On Justification Work: How Compromising Enables Public Managers to Deal with Conflicting Values



In the public administration literature, a variety of responses to value conflicts have been described, such as trade-offs, decoupling values, and incrementalism. Yet little attention has been paid to the possibility of constructive compromises that enable public managers to deal with conflicting values simultaneously rather than separately. The authors use Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot's theory of justification to extend current conceptualizations of management of conflicting values. On the basis of a qualitative study of daily practices of Dutch health care managers (executives and middle managers), they show how compromises are constructed and justified to significant others. Because compromises are fragile and open to criticism, managers have to perform continuous “justification work” that entails not only the use of rhetoric but also the adaption of behavior and material objects. By inscribing compromises into objects and behavior, managers are able to solidify compromises, thereby creating temporary stability in times of public sector change.