A realistic approach to the evaluation of the quality management movement in health care systems: a comparison between European and African contexts based on Mintzberg's organizational models

Int J Health Plann Manage. 2004 Oct-Dec;19(4):337-64. doi: 10.1002/hpm.769.


The quality movement is gaining momentum worldwide in the field of health care. Initiated in industrialized countries, it steadily grows in Africa. However, there is no evidence that approaches designed to address issues in a given organizational context have the same effect in another one where issues present differently. Along the epistemological paradigm of realistic evaluation proposed by Pawson and Tilley, we use Mintzberg's organizational models to compare the configurations of European and African health care organizations and the trends followed by the quality management movement in both contexts. We illustrate how European health systems traditionally emphasize professional autonomy while African health systems are structured as command and control hierarchical systems. We illustrate how the quality movement in Europe emphasizes standardization of procedures, a characteristic of a mechanistic organization, while excessive standardization is part of the quality problem in Africa. We suggest that instilling professionalism may be a way forward for the quality movement in Africa to improve patient focus and responsiveness of responsible professionals. We also suggest that our interpretation of broad trends and contrasts may be used as a useful departure point to study the wide contextual diversity of the African experience with quality management.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards*
  • Europe
  • Health Services Research
  • Models, Organizational*
  • Total Quality Management / organization & administration*
  • Total Quality Management / trends