In many OECD member countries, quality awards have become an important benchmarking instrument for public and especially private sector organizations. Quality awards pursue two main goals: one is to introduce elements of competition in areas of the public and the private sectors that lack of market competition; the other is to encourage organizational learning. The problem is that in a public sector context these aims seem to be mutually exclusive. The aim of the article is to show quality award organizers how to realize the full potential of quality awards by making the appropriate choices in the design of a public sector quality award. The conclusion is that the stage of public sector quality management and the degree of ‘publicness’ of the public sector in a given country will influence the competition-inducing and learning effect of a national quality award in an adverse way. Nevertheless, the negative effects on one or the other element of quality awards can be counterbalanced by the appropriate choice of the scope of the quality award, the area to be evaluated, the evaluation criteria as well as the benchmarking concept. Last but not least, quality award organizers should keep in mind that quality awards are not a benchmarking instrument for all seasons. Copyright © John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
- quality awards
- public sector