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Theories of Performance: Organizational and Service Improvement in the Public Domain [Paperback]

Colin Talbot
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

19 Nov 2010
How well do governments do in converting the resources they take from us - like taxes - into services that improve the well-being of individuals, groups, and society as a whole? In other words: how well do they perform?

This question has become increasingly prominent in public debates over the past couple of decades, especially in the developed world but also in developing countries. As the state has grown during the second half of the 20th century, so pressures to justify its role in producing public services have also increased. Governments across the world have implemented all sorts of policies aimed at improving performance.

But how much do we know about what actually improves performance of public organisations and services? On what theories, explicit or more often implicit, are these policies based? The answer is: too much and too little. There are dozens of theories, models, assumptions, and prescriptions about 'what works' in improving performance. But there's been very little attempt to 'join up' theories about performance and make some sense of the evidence we have within a coherent theoretical framework.

This ground-breaking book sets out to begin to fill this gap by creatively synthesising the various fragments and insights about performance into a framework for systematically exploring and understanding how public sector performance is shaped. It focuses on three key aspects: the external 'performance regime' that drives performance of public agencies; the multiple dimensions that drive performance from within; and the competing public values that frame both of these and shape what public expects from public services.

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Theories of Performance: Organizational and Service Improvement in the Public Domain + Performance Management in the Public Sector (Routledge Masters in Public Management)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: OUP UK (19 Nov 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199575959
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199575954
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 510,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

I'm Colin Talbot, currently professor of government, Politics, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, UK.

I write mainly about public management issues, but also some wider subjects with a special interest in (evolved) human behaviours.

Besides academic writing, I also write and comment extensively in the media - including through my Whitehall Watch blog. (

I have been a specialist adviser to two Parliamentary Select Committees and advised dozens of organisations and governments.

Product Description


Performance management has grown from a narrow technical suburb of public administration into a sprawling city of its own. Colin Talbot provides us with a much-needed A to Z - one which looks into the foundations as well as the superstructures, and which shows how the technicalities link to some of the perennial dilemmas of public policymaking. (Christopher Pollitt, Research Professor of Public Management, Public Management Institute, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven)

Colin Talbot takes an issue that is usually buried in narrow administrative and political frameworks and provides the reader with a broader and provocative perspective. This book offers students and practitioners of performance a new and fresh orientation to an important issue. (Beryl A. Radin, American University, Washington, DC)

Professor Talbot brings his aptitude for trenchant analysis of policy making and public management to the subject of public sector performance. The result is a compact comparative assessment of performance measurement and management that is a tour de force of theoretical breadth, political insight, practical wisdom, and good judgment. Academics and practitioners alike will find it invaluable. (Laurence E. Lynn, Jr. University of Texas at Austin)

About the Author

Colin Talbot is a recognised international expert on performance in the public sector who has worked with governments, public agencies across many countries including Canada, France, and Japan. He has recently been involved in two Prime Minister's seminars in the UK. He's been a specialist adviser to two select committees in Westminster (Treasury and Public Administration) and, uniquely, given expert evidence to committees of all four parliaments in the UK. He has advised the National Audit Office on all their major performance studies over the past decade. He is currently professor of public policy and management at Manchester Business School, where he founded the Herbert Simon Institute for public policy and management. He has authored or edited five previous books, numerous academic articles and is a regular media commentator including for the

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars best in its field 13 Oct 2010
As someone who has been involved in improvement efforts at the academic, political and consultancy level for the past 35 years, I have followed Colin Talbot's writings with some interest. He writes in a clear and stimulating way (for an academic!) about public management; does consultancy and writes a blog. It was therefore with some impatience that I waited for this book and now pause to make sense of it. It is indeed an impressive tour de force - which surveys both the very extensive academic literature and also the global government endeavours in this field over the past few decades. As befits an academic, he roots his contribution conceptually before moving on to survey the field - and this is an important contribution in what is all too often a shamefully theoretically-lite field. For the first time I read a reasonably analytical treatment of the various quality measures which have developed in the last decade such as The Common Assessment Framework. His references to the literature are invaluable. I am grateful to him for introduction to the concept of clumsy solutions - which uses culture theory to help develop a better way of dealing with public problems
On the downside, however, the text is a bit dense and compressed in parts - with too many (all too brief) five point lists and summaries (the chapter on performance and public values was particularly frustrating) .
I also found the basic focus disappointing - I had hoped (the title notwithstanding) that it would give the senior manager charged to make things happen something to work with.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overview 3 Feb 2011
By E. Gozali - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book provides a thorough overview of the history and recent developments on performance theory. Very useful for me. I still need to read this more carefully.
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