This paper examines the relationships between public services improvement, and public management reforms, including regulatory governance, in the context of the dominant reform models promoted globally. Emphasis is placed upon the contested nature of the central concepts dominant in such analysis, inconsistencies in the assumptions that inform them, and the critique of them offered by research findings on empirical practice. It is argued that current reform initiatives in these areas in developing countries are closely interlinked, but are likely to be ineffective because they embody models that do not engage accurately with the real economic and political conditions of these countries. The implications for attempts to create new mechanisms of public services delivery are considered. The approach advocated is a cautious treatment of so-called "best practice" models, allowing for adaptive responses that are rooted in local conditions and assume variations in political and bureaucratic cultures, in the belief that this more versatile approach is less of a hostage to crude and contextless global blueprints. Ultimately, the provision of desired and effective public goods and services to all citizens will be determined by a resolution of the most appropriate relationships between state, market and civil society, rather than by technical and managerial fixes. The choices involved are political choices.