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  • Stefanie and Mallory

Game theory and the emerging view of public administration

Author: Berry Groeneveld

According to Bryson, Crosby and Bloomberg (2014) an important aspect of the "emerging view of public administration" is an emphasis on collaborative governance. Citizens are seen as capable of "deliberative problem solving" and public value emerges from broadly inclusive dialogue and deliberation. Bryson et. al (2014) admit that this emerging approach can seem ambiguous. To me it seems that, according to the emerging approach, “citizens should be involved in decision-making processes, be consulted before a decision is made, and maybe even have direct power.” Moreover, the described democratic and dialogical aspects of the approach imply equality among the actors involved.

According to game theory, social interactions about conflict and choice (like dialogue about and "co-creation" of public value) can be interpreted as games of strategy (Murphy, 1991). Parties involved in the social interactions are seen as players of the game. Murphy (1991) notes that each participant can have conflicting and mutual interests and values, compared to the other parties and defines a continuum of conflict and cooperation on which social games are played. The winning of such a game is determined according to the realization of one’s own value system and interests, and not winning relative to the other parties involved. This can be achieved, according to Murphy (1991), by bargaining, mutual accommodation and the avoidance of mutually damaging behavior. Competition and cooperation should be in a fruitful balance with each other. Murphy (1991) also states that the exclusion of cooperation or conflict has important drawbacks: when the players cooperate only, the only things that they will ever succeed in is realizing those values and interests that they have in common, when the players are always in conflict, they damage each other’s interests.

What I find interesting about the game theory approach to social interactions is the productive role of conflict and the notion that conflict and cooperation should be in balance. Bryson et. al (2014) recognize that the emerging approach of governance is not very clear on conflict resolution. Game theory might help in that regard. If the ideals of the emerging view of public administration are to be realized I think it is important to anticipate some measure of conflict, for the number of participants involved in governance should be greatly increased according to the emerging approach.


Bryson, J. M., Crosby, B. C. and Bloomberg, L. (2014), Public Value Governance: Moving Beyond Traditional Public Administration and the New Public Management. Public Admin Rev, 74, 445–456.

Murphy, M. (1991) The Limits of Symmetry: A Game Theory Approach to Symmetric and Asymmetric Public Relations, Public Relations Research Annual. 3:1-4, 1991.