Lean in Public Services: Promotion, Critique, and 'Alternative Facts'

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Most famous for its use in the global auto industry, lean manufacturing (or simply ‘lean’) has become a widely-adopted management system in public services. It promises to deliver world-class, customer-driven, flexible services while using resources more efficiently than in traditional forms of public administration. In an era where public services are under-funded through austerity measures and demands for greater value for money, lean can be an attractive proposition for governments and public sector managers. Lean connects to the NPM premise that ‘private is better’ and policymakers’ desire to encourage the adoption of private sector ‘best practice’ and ‘gold standards’ from world-leading corporations such as Toyota or GE. This chapter comments on the emergence of lean as a public services technology and analyses the often-excited claims of its proponents. Research on lean in public services features fundamental disagreements about the nature, impact, and appropriateness of lean. There have been heated and ugly disagreements, mirroring current debates around ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’. The chapter discusses the controversies that can erupt when heavily promoted managerial ideologies are challenged or resisted, linking the lean public services debate into broader ‘post-truth’ concerns around the fragmentation and politicisation of expert knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Resilience of New Public Management
EditorsIrvine Lapsley, Peter Miller
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)978-0-19-888381-4
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2024

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  • ideology
  • lean
  • managerialism
  • public services
  • Toyota
  • work intensification

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