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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > P, Q > Public Sector Management

Public Sector Management

The form of management practiced within the public sector.

(Pollitt, C. (2003). Public sector, private sector: Where would we be without a few good stereotypes. In The Essential Public Manager. Open Press University)


In an article by Politt in 2003 entitled, “Public sector, private sector: Where would we be without a few good stereotypes”, Politt analyzes differences between the art of management in the public and the private sector. After reviewing the previous literature, Politt points out the various stereotypes that exist between the two sectors by means of a hypothetical conversation between three colleagues in a pub. Some of these stereotypes include the following: (i) that the public sector is less efficient than the private sector, (ii) the public sector sometimes ‘interferes’ in the normal ‘market’ functioning of society, (iii) public servants must always ensure their own political correctness, (iv) due to the breadth of work involved in the public sector it is hard to measure goals and success, and (v) that the public sector has no competitors to help it stay efficient.

Politt reviews each of these stereotypes in turn making the following key observations: (i) the data is ambiguous concerning the charge that the public sector is less efficient than the private sector, however it is true nonetheless that the public sector is concerned with more than just efficiency – it also must maintain a certain level of economy, equity and efficiency, (ii) while it is true that the public sector often interferes in society, Politt notes that this is both important and necessary and must be done by at least some actor, for example, to regulate weights and measures, (iii) political correctness does occur in the public sector but this is partly due to the understanding in society that the bureaucracy is held to a higher moral and ethical standard than other actors. The bigger question, maintains Politt, is the ‘social conscience’ or lack thereof of private corporations, (iv) the multidimensional and overlapping nature of the public sector is such that it is difficult to set goals and measure success, although this does occur on a regular basis. The reason for this is often due to the fact that the political masters of bureaucrats are willing to promise more than they (read: the bureaucracy) can deliver. (v) Pertaining to the argument of a lack of competition in the public sector, the author posits that it is not clear that competitions always leads to better outcomes in every situation. With some goods for example, standards may be driven downwards as competitors try to contain costs. In other instances, ‘public goods’ such as national defence or clean air may not be best provided through competition.

The author’s major conclusion is that while there are differences between the public and the private sector, it is best to try to understand these differences through a contextual approach. The context in which public sector managers operate is much more communal, democratic and politically sensitive environment than those which exist in the commercial marketplace. While efficiency is a desirable trait, Pollit writes that it cannot be gained at the expense of the loss of public trust.


Pollitt, C. (2003). Public Sector, Private Sector – where would we be without a few good stereotypes? In: Pollit C. The Essential Public Manager. Open University Press: Maidenhead.



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