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Title: Achieving outcomes in complex public service systems : the case of the Early Years Collaborative
Author: French, Max Nealon
ISNI:       0000 0004 7226 9412
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2017
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Governments around the world have been increasingly adopting an ‘outcomes-focus’ in the design of policy and the management of public services, the implications of which have been subjected to increasing scrutiny within public administration (Boyne and Law 2005; Elvidge 2012; Heinrich 2002; Housden 2016; Lowe 2013; Lowe 2017; Wimbush 2011). Yet wherever an outcomes-based approach has been applied, be it within performance management (Bevan and Hood 2006; Lowe 2013; van Thiel and Leeuw 2002), budgeting (Perrin 2006; Ryan 2003), or commissioning, its achievements have fallen short of expectation (Wimbush 2011). Outcomes have predominantly been conceptualised and operationalised within what this thesis calls a ‘Rationalist’ approach, linked to the New Public Management context within which an outcomes-focus was popularised. This approach assumes we can understand the factors which drive outcomes, plan appropriate service interventions, harness the resources and commitment needed to put such interventions into practice, and manage such interventions towards their expected end points. Outcomes however are inherently complex phenomena – they are always transboundary, always co-produced by the individuals who experience them, and always impacted by a large number of unpredictable and uncontrollable factors in their external environment. Public management theory and practice finds itself at a crossroads: an imperative to improve outcomes, and a paradigmatic inability to do so – a challenge which scholarship is just beginning to respond to (Housden 2016; Lowe et al. 2016). This thesis contributes an alternative ‘Complex Systems’ theoretical framework which responds to (rather than simplifies or externalises) the inherent complexity which outcomes present. This theoretical framework draws on complex adaptive systems theory to enable a ‘Complex Systems’ approach to the management of outcomes. The framework is based on the conception of outcomes as emergent products of complex systems, and integrates three defining components of complex adaptive systems (self-organisation, distributed agentic learning, and attractor states) to enable an endogenous process of service transformation in conditions of uncertainty. This theoretical framework provides public management with more solid footing for understanding, analysing and designing outcomes-focussed interventions, with distinct advantages relative to existing outcomes-based approaches, in pursuing complex public service outcomes. The thesis applies this framework through a multiple embedded case study analysis (Yin 2009) of the Early Years Collaborative, a large-scale multi-agency Quality Improvement Collaborative operating across Scottish local authorities, as it seeks to improve a set of population-level child development outcomes.
Supervisor: Simmons, Richard ; Satsangi, Madhu ; Birchall, Johnston Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: public management ; public administration ; public services ; performance management ; outcomes ; complexity ; co-production ; early years collaborative ; Early childhood education