 2012-13 syllabus, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Peter Zimmerman defines public management as:

”the work of mobilizing others to accomplish socially useful purposes and advance the public interest” (Zimmerman, 2012).

In his 2006 book, Public management: old and new, Laurence Lynn Jr begins with the assertion that:

“public management is a nexus where politics, law, and administration necessarily engage each other” (p. ix) and that “no authoritative distinction can be drawn between the concept of administration and that of management despite considerable scholarly effort to make such a distinction” and therefore that “The history of public administration, which encompasses the emergence and evolution of structures of  authority, of “best practices” and of institutionalized values, is also, therefore, a history of public  management.” (p. xii).

The Goldman School of Public Policy (University of California, Berkeley) provides the following description of the evolution of the field of “public policy analysis and management.”

“Public Policy Analysis and Management, to give the field its complete name, is a professional training of about 40 years’ standing in US—and, increasingly in overseas—universities originally directed at developing a professional cadre of policy analysts in government agencies and legislatures. More recently public policy education has broadened to train government executives and administrators, and high-level personnel in the non-profit organizations that perform social functions commonly undertaken by government outside the US. The core program in public policy is a two-year master’s degree offered by dozens of schools in the US and elsewhere alone and jointly with engineering, law, public health, and other graduate degrees. The underlying model of public policy professional education is integration of disciplinary insights from economics, political science, law, statistics, operations research, psychology, and more with an intellectual spirit best characterized as “compared to what?” … Policy analysis is directed to identifying the best thing governments can do about important problems and opportunities, including known options and newly invented initiatives, and is distinguished by its expectation that a good policy analysis will demonstrate critical thinking of more than one kind at once. In the early 1980s the field experienced its most recent major adaptation, when it was recognized that to be effective, alumni needed not only to ‘win the argument on the merits’ but also to practice executive and leadership skills in real organizations. This recognition led to the integration of public management in the core curriculum.” (at http://gspp.berkeley.edu/academics/undergraduate-minor, accessed 24 November 2013).

In the subjects falling within the Policy Sectors, our focus will be on the public policy and management aspects of advice and practice. For example, in Agriculture Policy, we include topics related to the choice of instruments (e.g., subsidies, tariffs, or supply management) but not detailed advice about optimal techniques of animal husbandry.


Lynn Jr., Laurence E. (2006). Public management: old and new, Routledge, New York.

Metcalfe, Les, and Sue Richards. (1987). Improving Public Management. London: Sage. pp. 73-5

Perry, James L. and Kenneth L. Kraemer. (1983). Public management: public and private perspectives, Mayfield Publishing Company)

Pollitt, Christopher and Geert Bouckaert. (2004). Public Management Reform, A Comparative Analysis, Second Edition, Oxford University Press

Zimmerman, Peter. (2012). Syllabus for HKS course MLD-110A, at http://www.hks.harvard.edu/syllabus/MLD-110A.pdf (accessed 11 February 2013).

Page created by: Ian Clark on 1 March 2013, last modified on 11 December 2015.

Image: I Work for Government Because…, A Wordle by Andrew Krzmarzick, from http://kupmc.org/psrw, accessed 11 December 2015.