12 February 2024

Aaron Maniam looks at the metaphors we use to talk about public administration and how the choice of metaphor affects the solutions we employ: public administration has previously been described as leviathan, an iron cage, a machine, a network and a platform, but this article explores metaphors of cathedrals, bazaars and moral ecology to imagine different roles for public administration.

Metaphors affect how humans perceive and interact with reality, not least in governments, so our metaphors for government and governance matter. In this article, early metaphors such as government as Leviathan, machine, control tower and vending machine are shown to be limited, as are their replacements, like government as network and government as platform. Instead, the article suggests conceptualising government and governance as a ‘moral ecology’, to do justice to the complex and evolving roles of public sectors and public officials amid global turbulence and increasingly challenging domestic circumstances.

Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission commissioned this article for a special issue of Policy Quarterly on the theme ‘international perspectives on the future of public administration.

Beyond Control Towers, Vending Machines, Networks and Platforms: towards more dynamic, living metaphors for governance

Authors: Aaron Maniam
Format: Journal article
Date published: 12 February 2024