International Journal of Applied Public Sector Management (ISSN: 1742-2655) Volume 1 Issue 1
“Preparing the Ground - Cementing the Foundations”: From Information to Explanation - From Case Study to Paradigm and Back Again.
One of the major areas of debate as we entered the new millennium centred around the notion of public-private partnerships and how such ventures might affect public sector organisations. This case study considers the need for model building as a way of understanding p-p-p’s in particular and, by implication, the role of case studies in general.
It is almost a truism to state that ‘paradigms predominate’ in today’s language of management. Seemingly endless are the references to the nature of, and the need for, ‘paradigm shifts’. In what might have been termed a ‘vortex of enthusiasm’ by Descartes, it is easy to reiterate the overt rhetoric without ever engaging in a consideration of the meaning of the covert reality (1). It is salutary to remember that a paradigm comprises a set of assumptions from which are developed a range of prescriptions which, in turn, generate a number of prescribed actions.
Invariably, linkages are established, or deemed to exist, between each of those three stages and relationships specified between each of the stages. In short, a model is created. A paradigm shift thus means that a set of assumptions has been changed, to a greater or lesser degree, which has occasioned a change in prescription, finally leading to a change in approved actions. In reality, this means little more than that one model of reality has been exchanged for another. For the most part, such exchanges are justified by assertions that reality has changed or that there are better ways, perhaps emanating from the acquisition of new tools and techniques, of explaining reality than were previously available. Frequently, as with the widely recognised, and instantly recognisable, McKinsey model, there is recourse to the concept of a system and, in consequence, the obligatory acceptance of the assumptions, which underpin that concept (2). To understand change, to ‘shift’ from one paradigm to another, to adapt, amend, alter, modify and substitute, either incrementally or radically, one model for another requires information. It also requires something more, namely, the capability and capacity to employ that information constructively so that it is integrated into something more than simply a set of discrete data. In essence, it requires the ability to move from the specific to the general, to move from the particular case to the generic aggregate.