On the Elusive Nature of Modernisation in Government

  • Tomas Bergström
  • Irvine Lapsley


"All governments are to varying degrees engaged in public sector modernisation. It is no longer an option, but a necessity, if governments are to respond to changing societal needs and to maintain a competitive economy in an uncertain international environment. (OECD 2005, p.186)"

This impetus for modernisation in advanced economies is driven by economic circumstance. We live in a world of globalisation where multinationals have budgets which are the same size as, or greater than, many medium sized countries. The global markets attenuate the influence of governments to shape a domestic economic policy. Indeed, national sovereignty may also be weakened further by overarching bodies, such as the European Union, which limit the discretion of member countries. This context shifts the focus away from economic policy towards policy development for public services, as a domain over which governments can exercise greater influence even if membership in EU also has a large impact on national and local administration (Statskontoret 2016). This makes policy making in public services the essence of contemporary political thought and action in many countries. Decisions over the size of the sector, or its subsectors, policies of privatisation or marketisation versus more government-led public services dominate the political landscape. This is an important topic for political scientists, policy makers, elected officials, public service managers and of course, citizens as users of these public services and as the electorate. This is the topic which we address in this special issue.