Public Sector Reform and Governance for Adaptation: Implications of New Public Management for Adaptive Capacity in Mexico and Norway

Environmental Management, Vol 47, No 3, 2011, pp. 338-351

Over the last several decades, countries around the globe have embraced variants of the philosophy of administration broadly called ‘‘New Public Management’’ (NPM) in an effort to improve administrative efficiencies and the provision of public services. Using evidence from a case study of reforms in the building sector in Norway, and a case study of water and flood risk management in central Mexico, we analyze the implications of the adoption of the tenets of NPM for adaptive capacity. Our cases illustrate that some of the key attributes associated with governance for adaptation, namely, technical and financial capacities; institutional memory, learning and knowledge; and participation and accountability - have been eroded by NPM reforms. Despite improvements in specific operational tasks of the public sector in each case, we show that the success of NPM reforms presumes the existence of core elements of governance that have often been found lacking, including solid institutional frameworks and accountability. Our analysis illustrates the importance of considering both longer-term adaptive capacities and short-term efficiency goals in public sector administration reform.