Values and Experience of Neoliberal Reforms in Russian Regions: Dilemmas of Social Management




sociology of management, new public management, values of NPM, Russian regions, social services, providers, regional administrators, NGO


The article offers a critical look at the challenges emerging within the reforms of the social services sector in Russian regions carried out in line with the New Public Management (NPM) principles. These reforms imply not only the renewal of management tools, but also changes at the cultural level. In this regard, the study is aimed at identifying how social managers explain the need for the transition to new relations, what tools they have, and what value contradictions arise in the field of decision-making on the issues of reforming the system of social services and in the practice of management.

The study is based on the analysis of semi-structured interviews with regional administrators and managers of social services of various legal forms. While sharing values and applying in practice the tools of the new social management, the leaders of the social sphere and social services face the internal contradictions of this doctrine. Customer focus and initiative are not easy to reconcile with efficiency requirements; decentralization does not negate close control, and the quality of services is difficult to maintain in a rationalized environment. Nevertheless, the discourses of budget saving and humanization of services do not always contradict each other, managers strive to reach a compromise between different logics in the relationship between the state, organization, employee, and client. The article shows the specific and often multi-vector perspectives of regional administrators, as well as of managers of municipal and non-profit organizations — providers of social services. Under the pressure of the challenge to efficiency, regional administrators are forced to deal with conflicting tasks: on the one hand, they strive to increase competition in the social services market and to outsource part of the social services guaranteed by the state, and on the other hand, to support their budgetary organizations. The values of neo-managerialism affect not only the personnel policy, but also the content of the social service itself. Managers in the nonprofit sector sometimes find themselves in a situation of choice between rationalizing, increasing the efficiency of services and saving resources, on the one hand, and humanizing services, on the other. Building horizontal ties and associations allows leaders of non-profit social services to receive tools to represent collective interests before the state, as well as protection from excessive control by the bureaucratic apparatus.

Acknowledgements. This article is an output of a research project implemented as part of the Basic Research Program at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE University).

The authors thank the staff of the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo and the Agency for Strategic Initiatives for their help in organizing access to the field study, participating in the collection of data and discussing the first results of the field work, and also express their gratitude to their collocutors for an open and honest conversation.

Author Biographies

Nikita V. Bolshakov, HSE University

  • HSE University, Moscow, Russia
    • Cand. Sci. (Soc.), Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociological Research Methods
    • Junior Research Fellow, International Laboratory for Social Integration Research

Daria I. Prisyazhniuk, HSE University

  • HSE University, Moscow, Russia
    • Cand. Sci. (Soc.), Senior Lecturer, Department of General Sociology
    • Senior Research Fellow, International Laboratory for Social Integration Research

Elena R. Iarskaia-Smirnova, HSE University

  • HSE University, Moscow, Russia
    • Dr. Sci. (Soc.), PhD in SW, Professor, Department of General Sociology,
    • Head of International Laboratory for Social Integration Research