Dealing with Dysfunction: Innovative Problem Solving in the Public Sector

Brookings Institution Press
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How can we intervene in the systemic bureaucratic dysfunction that beleaguers the public sector? De Jong examines the roots of this dysfunction and presents a novel approach to solving it. Drawing from academic literature on bureaucracy and problem solving in the public sector, and the clinical work of the Kafka Brigade—a social enterprise based in the Netherlands dedicated to diagnosing and remedying bureaucratic dysfunction in practice, this study reveals the shortcomings of conventional approaches to bureaucratic reform. The usual methods have failed to diagnose problems, distinguish symptoms, or identify root causes in a comprehensive or satisfactory way. They have also failed to engage clients, professionals, and midlevel managers in understanding and addressing the dysfunction that plagues them. This book offers conceptual frameworks, theoretical insights, and practical lessons for dealing with the problem. It sets a course for rigorous public problem solving to create governments that can be more effective, efficient, equitable, and responsive to social concerns.

De Jong argues that successfully remedying bureaucratic dysfunction depends on employing diagnostics capable of distinguishing and dissecting various kinds of dysfunction. The “Anna Karenina principle” applies here: all well functioning bureaucracies are alike; every dysfunctional bureaucracy is dysfunctional in its own way. The author also asserts that the worst dysfunction occurs when multiple organizations share responsibility for a problem, but no single organization is primarily responsible for solving it. This points to a need for creating and reinforcing distributed problem solving capacity focused on deep (cross-)organizational learning and revised accountability structures. Our best approach to dealing with dysfunction may therefore not be top-down regulatory reform, but rather relentless bottom-up and cross-boundary leadership and innovation. Using fourteen clinical cases of bureaucratic dysfunction investigated by the Kafka Brigade, the author demonstrates how a proper process for identifying, defining, diagnosing, and remedying the problem can produce better outcomes.
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About the author

Jorrit de Jong is Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. He is also Academic Director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. His research and teaching focus on the challenges of making the public sector more responsive and more resilient through innovation.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Sep 13, 2016
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780815722076
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Human Resources & Personnel Management
Political Science / American Government / National
Political Science / Public Affairs & Administration
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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