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Gaming in Targetworld: The Targets Approach to Managing British Public Services


Christopher Hood is the Gladstone Professor of Government and a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford University. He has been the director of the Economic and Social Research Council’s research program on public service quality, performance, and delivery since 2004. E-mail:


To what extent did the extensive system of managing public services by targets, introduced by Tony Blair’s New Labour government in the United Kingdom in 1998, reproduce the classic gaming responses associated with the Soviet Union and other centralized performance-setting systems? Combining evidence from documentary sources and interviews with high-level officials in the Whitehall bureaucracy, the author suggests that the three classic types of target gaming can be identified in this public management regime. However, the central managers of the target regime did not put substantial resources into checking performance data, took reported performance gains at face value, and had no coherent antigaming strategy.