Skip to main content

Governing Public Services


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutor: Professor Deborah Mabbett
  • Assessment: a 3000-word essay (70%) and two online short-answer quizzes (30%)

Module description

This module explores the history, theory and problems of public management, surveying theoretical contributions to the analysis of the machinery of government and examining the sweeping reforms that have taken place in the UK. Approaches to public administration have been revolutionised in recent decades as traditional approaches have been challenged by new ideas about management. The module applies concepts drawn from politics, economics and organisational sociology to examine these new ideas. It assesses the relevance of private sector management principles to the public sector and discusses the evolving relationship between the public and private sectors in public administration.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Overview of decades of change in how public services are provided
  • The power of bureaucracies and the ‘public choice’ critique
  • Incentives: performance-related pay
  • Targets: holding bureaucrats and politicians to account
  • Street-level bureaucracy: what is left of professionalisation and discretion?
  • Researching targets and incentives at the street level
  • Contracting-out: using private providers to deliver public services
  • Contractual risks and failures
  • Contracting with the voluntary sector
  • Researching contracting-out

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • be able to compare, apply and, where appropriate, synthesise the main theoretical approaches to the study of public management
  • have a specialised understanding of issues and debates in public management, particularly relating to the similarities and differences between public and private sector management
  • understand issues in evaluating public management reforms, and be able to weigh up incomplete and contradictory evidence
  • be able to make analytical and evidence-based contributions to debates about the risks and benefits of proposed public management reforms
  • have developed skills of critical thinking, enquiry, synthesis, analysis and evaluation that can be employed on other modules studied at this level.