Convergence: The Useful Myth?



Many academics have questioned the thesis (most prominently associated with Osborne and Gaebler’s Re-inventing government) that there is an inevitable and global convergence towards a particular, new style of public management. Yet, despite the ongoing production of scholarly evidence of global diversity, pronouncements of convergence continue to be made by politicians, civil servants and some academics.

In this paper it is suggested that, better to understand this apparent controversy, a more subtle conceptualization of convergence is needed. First, convergence can take place at different stages or levels — for example, there can be convergence in debate, convergence in reform decisions, convergence in actual practices, or, ultimately, convergence in results. There is no automatic succession from one stage to the next: the momentum of convergence can (and frequently does) stall or dwindle at any point. Furthermore, it should be recognized that convergence claims may have a value of their own, whether or not they lead to actual convergence of practice or improvements in outcomes. Convergence, in short, may be a useful myth.