In our previous articles on public management, we spoke about the public sector and answered the questions of what is public management and why study public management. With those basic questions answered, this article will take a look at some of the theories and advances that have been made in the field, with a focus on the New Public Management (NPM) model.

Please read on to learn more about the frameworks and ideas that go into providing services to a country’s citizens. You’ll even learn that bureaucracy hasn’t always been such a bad thing.

If you have a specific question, please use the drop-down outline below to jump to that section or FAQ.

Core Themes for the New Public Management

New Public Management (NPM) introduced several ideas from the private sector to public administration. These are some of the mechanisms and approaches of NPM to improve efficiency and service delivery within the public sector.

Hands-on approach

Under New Public Management, public managers are expected to take a more proactive and hands-on approach to their jobs. Older more bureaucratic approaches to public management would often result in managers and employees in the public service merely “passing the buck” to another department. Rather than focusing on the problem at hand or directly addressing the needs of the public, these bureaucrats would merely push along a paper trail that slowed down or stalled service delivery projects.

Key to the introduction of accountability was the restructuring of organisations and hierarchies to decentralise decision-making. Through this decentralisation and devolution of responsibilities, public managers are more accountable and have greater freedom to address the particular needs of the communities they serve.

Explicit standards

One of NPM’s biggest influences on public service is the focus on monitoring performance. This is done both internally, to track employee performance, and also externally, to monitor the impact of service delivery programmes.

Before this performance monitoring can be carried out, it must be tracked and evaluated against an explicit set of standards. These need to be measurable and clearly defined. For example, a programme to reduce crime could be tracked by measuring things such as the number of break-ins or robberies within a specific area over a specified time frame. Efforts to improve education could be tracked by measuring things such as adult literacy rates or matric pass rates.

Emphasis on output control

The setting of explicit standards is closely related to NPM’s focus on output and results. This entails a shift in focus away from procedure and processes towards outcomes and accountability.

Going back to the examples of crime and education, under older public management approaches managers would have been satisfied to be able to claim, for example, that budgets for education and law enforcement were increased. Under the NPM approach, there is far greater emphasis on tangible and measurable outputs.

Improve timing

Another aspect to the focus on improving outcomes is linked to the speed with which services are delivered and in which public projects are carried out. Through the hands-on approach mentioned above, and thanks to the decentralisation of structures, public officials can respond and react far quicker.

Importance of the private sector

The private sector is important to New Public Management because it brings private sector management techniques and practices to the public sector. NPM also recognises that competition and market dynamics drive private sector companies to become more efficient and to continually innovate and improve.

This influence on the public sector is seen both within the organisations, such as employee performance reviews and incentive payments, as well as in how it engages with the public by taking more of a customer-first approach.

New Public Management (NPM) vs New Public Administration (NPA)

New Public Management (NPM) can be easily mistaken for the similarly named New Public Administration (NPA but they are two different approaches to public sector reform. Although it has “new” in the name, NPA is quite a bit older than NPM, having emerged in the 1960s and 1970s.

When NPM developed in the 1980s and 1990s, it sought to improve on what it saw as the limitations of NPA while also carrying some ideas further.

Next, we’ll take a look at some key differences between the two approaches.

Output control vs Internal regulations

One of the major differences between NPM and NPA is that NPM places the focus on results and NPA focuses on procedures. Termed differently NPM centres on output control, while NPA prioritises internal regulations.

Output control focuses on achieving specific results and holding managers accountable for meeting performance targets to achieve those results. Under NPM, managers are given more flexibility to decide how best to achieve the required results.

Internal regulations in NPA are intended to ensure consistency and that citizens are treated fairly. This approach gives managers far less freedom to innovate. While the NPA also aims to provide efficient services within the public service, the first aim of managers is to comply with strict rules and procedures.

Explicit standards vs Democratic citizenship

Another key area where NPM and NPA differ is in their respective focuses on explicit standards and democratic citizenship.

To effectively measure performance, the NPM model requires an explicit set of well-defined standards, which we went into detail about earlier in this article. Having drawn heavily on private sector management practices, NPM views the public as customers. NPA instead takes the approach that the public should also be involved in decision-making and policy development. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive and it is possible to make use of explicit standards at the same time as allowing for democratic citizenship.

An example of this from South Africa is how drafts of new laws and policies are opened to the public for comment before they are signed into law. Viewed through NPM’s private sector lens, this is similar to carrying out customer satisfaction surveys and listening to customer feedback.

Improve timing vs stability

Another area where the NPM and NPA models differ is over their respective focuses on speed and stability.

NPM focuses on the importance of improving timing and responsiveness in the public sector. Under the NPM model, organisational structures are agile and adaptable and managers can make decisions and take a hands-on approach.

NPA in contrast places importance on stability and procedure. This model aims to ensure that public services are consistent and reliable through setting up stable structures. The NPA focus on procedures is intended to ensure that there can be continuity when staff members change as they all work according to the same strict rules.

The Management Theory of Max Weber

German sociologist and political economist Max Weber’s management theory has been highly influential in the hundred-plus years since he died in 1920.

Weber proposed his bureaucratic management theory in many works in German, but his best-known English translation was the book “The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation”.

The word bureaucracy has negative connotations today, but this was not the case in Weber’s theories. Although most of his writings were only translated after his death, much of Weber’s work was done under the reign of the German Kaiser rather than within a democratic government.

Many of the key features of Weber’s management theory sought to challenge the older systems at the time, where authority was passed on from father to son, with a rational-legal concept of authority.

Characteristics of Bureaucracy

In his theoretical framework, Weber identified several characteristics within bureaucratic organisations.

Hierarchy: Bureaucracy is characterised by a hierarchical structure, where authority is exerted from the top down
Division of labour/task specialisation: Tasks and roles are assigned to specific positions or individuals. The specialisation of skills allows for greater efficiency and expertise in performing specific tasks.

Formal rules and procedures: Bureaucratic organisations operate under formal rules and standard operating processes.

Impersonality and merit-based employment and advancement: These features of bureaucracy are often split up, but they are all linked by their focus on impersonal and rational decision-making rather than decisions being influenced by personal bias. This principle aims to ensure fairness within the organisation and that people with the correct skills are employed and promoted.

PDPM Programme structure

Wits Online’s Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management (PDPM) programme takes 18 months to complete, with students able to study in their own time thanks to pre-recorded lectures and a flexible programme structure.


The Wits PDPM programme consists of eight modules, each of which takes seven weeks to complete. These are the public management modules that make up the Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management syllabus:

  1. Governance, Leadership and Public Value
  2. Public Policy
  3. Development
  4. Public finance and performance-based budgeting
  5. Strategic Public Management A
  6. Strategic Public Management B
  7. Analytical Methods
  8. Evaluation

For more details on what’s covered by the modules, please go here on the PDPM page.


All your assessments for this programme are carried out online and you will not have to sit an exam at a specified venue.

To learn more about how it all works when you study with Wits Online, please see our article on How to study online with Wits.

Online Application

To apply for this postgraduate diploma, you will need to have an undergraduate degree and at least two years of relevant work experience. For the full admission requirements, please go here.

If you meet those requirements, then please request more information using the button on the PDPM page and one of our applications specialists will be in touch with you soon to assist you with your application.

Other public management courses like this

As an NQF level 8 postgraduate qualification, the admission requirements for the Wits PDPM are quite stringent.

If you do not yet have an undergraduate degree and/or work experience then you would need to study a lower level qualification to enter the field. Here are some public management course distance learning and traditional contact qualifications that you could study.

Higher Certificate in Public Sector Procurement

The Higher Certificate in Public Sector Procurement is an NQF level 5 qualification that is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority. The programme takes one year to complete.

Its stated purpose is “to enable learners to develop skills in public sector procurement and supply chain management” so that they are “able to promote effective service delivery and economic development as well as to be able to perform their roles effectively”.

Higher Certificate in Project Management

The Higher Certificate in Project Management is another NQF level 5 qualification that is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority. The programme takes one year to complete.

The stated purpose and rationale for the qualification is “to equip learners with the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to perform project management functions at the foundation level in an organisation” and to provide “learners the opportunity to develop essential competencies needed to manage projects effectively”.

Higher Certificate in Accounting

The Higher Certificate in Accounting is an NQF level 5 qualification that is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority. The programme takes one year to complete.

The stated purpose and rationale for the qualification is “to provide the learner with knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop a theoretical and practical understanding of the context and strategies relevant to basic financial and cost accounting processes”.

Advanced Certificate in Management Studies

The Advanced Certificate in Management Studies is an NQF level 6 qualification that is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority. The programme takes one year to complete.

The stated purpose and rationale for the qualification is to provide an “introduction to management theory and practice”. As a higher level qualification than the ones above, the qualification is aimed at people in junior and middle management positions who aspire towards senior management positions.

New Public Management FAQs

Please read on to see the answers to some frequently asked questions about New Public Management.

What is the concept of new public management?

What is the concept of new public management?

New public management is one of three common approaches to the field of public administration. These three approaches to public management are classical public administration theory, new public management theory and postmodern administration theory.

New public management theory applies principles from business management in order to make public services more efficient and effective. NPM brings a focus on performance and improving public service. Part of this also entails making administrators more accountable for their decisions and actions than is normally the case within traditional bureaucracies.

What are the three elements of new public management?

What are the three elements of new public management?

There are several elements introduced by the new public management model of public administration. In their paper “New Public Management (NPM) as an Effort in Governance“, the authors identified the three main features as “the reorganisation of public administration, decentralisation of partnerships and networks, and innovation”.

These three elements together seek to improve efficiency within the public sector and to replace the rigid, top-down bureaucratic approaches that typically characterised public administration previously. We go into some more detail on these and other elements of NPM further down in the FAQ on the main ideas of new public management.

What is the importance of new public management?

What is the importance of new public management?

New public management emerged in mostly Anglo-Saxon countries in the 1980s, led primarily by the UK under Prime Minister Margarete Thatcher. These ideas were then adapted and adopted by many other countries across the world to improve service delivery within the public sector.

In the academic paper The new public management: context and practice in Africa, written by a former chief policy advisor to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the author notes that “despite their mixed results” NPM reforms in Africa have “been mostly successful”. One example the paper cited was South Africa’s creation of an independent authority for tax collection to promote accountability, the South African Revenue Service.

Although NPM has continued to evolve and is being replaced by more digital approaches in advanced economies, it remains relevant as a means to combat corruption in many developing economies.

What is the main theme of new public management?

What is the main theme of new public management?

There are several components or themes to the concept of new public management (NPM), but the main theme of NPM is the introduction of private-sector management techniques and approaches to the public sector. NPM emerged in the 1980s and 1990s at a time when businesses were becoming more customer-focused.

At the time, public administration was characterised by rigid hierarchies and bureaucratic processes that were seen as slow and inefficient in delivering services to the public.

The goal of NPM is to improve efficiency through decentralised decision-making and a focus on outcomes and service delivery. It also emphasises measuring performance and setting clear targets along with greater transparency and accountability.

What are examples of public management?

What are examples of public management?

Unless you live in an incredibly remote or isolated area, you’re likely to see examples of public management all around you.

Do you have refuse collected from your home every week? Have you ever made use of a public facility such as a library, swimming pool or park? If you’ve been unlucky, you may have dealt with other public services such as reporting a crime to the police, paying a traffic fine or using a government clinic.

All of these are examples of public services that are coordinated and managed by public administrators. They are also responsible for a lot of activity behind the scenes. Public manager duties include recruiting and managing the people involved, budgeting and developing the policies and strategies that are behind various public programmes. You can read our previous article on why study public management to read about more examples of public management and how it is carried out in South Africa specifically.

What are the main ideas of new public management?

What are the main ideas of new public management?

As mentioned above, the main theme of new public management is the introduction of private sector approaches and ideas to the public service. These are the five main ideas that NPM introduced to the public sector.

  • Emphasis on results and performance
  • Decentralisation and devolution
  • Market-oriented approach
  • Customer focus
  • Management and organisational reform

Study public management with Wits

If you work full-time and would like to study a public management course, distance learning could be the solution. Wits Online’s Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management programme is designed to accommodate today’s working professionals. Thanks to the flexibility of online learning, you don’t need to stop working to advance your career prospects.

Accredited 100% online courses

All of Wits Online’s programmes are 100% accredited with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). Although the course content has been tailored to create a flexible online learning experience, the syllabus and learning outcomes are the same as if you were to study the programme in a traditional class setting.

Study for a Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management

Part of the fantastic flexibility that Wits Online offers is that you can sign onto the course at any time of the year. Unlike traditional qualifications with just one or maybe two entry points during the year, you can start your Wits PDPM at any one of six starting dates through the course of each year.

To find out if you meet the admission requirements and can afford the fee instalments, please take a look at the PDPM programme page and request more information to have one of our friendly application specialists get in touch with you soon. Get in touch today and let Wits help you take the next step in advancing your career.