På jagt efter mening: Styring af offentlige organisationer

Christian de la Porte Simonsen

Student thesis: Master executive thesis


Hunting for Meaning – Managing Public Organisations This present thesis takes as its point of departure the experiences derived from the introduction of the management tool “dialogue based contract mana-gement” within the day-care sector in the Municipality of Ballerup. The thesis focuses on how to develop and implement management technologies within public organisations in ways that ensure that the actors involved perceive them as meaningful. The thesis examines how the choice by the Municipality of Ballerup of “dialo-gue based contract management” as the guiding management concept can be understood as well as the practical functioning of this management tool. Theoretically the starting point of the thesis is in social constructivism and the systems theory developed by Niklas Luhman. Additionally, the ‘translation theory’ of the Norwegian Professor Kjell Arne Røvik is used for the purpose of analysing the historical development from the birth of the idea of the mana-gement concept until the final decision about dialogue based contract mana-gement is made. The study shows that the dialogue based contract management can be regar-ded as a management form based on mutually binding contracts between dif-ferent types of task fulfillers who, regarded as communications systems are operationally closed, but are none the less able to observe and disrupt each other. What primarily differentiates this type of management from the types used previously by the municipality is that the contract is mutual and dialogue based, allowing for the identification of the relevant areas of action for the in-dividual day-care centre. Through this dialogical process the commitments of the contract are specified in the form of goals and criteria of success, within the frame of which the day-care centre has latitude and freedom of action, based on professional criteria, to define the precise form of the task fulfilment. The choice by the municipality of Ballerup of implementing dialogue based contract management can be regarded as a reaction to the constraints on ma-nagerial capacity involved in the management of an organisation which is sub divided into a number of highly autonomous and self-referential units which are accordingly difficult to control and where concrete manifestations of central management initiatives are not guaranteed to take the shape initially in-tended. The dialogue based contract enables communication between different opera-tionally closed systems, meaning that for instance the pedagogical, economic and political systems each render the content of the contract meaningful in system specific ways through translation, while still maintaining the ability of other systems to recognize the translation as a commitment within the frame-work of the overall perspective, e.g. in the form of political aims. The study additionally shows that the local anchoring of the contract’s aims and the possibilities for translation of these aims are of paramount importance for the local reception of the contract and, by extension, the ownership at this level as well as prospects of its realization. The dialogue based contract management approach is furthermore a vulnerab-le construction which not only imposes high demands on the implementing actor, but on the organisation as well. Dialogue based contract management is based on a reciprocity which requires the organisation firstly to take the ef-fects of its decisions on the contract into account when making these decisions and secondly to be willing continuously to have a dialogue about the possibili-ties contained in the contract. If these considerations are neglected by the or-ganisation there is a likelihood that the local management might lose faith in the contract and attempt to circumvent their commitments stipulated by the contract. The central conclusion of the investigation therefore is that communication through dialogue is the central and fundamental prerequisite for the contract. If the dialogue between the parties to the contract functions effectively there is a greater likelihood that the contract will work as intended. Conversely, in the case of poorly functioning dialogue the agreement is likely to acquire a solely symbolic role. At a more general level the study concludes that the dialogue based contract management does not provide an unequivocal answer to questions about the future management of public organisations, but it does constitute a step in the right direction.

EducationsMaster of Public Governance, (Executive Master Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages55