Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to present a theoretically based analysis and evaluation of the Norwegian quality assurance scheme (QA1 and QA2) for major public projects (MPPs), drawing on a number of different perspectives from organization theory and decision‐making theory, but also from insight from two major public reform waves – new public management (NPM) and post‐NPM. The purpose is to analyze the scheme as a governance system, focusing on the way of organizing the decision system. Two illustrative cases are also analyzed where the QA system is used. Design/methodology/approach – The theory used in the article is taken from decision‐making theory, including an economic‐rational, an instrumental‐structural and a garbage can perspective, but also from reform theory and studies. The quality assurance scheme in Norway is first outlined, followed by a presentation and application of decision‐making theory on the system, and then a discussion of the elements from reform waves in the system. Method is interviews and public documents. The paper is also based on a pilot study that the author has done together with a consulting firm, covering three MPPs and an ongoing analysis of 23 MPPs. Findings – A structural‐instrumental perspective gives the best insight into the complex design of the QA system, which encompasses both centralizing elements with the potential to increase political control, and devolutionary elements, such as the use of private experts, while an economic‐rational perspective helps to explain the technical planning ideal. The garbage can perspective highlights complexity, potential ambiguity and the use of symbols. In a second step, the article shows that the QA system's approach to planning and the inclusion of external experts is very much inspired by NPM reform thinking, the QA1 part of the system, which anchors the system in the central political leadership and thus potentially increases political control, is a typical post‐NPM element. The two cases illustrate both how the political executive can use the QA system to increase control, that the consultants play a mainly supportive role and that MPP as about many other aspects than the one central for a QA system. Originality/value – There are very few studies of QA systems for MPPs that are using decision‐making theory and reform theory in this way. Many MPP studies are of a technical and economic character, while the study described in this paper very much digs into the political considerations build into such systems and their balancing towards other concerns and interests. Designing QA system will, accordingly, be much more a political issue and not a technical and economical one.
International Journal of Managing Projects in Business – Emerald Publishing
Published: Apr 5, 2011
Keywords: Quality assurance; Norway; Governance; Decision making; Project management