Rethinking Public Governance

Jacob Torfing* | 2023, Edward Elgar Publishing

In this innovative book, Jacob Torfing, a leading scholar, critically evaluates emerging ideas, practices and institutions, transforming how public governance is perceived, theorised and conducted in practice.

A novel rethinking of how current societies are governed, this book will inspire students, scholars and practitioners of political science, public policy, regulation and governance, and public administration management to reconsider how public governance and administration may be organised in the future to present innovative solutions to societal problems.

Identifying cutting-edge developments in public governance, this incisive book analyses new forms of political leadership, public management, public organisation, administrative steering, cross-boundary collaboration, public regulation and societal problem-solving. Examining some of the most significant instances of public governance transformation, chapters explore the effects of transformations from sovereign to interactive political leadership, from national to multi-level governance, and from hard to soft power.

With a novel focus on producing innovative public value outcomes, the book considers how these developments interact with and are influenced by new digital technologies and increasing globalisation. Torfing concludes with a reflection on how best to comprehend, study and take advantage of current and future transformations in public governance.

Quote from Introduction

Torfing: “This book argues that public governance is changing so rapidly and profoundly that public administration research is struggling to keep up and to keep track of the changes and their various implications. A broad range of well-established principles, perceptions and forms of governing in the public sector are being challenged by new ideas, concepts and practices that, when taken together, are transforming the modus operandi of public governance. Hence, new and emerging forms of political leadership, public management, public organization, administrative steering, cross-boundary collaboration, public regulation and societal problem-solving are being combined with new digital technologies and a novel focus on the production of innovative public value outcomes.

The pace of governance changes has accelerated in recent decades. After half a century of an almost undisputed reign of liberal democracy and public bureaucracy, New Public Management (NPM) reforms swept the world beginning in the late 1970s. Despite their positive impact and results, these NPM practices soon gave rise to an array of criticisms that, in the subsequent decades, spurred the proliferation of several new governance paradigms. Hence, public administration researchers started talking about the Neo-Weberian State (Pollitt & Bouckaert 2011), Digital Era Governance (Dunleavy 2006), Public Value Management (Benington & Moore 2010) and New Public Governance (Osborne 2010). In many cases, the new ideas about public governance triggered reforms, resulting in new practices. While it is difficult to explain the growing pace of public governance reforms, globalization, new technologies, growing citizen demands and the recognition of the planetary limits seem to have disrupted the established forms of public governance and have engaged elected politicians, public managers and an army of private consultants in experimentation, learning and innovation diffusion. In other words, changes in the public sector reflect both external societal change and internal agency-based learning and entrepreneurship.”



  1. The public governance orthodoxy
  2. From sovereign to interactive political leadership
  3. From policy program implementation to public value creation
  4. From control- to trust-based governance and management
  5. From the efficient use of existing resources to the mobilization of new ones
  6. From unicentric to pluricentric coordination
  7. From national- to multi-level governance
  8. From hard to soft power
  9. From intra-organizational to inter-organizational leadership
  10. From stability and continuous improvement to innovation
  11. From spectator and counter-democracy to interactive democracy
  12. Reinvigorating public governance studies


‘With a clarity that belies the difficulty of his task, Jacob Torfing manages to get the whole complex and nettlesome world of public governance into focus. Rethinking Governance demonstrates Torfing’s gift for showing us where we have come from and where we must go.’
– Chris Ansell, University of California, Berkeley, US

‘Rethinking Public Governance offers a masterful account of the origins, current difficulties, and possible vibrant futures for the governance of liberal democracies. The book is a must-read tour de force that integrates across disciplines in a theoretically rich, practically useful way and presents an ambitious agenda for future work.’
– John M. Bryson, University of Minnesota, US

‘Scholars and practitioners alike will benefit from this book’s well-informed, comprehensive, and topical overview of current orthodoxies and transformations in public governance. It identifies drivers and features of cutting-edge collaborative and democratic governance innovations and provides direction and inspiration for advancing both these practices and the study of public governance.’
– Joop Koppenjan, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands


Torfing, J. (2023) Rethinking Public Governance. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

About the author

Jacob Torfing, Professor of Politics and Institutions, Department of Social Sciences and Business, Roskilde University, Denmark and Faculty of Social Sciences, Nord University, Norway.