Public Value Theory: Reconciling Public Interests, Administrative Autonomy and Efficiency

Gerald Turkel and Eli Turkel

Public Value Theory aims at reinvigorating the role of publicly formed values in public administration theory and research. It attempts to reconcile the conceptual antagonisms between Traditional Public Administration that seeks to limit corruption and bring expertise to administration by establishing a more autonomous legal rational organization and New Public Management that focuses almost exclusively on sharply reducing public bureaucracy through measures and organizational practices based on economic efficiency. Rather than viewing these divergent approaches to public administration either as dichotomies or rejecting them, Public Value Theory recognizes the important dimensions of public administration that they raise and incorporates their most salient features in a more inclusive approach that emphasizes the role of values. This paper locates Public Value Theory in the historical formation of theoretical approaches to public administration. Focusing on key theoretical texts and secondary sources, the paper provides internal critiques of Traditional Public Administration and New Public Management and discusses the limits of Public Value Theory. Substantively, the paper shows that Public Value Theory seeks to reconcile and balance contradictory approaches to public administration and the implementation of public policy. Public Value Theory attempts to join economic efficiency, organizational practices, rationality and independence in public administration, and the formation of public values and interests in an encompassing approach. Public Value Theory is both less insistent on specific organizational forms of public administration than Traditional Public Administration and less focused on narrowly construed criteria of efficiency than New Public Management. The paper concludes by briefly considering criticisms of Public Value theory that are concerned with its insufficient attention to the political formation of values and interests.