Strategy and Policy: Unravelling the Impact of Strategic Behaviour on Public Policy

This blog summarises key results from a recent report, providing an overview of key policy and organizational trends in five countries (Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Slovenia) and seven policy sectors, thanks to 17 case reports and 41 interviews. The report aimed to:

  • identify downwards facing models of government in use,
  • locate strategic management models in use, and
  • specify any supporting public management reform texts.

‘Downwards Facing’ Models of Government in Use

Firstly, our report found the widespread presence of ‘downwards facing’ Public Value, Network Governance, Co-Governance and Collaborative Public Leadership ideas and models of government, often all present at the same time within the cases.

Network Governance

Network Governance was the most referred to model of government (in 12 cases), present in all policy sectors except the economic one. In other policy sectors (environmental, cultural and social), it was associated with wider consultations with external stakeholders and drawing in more expertise from outside. This approach responded well to features of these complex, multi-agency and multi-sectoral settings. Furthermore, the networking approach fitted with certain national administrative traditions, as in the Netherlands where it seemed influential (and where the so-called ‘polder model’ was an early national Network Governance style influence).


Aspects of Co-Production were cited in many countries and sectors (in 11 out of 17 cases), reflecting a move from hierarchical and top-down to more dispersed and bottom-up decision making. For example, elaborated systems of stakeholder consultation with public and nongovernmental actors were apparent. These changes had implications both for internal stakeholders (as public managers had to learn new skills and work practices) and external user-orientated stakeholders (who had to learn how to enact a desired increased involvement in the policy process).

Public Value

Public Value ideas were also often evident (9 cases). For instance, a strong Public Value ethos was described in various cases (Slovenian central and local government, the French environmental report, UK open policy making, the London cultural sector and the Welsh subnational report which outlined a distinctive ‘Welsh way’ of public management reform). Finally, a Danish report stated that a Public Value purpose was attached to the collaborative governance initiative apparent there, in the sense that the facilitating state agency pursued this overarching goal.

Collaborative Public Leadership

The Collaborative Public Leadership model was, by contrast, cited in only two case reports. The Slovenian national case mentioned the mandate of the previous Minister and the collaborative leadership style in this period. The Danish Work and Income report suggested that leadership was still in the hands of government officials (or a chairman appointed by the government) but took the distinctive form of acting as a sponsor, facilitator or convenor.

Strategic Management Models in Use

Our second question related to models of strategic management in use. We benchmarked the 17 reports against an updated version of Ferlie and Ongaro’s 2015 typology of schools of strategic management, as applied to public service organizations (8 different models). Many cases reported the combined presence of various schools, rather than displaying one ‘pure form’.

Firstly, the cases cited the classic Strategic Design and Planning Model of Strategy, apparent across many countries and policy sectors (in 11 out 17 cases). It was cited in all French and Slovenian reports which may indicate the enduring nature of their national traditions. In the following of the COGOV project, we will explore further how these planning systems work in practice, and whether they can accommodate more participatory and bottom-up working or are fixed and insulated.

The Strategy as Practice School was the second most prevalent school (present in 7 out of 17 cases) and warrants further investigation. Are the strategic practices referred to highly participatory in nature?

There was no citing of the Social Entrepreneurship School and the Strategic Positioning School was mentioned very modestly (perhaps still indicating limits to market like behaviour in these public agencies). The remaining schools were all cited in a mid-level cluster of about a fifth of the cases.

Supporting Texts

The third theme was whether the reports highlighted some written texts. Where, in other words, did public management reform ideas come from? Were academic articles picked up by the field? Were ‘blockbuster’ and accessibly written management texts widely cited?

Several reports did not mention any key supporting texts at all, although more did. Our overall finding was that various texts – and different types of texts – were apparent. No one ‘blockbuster’ public management book emerged as widely influential. Academic articles were conspicuously absent; although a few accessible and well known academic books were mentioned. For example, the Danish work and income case exploring the impact of globalization on labour markets suggested T.L. Friedman’s 2005 book (‘The World is Flat’) was an inspiration. The only academic author mentioned more than once was Mark Moore (and his well-known work on Public Value) in two English cases.

Grey literature was cited more frequently. National policy documents were cited but were confined to one country (such as the Vision of Slovenia 2050 and the Slovenian Development Strategy 2030 in the Slovenian case). The French case mentioned French laws and official documents as influences.

Perhaps surprisingly, management consultants’ reports were not cited and only one think tank report was apparent (namely, a toolkit in the cultural sector cited in the London case). The works of management ‘gurus’ in Business Schools were not cited.

These initial findings provide useful pointers for later work. In particular, we will investigate the extent to which models of strategic management in use are associated with more participatory practices.


This blog post is based on Horizon 2020 COGOV project working paper Strategy and Policy: Unravelling the impact of strategic behaviour on public policy.

Dr Irene Pluchinotta works at the Bartlett School and was a COGOV postdoctoral fellow at King’s College London.

Ewan Ferlie is a professor of public services management at King’s College London.

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