Public Reform Paradoxes and the Old Effectiveness–Efficiency Problem

  • Mirko Pečarič Associate Professor of the Faculty of Administration, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Keywords: effectiveness, efficiency, complex-adaptive systems, public administration, decision-making


Although effectiveness and efficiency are old comrades of public administrations, they still often cause unintended consequences. The relation between (absent) effectiveness and (overly emphasised) efficiency remains unresolved. The paper shows that effectiveness and efficiency are still used interchangeably, and despite the presence of negative effects, it comes as a surprise that important documents still address these terms without procedure or methodology to provide the content whereby they could be more clearly elaborated. Not only is the goal to achieve clearer meaning, but to accomplish results with the fewest possible negative effects. Alongside different management reforms, decision-makers must not lose sight of the whole; all reforms are only specific answers to inadequate previous ones, and it could be valuable to take a step back to see how/why different reforms emerge. The paper addresses the success/failure of reforms and the outcomes thereof. It claims the core problem of rational decision-making lies not in rationality per se, but in a lack of concept and/or insufficient attention to the behaviour of complex adaptive systems. With the help of complex adaptive systems, cybernetics, and combinations of effectiveness and efficiency, the paper presents the essential elements for adaptive (human) decision-making (such as diversity, variation, selection, adaptation, and integration) as the framework whereby unintended, reverse, and neutral effects can be reduced. New rules/decisions should be based on different levels of planning and adaptation, and on moving from the general to the more specific, in accordance with context specificity and unplanned, emergent things. It seems the hardest thing to address is the human character that does not (want to) recognise a situation as the situation in which some things must be spotted, evaluated, and changed if needed.