Conceptual Models and the Public Service Provider after Outsourcing

Lotte Bøgh Andersen, Lene Holm Pedersen, Yosef Bhatti, Ole Helby Petersen, Kurt Houlberg

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


To understand the behavior of individuals operating in the public square, the literature has until now asked whether they are self-interested, public service motivated or intrinsically motivated. This paper argues that public service providers should be understood based on economic, prosocial as well as self-determined motives. Economic theory focuses on incentives, rent and aspiration levels. Public service motivation theory focuses on the orientation to do good for society and others, the propensity to donate extra effort to society, and the job’s societal impact potential. Self-determination theory focuses on fulfillment of the basic needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness and how this translates into autonomous motivation. These perspectives are illustrated separately, using new results from high-quality register-based analyses of what happens to the individual public employee right after outsourcing of public services. The structure of the paper is inspired by Allison’s (1969) classical paper about the Cuban missile crisis: The three perspectives will be clarified and used to explain the same empirical phenomenon, namely employee consequences of outsourcing. Why does the salary decrease while income transfers (e.g. unemployment benefits) increase dramatically? Why are the employees more absent due to sickness right after the outsourcing, and why do their use of talk therapy increase? All three perspectives contribute to our understanding, but none of them can explain all findings, thus highlighting the need to integrate the perspectives. The empirical illustration, employee consequences of outsourcing, is interesting in itself, but here it will serve primarily as grist for a more general discussion. Similar to Allison, our premise is that improvement in our understanding of public service providers depends critically on more self-consciousness about what we as observers bring to the analysis. What we see and judge to be important is a function not only of the evidence but also of the conceptual lenses that we apply. This is the reason for exploring and combining some of the fundamental assumptions employed in thinking about public service provider behavior, especially in the context of outsourcing. The outsourcing of low-skilled workers (cleaning assistants) serves as a case on how public service providers react to outsourcing. We focus on this group, firstly, because it has been neglected in the PA literature, which to focus on highly educated public service providers such as teachers, health professionals, and high-level bureaucrats. Furthermore, this group can serve as a least likely case as less professionalized groups doing jobs with less task significance are argued to be mainly motivated by extrinsic rewards (Lazear & Gibbs, 2009). Thus, if all three perspectives can contribute to the understanding of the behavior in this group, it is very likely also to be the case for more professionalized groups doing jobs with higher task significance. Finally, most outsourcing takes place for this type of public service providers. The key contribution of the paper is theoretical – to develop a coherent model of public service providers – but the empirical illustration will also in itself greatly contribute to our understanding of employee outcomes after outsourcing.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventThe 21st Annual Conference of International Research Society for Public Management. IRSPM 2017 - Corvinus University, Budapest, Hungary
Duration: 19 Apr 201721 Apr 2017
Conference number: 21


ConferenceThe 21st Annual Conference of International Research Society for Public Management. IRSPM 2017
LocationCorvinus University
Internet address

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