P11 Problem-solving in local public services

Corresponding chair

Jari Stenvall, Tampere University, jari.stenvall@tuni.fi

Review group chair

Tony Kinder, Tamper University, t.kinder@icloud.com


Problems are unwelcome, harmful situations, events or things requiring remediation by public service providers, impacting on service users, often involving problem definitions and solutions that include subjective and emotional factors, perhaps in addition to new uses of technologies.  Problem-solving is a ubiquitous activity in public service management, yet few agencies train problem solvers or systematically profile problem-solving techniques.  From day-to-day meeting citizens with individual needs to major strategic decisions responding to austerity or new technologies, public service managers and staff are continually faced with problem-solving.  

Public management problems are often wicked (Rittle 1973), involve pooling ideas and resources (Cutcher et al 2020; Igalla et al 2020) using design theory (Sørensen and Torfing 2021) and special projects (McGann et al 2021) to address long-term or root causes of problems (Joosse and Teisman 2021).  Many solutions to public management problems now feature boundary spanning or service integrative activity (Conteh and Harding 2023).  Kinder and Stenvall (2023) suggest new typologies for problem (re)-framing, as opposed to Lindblom’s (1959) muddling-through involving curiosity, experimenting, and the role(s) of radicals and entrepreneurship, each of which features social learning (Vygotsky 1934).  New solutions are invariably accompanied by new governance arrangements and especially governance-as-legitimacy (Kinder et al 2020). 

This panel highlights how hybridity and emergent governances are often part of radical new solutions to citizens’ problems.  Radical new solutions often involve reframing problems, knowledge integration and cross-fertilization of ideas from logic-of-practice and between professions.  New technologies such as AI and newly created apps can feature in new ways of solving problems. 

Panel activity

The purpose of the panel is to explore new ways of problem-solving in local public services, digging into the practice of improving services by creating new service solutions and evolving new approaches to problem-solving. 

Cases on the process of theorization and ways of problem-solving crossing cultures are especially welcome.  Contributions should include but will not be limited the following.

  • Radical and experimental new ways of solving citizens’ problems.
  • Cases illustrating how the reframing of problems uncovers new solutions: new ways of creating public value arising for instance from new learning, integration of services and/or blending knowledge from across professional disciplines.
  • Analyses of problem-solving cases including new kinds of technologies such as AI.
  • Managing problem solving in public organizations
  • Theoretical contributions relating problem-solving as a value-creating activity rooted in practice and its relationship to strands of theoretical arguments in services and public service delivery.


  • Kinder T and Stenvall J, 2024, Problem-Solving and Learning for Public Services and Public Management – Theory and Practice, Springer, Berlin.
  • Conteh C and Harding B, 2023, Boundary-spanning in public value co-creation through the lens of multilevel governance, Public Management Review, 25:1, 104–128.
  • Cutcher L, Ormiston J and Gardner C, 2020, ‘Double-taxing’ Indigenous business: exploring the e!ects of political discourse on the transfer of public procurement policy, Public Management Review, 22:9, 1398–1422.
  • Daston L and Park K, 1988, Wonders and the Order of Nature, Zone Books, NY.
  • Engeström, Y. Miettinen, R. and Punamäki, RL. (1999) Perspectives on Activity Theory, CUP, Cambridge.
  • Igalla M, Edelenbos J and van Meerkerk I,  2020, What explains the performance of community-based initiatives? Testing the impact of leadership, social capital, organizational capacity, and government support, Public Management Review,  22:4, 602–632.
  • Joosse  H and Teisman G, 2021, Employing complexity: complexi!cation management for locked issues, Public Management Review, 23:6, 843–864.
  •     Kinder T and Stenvall J, 2021, Public Value and public services in the post-virus economy, Public Sector Economics, 45:3, 329-361. https://doi.org/10.3326/pse.45.3.x
  • Kinder T and Stenvall J, 2023, A critique of public service logic, Public Management Review, DOI: 10.1080/14719037.2023.2182904
  • Kinder T, Six F, Stenvall J and Ally Memon A, 2021a, Emerging governances, different perspectives, International Public Management Review, 21:2, 5-26, https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2021.1879913 
  •     Lindblom CE, 1959, The science of muddling through, Public Administration Review, 19:2, 79–88.
  • McGann M, Wells T and Blomkamp E, 2021, Innovation labs and co-production in public problem solving, Public Management Review,  23:2, 297–316.
  • Rittel HWJ and Webber MM, Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, Policy Sciences, 4:2, 155-169.
  • Sørensen E and Torfing J, 2021, Radical and disruptive answers to downstream problems in collaborative governance? Public Management Review, 2021, 23:11, 1590–1611.
  • Vygotsky LS,  1934 (1987), The collected works of LS Vygotsky: Vol. 1, Problems of general psychology, Rieber RW & Carton AS (Eds), Plenum, NY.
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