Public management, context, and performance: in quest of a more general theory

Laurence J. O'Toole, Kenneth J. Meier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

199 Citations (Scopus)


Recent years have seen a substantial growth in the large-N quantitative study of public management and performance. Much of the progress can be attributed to a small number of data sets on local governments in a few countries. The range of data sets suggests the validity of the overall hypothesis of management affecting performance, but the precise findings also vary across these and other contexts. These various and sometimes conflicting findings suggest that additional gains might be made through developing a theory of context and how context affects the management-performance linkage. This article seeks to take some initial steps in providing such a theory by incorporating such contextual variables as political context (unitary versus shared powers, single- or multiple-level, corporatist versus adversarial, with or without a formal performance appraisal system), environmental context (extent of complexity, turbulence, and also munificence; presence versus absence of social capital), and internal context (extent of goal clarity and consistency, organizational centralization versus decentralization, and degree of professionalism). The theory presents context as a set of variables that condition the impact of management in an interactive model. The theory seeks to unify the existing findings and present a series of hypotheses for further empirical testing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-256
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of public administration research and theory
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • METIS-311321
  • IR-96888
  • n/a OA procedure


Dive into the research topics of 'Public management, context, and performance: in quest of a more general theory'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this