Bad Translation or Double Standards? Productivity and Accountability Across the Private, Public and Voluntary Sectors
In: The Review of Economic Performance and Social Progress 2002: Towards a Social Understanding of Productivity
In this chapter by Janice Stein warns about the dangers of adopting a narrow conception of productivity and efficiency. Building on her analysis in The Cult of Efficiency, she argues that the language of efficiency, understood narrowly as cost-effectiveness, confronts distinctive problems when transferred from the private sector to the public and voluntary sectors. Determining the efficiency or productivity of a public service requires a measurement of the value or utility generated by the service. However, such measurements are much more difficult than in the private sector, where the feedback provided by the market provides as continuous measure of value. Stein contends that the collapse of the language of efficiency into mere cost-containment has ironically undermined the effectiveness and productivity of the public and voluntary sectors. She illustrates the perverse results along three dimensions: the inability to provide for unexpected contingencies; cuts in investment in research and development; and the problems in maintaining of full accountability.
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