About Author

Jorrit De Jong
Lecturer in Public Policy and Management &
Faculty Director, Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative

Book Description

How can we intervene in the systemic bureaucratic dysfunction that beleaguers the public sector? De Jong examines the roots of this dysfunction and presents a novel approach to solving it.

De Jong argues that successfully remedying bureaucratic dysfunction depends on employing diagnostics capable of distinguishing and dissecting various kinds of dysfunction. The “Anna Karenina principle” applies here: all well-functioning bureaucracies are alike; every dysfunctional bureaucracy is dysfunctional in its own way. The author also asserts that the worst dysfunction occurs when multiple organizations share responsibility for a problem, but no single organization is primarily responsible for solving it. This points to a need for creating and reinforcing distributed problem-solving capacity focused on deep (cross-) organizational learning and revised accountability structures. Our best approach to dealing with dysfunction may therefore not be top-down regulatory reform, but rather relentless bottom-up and cross-boundary leadership and innovation. Using fourteen clinical cases of bureaucratic dysfunction investigated by the Kafka Brigade, the author demonstrates how a proper process for identifying, defining, diagnosing, and remedying the problem can produce better outcomes.


De Jong has successfully taken on a conceptually knotty and practically important problem: in the bureaucratic tangles that seem so absurd from one perspective lie the unresolved conflicts of important public values which we citizens would like to see realized in government operations. Because different public agents defend specific dimensions of public value, the solution, he finds, lies not in some general, sweeping reform, but in the close examination of specific instances of bureaucratic dysfunction resolved through collaborative design efforts.—Mark Moore, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

De Jong, whose original perspectives on the public sector have already attracted wide attention, has written a thoughtful and highly readable book that should be required reading for officials at all levels who want to tackle their own situations of bureaucratic dysfunction, but don’t know quite where to start.—John Alford, Professor of Public Sector Management, Australia and New Zealand School of Government

There is nothing so practical as a good theory: as Ombudsman, I deal with complaints about government. De Jong’s ideas and analytic tools serve as a compass for diagnosing the root causes as well as a road map for continuous improvement. An invaluable contribution!—Arre Zuurmond, Ombudsman, Greater Amsterdam Area, The Netherlands

Real world complexities can twist attempts at reform into adverse or even perverse outcomes. Professor de Jong identifies this “bureaucratic dysfunction” and explores a unique synthesis of theory, research, and practice to offer a systematic guide for diagnosis and correction. Policy professionals will find this both fascinating and useful.—Peter Wallace, City Manager, City of Toronto, Canada


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