9 July 2018 | Public Administration & the Border Crisis, by Manny Teodoro*

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

Public Administration Professionalism at the Flashpoint

Presidents issue orders, Congress passes laws, and courts make judgments, but immigration policy really succeeds or fails when bureaucrats interact with people seeking entry to the United States. Immigration policy is what happens when an ICE agent detains an individual (or doesn’t), separates children from parents (or doesn’t), and puts kids in cages (or doesn’t). Immigration policy is what happens when a DHS contractor attends to a wailing toddler, or leaves frightened children to their own devices in adherence to administrative guidelines. In the end, human rights are protected or violated not by politicians, but by the men and women who put regulations into action.

What drives bureaucratic behavior?

Although public attention tends to fixate on laws and rules when trying to understand public policy, decades of public administration research indicates that organizational norms and values determine what public servants do. Public employees from soldiers to teachers to police officers look to their peers for informal guidance on what is honorable, acceptable, or forbidden. Monitoring systems and the threat of disciplinary action turn out to be lousy predictors of public administrators’ actions. When bureaucrats enforce (or refuse to enforce) rules, it’s because their fellow bureaucrats sanction that behavior. Smart public agency leaders do not rely solely on orders, but rather seek to instill systems of ethics and build a sense of mission in their organizations.

Professionalization in public administration is an effort to enhance this kind of peer accountability by building loyalty to principles of public service. America’s military academies are excellent examples: they seek to build within officers not only respect for chain-of-command, but also a system of ethics that defines military professionalism. In the ideal, professions provide an “inner-check,” enforced by social approbation or disdain by fellow professionals, that guides individuals to uphold shared norms and resist unethical orders.

Administration at the border

The agencies at the flashpoint of America’s current immigration crisis give plenty of reason to worry. The main bureau charged with implementation of immigration laws is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which was formed fifteen years ago when the US Customs Service (part of the Treasury Department) and Immigration and Naturalization Service (Justice Department) were consolidated within the new Department of Homeland Security as part of the post-9/11 reforms. Organizational culture and professionalization take time to develop, but this young agency has been charged with implementing some of the country’s most vexing and incendiary policies, even as its nascent culture is still forming. In early 2017 the Trump Administration ordered the hiring of 10,000 new ICE agents. Simply hiring and training that many people quickly is a daunting task; professionalizing and building a sense of mission in each new agent even more so. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provides a useful contrast. ICE and FBI agents each receive 20 weeks of training upon entry into their agencies. But new FBI agents must also be accomplished college graduates, and upon appointment they enter a highly-professionalized agency with thousands of experienced agents, a storied history, and deep sense of organizational identity. It is not surprising that FBI officials have been more defiant, and ICE officials more acquiescent, in their relationships with the Trump White House.

DHS also relies heavily on private contractors to operate detention facilities, and some of the most troubling accounts of child migrant treatment emerge from these privately-operated facilities. If public administration professionalism implies loyalty to professional norms and ethics, then private contracting does just the opposite. A contractor’s livelihood depends upon satisfying a client (in this case, DHS executives), adhering to regulations, and fulfilling contracts. A contractor whose personnel refuse to treat migrant children as specified in a contract is likely to find that contract terminated.

Administrative evil and public professionalism

Governments can do great good and evil because bureaucratic agencies provide the capacity to put policy into action, as Guy Adams has observed. Administrative evil is not a consequence of inefficiency (the usual bureaucratic lament), but rather a result of a technical rationality that is the very hallmark of bureaucracy. Without professionalism, bureaucrats pass accountability for their actions to political superiors. Indeed, a naïve view of democratic accountability would demand dutiful compliance by ICE agents to orders (or tweets?) issued from above. Public service professionalism implies that a federal employee’s primary duty is to the public good, not to the whims of the person at the top of the organizational chart. Without a foundation of professional ethics and systems of accountability to professional peers, the rational administrator can find himself or herself participating in destructive acts.

So long as the United States has borders, it will need an agency to make those borders meaningful. But building a sense of professionalism and peer-accountability to ethical principles is crucial to ICE’s or any other border enforcement agency’s role in a democratic state. In 1952, political scientist Norton Long reflected on the lessons of the Second World War for American public administration:

It is a fortunate fact of our working constitution that it is complemented by a bureaucracy indoctrinated with the fundamental ideals of constitutionalism… In a real and important sense, it provides a constitutional check on both legislature and executive. It is no neutral instrument like the German bureaucracy, available to Nazi and democrat alike, pleading its orders from ‘die hohe Tiere’ as an excuse for criminal acts.

The decency of the agents charged with implementing public policy is a crucial check against government abuse. Professional public servants are the first line of defense and the last best hope for protecting human dignity in times of political turmoil.


*Originally published June 22, 2018 at http://mannyteodoro.com/?p=427.

30 November 2017 | Rethinking the Government-Nonprofit Partnership: Who’s Funding Whom?, by Kelly LeRoux

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

To many scholars in the field of public administration and public management, the study of nonprofit organizations is viewed as a narrow niche, a handful of people working at the margins of the field on topics that largely sit outside of mainstream concerns for public managers. Many of us working in the nonprofit space have sensed diminished prospects for publishing nonprofit research in Public Administration and Management journals in recent years. In some cases, there has been explicit resistance by journal editors to considering nonprofit research. This is unfortunate, as nonprofits are increasingly compensating for government failures, and becoming more rather than less relevant to the practice of Public Management in the process. This is true particularly in the current political climate of disinvestment in public services, and especially safety net programs.

The lack of interest in nonprofit research from within the mainstream may stem in part from a limited perspective of nonprofits simply as government contract partners; organizational recipients of public dollars that must be managed and monitored. While that perspective is not inaccurate, the reality is that the government-nonprofit partnership has become far more nuanced and complex. This essay calls attention to some of the less obvious facets of the government-nonprofit partnership and argues that the field of Public Administration needs to pay close attention to the nonprofit sector and ways in which government relationships to the sector are evolving and changing.

The dominant view of nonprofits within the public management field is one which charitable organizations receive money from government in form of contracts and grants to deliver services. Research on nonprofit health and human service organizations is often framed in terms of resource dependence theory, portraying nonprofits as rent-seeking entities working strategically to exert control over the government organizations on which they depend for financing. Yet another picture has begun to emerge, evidence that has coalesced into a story in which nonprofits are funding government. Over the past twenty years a set of institutionalized funding relationships developed in which nonprofit organizations in the forms of private philanthropic foundations and “friends of” charities formed and now raise increasingly large share of revenues to help pay for public services. In some cases, these foundations or charities are created and operated by private citizens. In other cases, they’re created directly by elected and administrative officials of government organizations, operating as an extension of government agencies yet they engage in fundraising, soliciting private contributions from willing citizen donors. What’s more, they are not sporadic or limited to a single service area; they span every service function and level of government.

In the past couple years, several rigorous studies have documented the growth of these nonprofit funding groups, across numerous service delivery areas. Examples of this research include school-supporting nonprofits such Parent Teacher Organizations/Associations and booster clubs (Nelson and Gazley, 2014), philanthropic organizations supporting national parks (Yandle, Noonan, and Gazley, 2016), municipally-created nonprofit economic development organizations (LeRoux, 2012), local-level ‘friends of the library’ charities (Schatteman and Bingle, 2015) and there are more high-quality studies emerging on police foundations in US cities, and the role of privately funded veterans charities in compensating for government service gaps to veterans. In most of these cases, we see steady growth in private fundraising to help offset the government’s cost of public services delivery over time. However, private philanthropy has also been called upon in emergent situations of public financial distress, performing the role of safety net for the government. The most prominent example of this is the collective effort by the Ford, Kresge, Mott, and the Knight foundations to fund over $330 million of the bailout for the bankrupt City of Detroit in 2013. More recently, foundations in the state of Illinois were called upon to help bridge the funding gap during the state’s three year budget impasse in which government contractors were not paid money owed by the state.

The increased role of private nonprofit, voluntary and philanthropic groups in funding public services raises many important questions for the field of public management. Some of these questions are normative. Is this a desirable trend? On the one hand, governments are severely constrained in their ability to raise revenue through taxes and private charities represent an alternative source of financing necessary public services. On the other charitable contributions can be unpredictable, and cannot entirely be relied upon. It may also send the wrong signal to policy makers, who may feel absolved of the responsibility to seek out solutions for fully and adequately funding public services. Perhaps even more importantly, nonprofit financing of public organizations and services raises concerns of distributional equity. The evidence we have thus far suggests that these foundations and fundraising charities are not redistributing society’s resources in a way that makes the less fortunate better off, but instead just the opposite. For example, while we might expect school-supporting nonprofits to help reduce inequality among districts and provide needed to aid resource-strapped schools, Nelson and Gazley’s (2014) research generally finds that wealthier districts not only have an increased likelihood of having school-supporting nonprofits, but also generally raise more per-pupil contributions. Similarly, my own study of nonprofit economic development organizations in US cities found that wealthier cities create nonprofit real estate and nonprofit business assistance organizations at a greater rate than poorer cities, suggesting that wealthier cities reap more of the economic benefits of creating and operating these kinds of nonprofit organizations.

Other questions related to this issue are empirical, and merit the attention of public management scholars. What are the motivations and incentives for public managers to create and operate these institutional vehicles? What are the motivations of private citizens for forming these groups? Among those formed and operated by private citizens, how do they see their role vis a vis government? Do they view their efforts as supplements or substitutes to government? Do local property tax revenues crowd in or crowd out these groups? Who serves on the governing board of these organizations? Who within the public donates to these kinds of charities and why? Are they mainly funded by a few wealthy philanthropists and corporate interests, or do they generate support from a broader public? When do these organizations simply raise money for public agencies, and which engage in more substantive activity to supplement public service provision? Are the relationships between the public organizations that benefit from these charities always collaborative, or does it ever become competitive, or adversarial? Adding to the complexity, the answers to these questions might vary depending on service area (ie public education, economic development, etc).

We could certainly argue that the growth of these kinds of foundations and fundraising charities threatens to slide us further down the slippery slope of diminished public funding for necessary services, but the fact remains that this trend has established itself and will likely continue. It is a mistake for Public Management scholars to view the nonprofit sector as operating on the periphery of the field. The relationship of the nonprofit sector to government continues to evolve and is characterized by increasing complexity. The broader community of Public Management scholars should be paying attention to these relational shifts and trends, and must embrace research that reveals new insights about government-nonprofit relationships.


LeRoux, Kelly. 2012. Who Benefits from Nonprofit Economic Development? Examining the Revenue Distribution of Tax-Exempt Development Organizations among U.S. Cities. Journal of Urban Affairs, 34(1): 65-80.

Nelson, Ashlyn Aiko and Beth Gazley. 2014. The Rise of School-Supporting Nonprofits. Education Finance and Policy, 9(4): 541-566.

Schatteman, Alicia and Ben Bingle. 2015. Philanthropy Supporting Government: An Analysis of Local Library Funding. Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs, 1(2): 74-86.

Yandle, Tracy, Douglas S. Noonan, and Beth Gazley. 2016. Philanthropic Support of National Parks: Analysis Using the Social-Ecological Systems Framework. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 45(4): 134-155.

22 October 2017 | Tear Down the Distinction Between Applied and Basic Research in Public Management, By Lotte B. Andersen

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

As public management scholars, we invest a lot of energy in doing research on public organizations, and most of us need answers to a very simple question: Why? What will our research be used for? Why should we use so much time to do public management research? Some disciplines divide their research according to two broad answers to this question: Applied research is used to answer specific questions that has direct applications to the world – it solves problems. Basic research is driven purely by curiosity and a desire to expand the knowledge base of the discipline. The last-mentioned type of research is not directly applicable to the real world, but is argued to enhance our understanding of the world around us. This raises two questions: Is this distinction useful for public management, and if not, how should the logics behind basic and applied research be combined?

At first glance, it might seem to be a good idea to specialize in either research that will further our general understanding (without disturbance and influence from the specific details) or in research that helps us understand real world problems and solve them. Each type of research requires specific skills, and real world problems can seldom wait for the very robust research designs demanded in research articles published in top journals. This could for example be experimental methods as discussed in Oliver James’ blog entry in May. The problem is, however, that problem solving often necessitates causal knowledge, and identification of causality is very demanding in terms of research designs. Good research designs are, in other words, necessary for good applied research. It is an important argument for integrating applied analyses in a strong research environment. We cannot do a big field experiment to investigate every problem, but investments in research with advanced research designs give us the basis for making valid inference from general findings to specific problems. It also informs our discussion of the limitations of a given analysis – and knowledge of both logics can strengthen all types of research.

But why should we all do our best to make our research relevant to real world problems? Why not remain in the pure and less noisy ivory tower of basic research? Why get our hands dirty with real (often complex) problems? For me, there are at least two answers to that question. First, it is simply not motivating enough to produce knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I want to have a positive societal impact, and the ultimate goal for me is to do research that can help improve public governance. Second, a little more pragmatically, I do not think that politicians and other decision makers will continue to fund research if it is not used to improve society. I am not talking about only short-term benefits, because I know that real innovations often take many years and are unpredictable. I am talking about being motivated to look for how our knowledge can be used to improve society – and to prioritize this in our already busy everyday research lives.

How can public management research then actually contribute to solve real world problems? Coming from Denmark, the first step is always to disseminate the results in Danish, targeting public managers and decision makers. They will not read PAR or JPART themselves. Another way to translate public management research into societal value is to participate in creating the basis for big decisions. Specifically, I have been part of the Danish government’s public leadership commission for the past six months. Together with nine public managers from different hierarchical levels and parts of the public and private sectors and supported by my peers in Denmark, I try hard to attain the following goals:

This takes a lot of time, but it also gives me unique insight into the problems and potential solutions for many different types of public organizations. The commission uses international and Danish research extensively, and it is very important to translate this general knowledge to specific recommendations. Although the commission’s report will not be published before January, some researchers already prophesize (from their ivory tower) that it will not change anything. I also hear whispers saying that given that it is ordered by politicians, it is less pure and subject to partisan interests. Living in a well-functioning democracy, I actually see it as an honour to try to use my research to increase public service performance – and I acknowledge that politicians also want a say in how we understand performance. As recently argued in PAR there are many competing understanding of this important concept, and as public management scholars we must accept that it is the politicians’ ultimate right to define what performance should be in public organizations.

So what does this mean? In my opinion, we should at least be thinking about the next steps towards attaining potential benefits for society as public management scholars. Even if we are not using our research ourselves to address real world problems, we should prepare our research and its presentation for this. Leaving follow-on research to other researchers might be acceptable for some people, but I strongly urge the public management community to prioritize the application of our research and not to use “applied research” as a disparaging categorization. No “knowledge for knowledge’s sake” – we actually care for the societal benefits of our research. For these reasons, I am very proud to be a member of an association with the following mission:

The Public Management Research Association improves public governance by advancing research on public organizations, strengthening links among interdisciplinary scholars, and furthering professional and academic opportunities in public management.

28 September 2017 | Rebuilding after the storms: The constitutional foundation, By Robert K. Christensen*

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

The recent natural disasters centered in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico have prompted many to look at government with fresh eyes.  Not least of these is President Trump.  Earlier calls to “drain the swamp” seemed distant if not incongruous to presidential tweets that waxed confident, proud and even deferential to government and government officials. Consider these examples[i]:

Without question, government institutions and government personnel fill(ed) myriad, critical roles in the preparation, response and alleviation of suffering stemming from Harvey, Irma and Maria. These roles are ones that private institutions admirably facilitated, supported and extended. But the reality is that many of these most critical roles are ones for which none but public institutions and public employees have capacity and even legal authority. Furthermore, our public institutions and employees exist as the embodiment of not only our current but also our long-held beliefs that these are key “instruments of collective action that [can] remain responsible both to democratically elected officials and to core societal values” (Kirlin 1996, 417).[ii] In King and Stivers (1998) words, “government is us.”[iii]

These recent hurricanes have scarred our country with staggering swaths of destruction. The destruction will, in many cases, require years of rebuilding and restoration before the sting and loss are lessened. The recent hurricanes have also concentrated our attention, including the President’s–if for just a moment–on the role and value of the action arm of the Constitution: public administration and public administrators.

That unconsciousness and distrust of these institutions and their employees prevail is perhaps not particularly surprising. Even as early as the late 19th century, Woodrow Wilson observed that, “a great deal of administration goes about incognito to most of the world, being confounded now with political ‘management’ and again with constitutional principle” (1887, 211).[iv]

Although some unconsciousness and healthy distrust of public administration may be understandable, even intentional, my hope is that the storms of ignorance and contempt that have ravaged public administration with increasing intensity can also serve to focus our attention on another restoration that is surely overdue:  our cognizance of and valuation of government institutions and employees. If “government is us” then the current storms of contempt are nothing short of hurricane-force self-destruction.

My call to be more vigilant in our awareness and valuation of public administration is, admittedly, not particularly novel. Many have already written helpful prescriptions to move us past these self-inflicted wounds.  Some of these include: reducing citizen estrangement by practicing democratic administration over bureaucratic administration (Durant and Ali 2013);[v] fostering citizen engagement (King and Stivers 1998); facilitating deliberative democracy (Nabatchi 2010);[vi] and creating communities of participation and inclusion (Feldman and Khademian 2007).[vii]

My own prescription does not detract from these but aspires to identify what I hope will more consistently serve as the sensible and compelling first, cognitive step to better support the rebuilding that must occur with our storm-damaged public institutions. The rebuilding process prudently focuses on the foundation before the rest of the work proceeds. So what is the foundation of public administration? In short, the Constitution. Wilson’s (1887, 212-213) own definitions of public administration reflect this, “Public administration is detailed and systematic execution of public law [and] is closely connected with . . . the proper distribution of constitutional authority.” Public administrators, while not tasked with framing the constitution, are clearly charged with running the constitution (Rohr 1986).[viii] This is an undoubtedly complex and challenging task, but it cannot be contracted out. There are neither substitutes nor alternatives permitted within the current constitutional framework. The Constitution is, with few exceptions, the domain of public not private actors. Its focus is overwhelmingly centered in and reliant upon public institutions and their employees.

These foundational, constitutionally-motivated observations are important to bear in mind as we evaluate the steps needed to restore the very institutions that have been ravaged by our own cynicism, but that are nonetheless inherently (and constitutionally) charged with helping society respond to the real storms that include natural disaster, pernicious poverty, addiction, prejudice, environmental justice, and crime.

[i] @realDonaldTrump, also reported at https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/08/trump-hurricane-irma-is-of-epic-proportion-but-the-government-is-ready.html.

[ii] Kirlin, J. J. (1996). The big questions of public administration in a democracy. Public Administration Review, 416-423.

[iii] King, C. S., Stivers, C. (1998). Government is us: Strategies for an anti-government era. Sage.

[iv] Wilson, W. (1887). The study of administration. Political science quarterly2(2), 197-222.

[v] Durant, R. F., & Ali, S. B. (2013). Repositioning American public administration? Citizen estrangement, administrative reform, and the disarticulated state. Public Administration Review73(2), 278-289.

[vi] Nabatchi, T. (2010). Addressing the citizenship and democratic deficits: The potential of deliberative democracy for public administration. The American Review of Public Administration40(4), 376-399.

[vii] Feldman, M. S., & Khademian, A. M. (2007). The role of the public manager in inclusion: Creating communities of participation. Governance20(2), 305-324.

[viii] Rohr, J. A. (1986). To run a constitution: The legitimacy of the administrative state. University Press of Kansas.

* rc@byu.edu Marriott School of Management, Brigham Young University

21 August 2017 | Partisan Alignment and Delegation to the U.S. Bureaucracy, By Christine Palus & Susan Webb Yackee*

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

It was a great honor to receive the Beryl Radin Award at the 2017 PMRC conference at American University in June for our article entitled, “Clerks or Kings? Partisan Alignment and Delegation to the U.S. Bureaucracy” in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory.  In this blog post, we will highlight the article’s main conclusions, as well as our indebtedness to a wonderful mentor and scholar who enabled this project.

As we all know, the legal authority of public bureaucrats to make decisions resides in the delegation of discretion from elected legislators and executives, such as the president or state governors, to administrative agents.  This delegation, many people argue, is driven by partisanship, and what has been commonly called “the ally principle.”  In other words, when legislators, executives, and agency leaders are politically aligned, there ought to be less uncertainty about bureaucratic policy decision-making, and therefore, more discretion of policymaking authority ought to be given to the bureaucracy.  In short, being of the same party ought to lead to increased trust and coherent political positions, and therefore, bureaucrats ought to given more latitude to act.

Our work, however, challenges this expectation.  We uncovered lower – not higher – levels of policy discretion during times of partisan alignment across the 50 American states and over time.  In sum, a takeaway message from our findings, then, is that agency officials may feel pressure to conform, rather than discretion to innovate, when serving under politically like-minded elected officials. Put differently, high-level administrative officials in public sector agencies, either consciously or subconsciously, may feel a heightened need to advance the priorities and goals of those who share the same political affiliation. What does this mean for government in action?  It all goes back to the notion of whether bureaucrats are acting as “clerks” or “kings.” We found that greater partisan alignment trends towards the former, not the latter, and appears to remind bureaucrats that they have obligations and constraints in place that limit their policy choices.

The data for this project originated with the late Deil S. Wright.  Deil was Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and he was our mentor while in graduate school.  He passed away in 2009; yet, his legacy in the field of Public Administration continues to live on.  As part of his mentorship, he shared with us the data he collected as part of the American State Administrators Project.  This groundbreaking dataset includes surveys of state agency heads that began in the 1960s and was subsequently conducted twice every decade through 2008.  In our article, we used data from four decades, with responses from 6,000 state agency heads, to construct new measures of perceived discretion from the agency administrator’s point of view. This is quite different from most other investigations of this topic, but we argue that the perceptions of agency officials regarding their policy discretion yield a critical measure of the actual amount of discretion that an agency possesses and are associated with patterns in partisan alignment and misalignment.

Receiving the Beryl Radin Award for our work was an absolutely thrilling professional honor for us.  We are immensely grateful to Deil Wright for his mentorship and friendship.  He was an exceptional role model both in the academy and in life.  He taught us how to be teachers as well as scholars, and he encouraged us to be creative, detail-oriented, and persistent in all of our professional endeavors.  We are forever indebted to him.

* Christine Palus, Dean of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of Public Administration at Villanova University & Susan Webb Yackee, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Public Affairs and Political Science at UW-Madison and recently elected Governing Board Member at PMRC.

26 July 2017 | The Creation of Perspectives on Public Management and Governance, By Ken Meier

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

The Public Management Research Association—through its flagship journal, the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory (JPART)—has always stressed building knowledge through theoretically informed analysis. JPART is clearly a success by all measures. Continued empirical progress, however, needs significant theoretical development. Theory can be viewed as the capital base or the seed corn of our profession. Perspectives on Public Management and Governance (PPMG) was established to create incentives and a dedicated venue for scholars to contribute to theory in public management and governance and, in the process, engender new and creative efforts to push research in innovative directions and on new topics. Good theory has many characteristics. Theory integrates our research agendas and provides for a parsimonious cumulation of knowledge and a more precise focus for research. Good theory also suggests new ideas, new relationships, and new methods of analysis. Good theory challenges orthodoxy and thus stimulates intellectual exchanges and the pursuit of new knowledge. Improved theory could also help to balance the intellectual trade deficit with other fields by allowing us to export our ideas to other areas of study, rather than merely importing them.

PPMG seeks theoretical contributions broadly defined and without respect to method or approach. PPMG is interested in theory that is normative or positive, inductive or deductive, and formal or informal. Our only requirement is that addresses important topics in public management, governance, and public administration.

There are many areas of public management and governance where additional theoretical contributions are needed. The long-standing questions relating bureaucracy to democracy need to be reexamined in an era when political institutions do not or will not provide a positive leadership role for bureaucracy.The rapidly changing nature of public administration as forms of governance and service delivery evolve suggests that theories on the content and scope of public administration, governance, and public management remain important topics. What is unique about what we do as a profession?  The role of nonprofits and nonprofit research needs to be better integrated into public management. We deliver public programs with a wide array of institutional formats including government, nonprofits, private organizations, extranational organizations, and so forth.  Public administration should not limit its field of study or its contributions to theory simply because some institutions are less public than others. Just as topics in public management evolve so too do concepts, and we could benefit from greater focus on our core concepts and whether these concepts are generalizable across time and space.  Good theory also requires good methods; rather than borrowing methods that may or may not be appropriate to the theories we use and the problems we study, we need to invest in the development of methods (quantitative, qualitative and mixtures of the two) with an appropriate theoretical basis and that will help us answer the most important theoretical questions. PPMG sees that theory, empirical analysis and methods all influence each other. Governance implies a concern with the entire process of governing, from the formulation and adoption of policy to implementation and feedback processes. Theories that help us reduce the complexity of the governance process are clearly needed.

This list of topics is illustrative and not an attempt to discourage theoretical work in other areas or on other topics. The creation of PPMG is the first step in a long journey. There will be many paths to developing better theory using many different approaches. Intellectual debate rather than intellectual hegemony is the objective.  Let the journey begin and the intellectual debate commence.

26 May 2017 | Should Public Management be an Experimental Discipline?, By Oliver James

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

There has been substantial growth in the use of experiments in public management over recent years. The substantive contributions are becoming broad and deep, and span a range of research questions about core topic areas. These observations were part of the motivation for Sebastian Jilke, Gregg Van Ryzin and I to put together an edited book about this experimental turn. We asked a set of leading experimental researchers of public management to contribute and were delighted when all agreed to participate. The result, Experiments in Public Management: Challenges and Contributions (Cambridge University Press) is about to be published.

The experimental turn is not a ‘mere’ application of a generic social science approach towards experimentation, or a passing fashion. Whilst the approach to causal inference and core methods of intervention, random allocation, and comparison of outcomes are shared with social science experimentation, their use in public management is distinctive. Experiments should take their place alongside other methods in public management. For a fruitful interchange between researchers using different methods, non-experimentalists will often need to know more about experimental methods, and experimentalists will need to understand and be open to methods and evidence gained from other approaches.

Contemporary public management experiments are particularly influenced by their use in health sciences, economics, political science and psychology. Experiments are sometimes criticised for being too narrow, missing out on ‘big’ questions, for example, about macro-structures or major issues of importance to public management. However, such a risk is mitigated by using a variety of methods and by breaking bigger issues up into smaller ones more amenable to empirical analysis. In any case, it is difficult to argue that the potential for experimentation is anywhere near being exhausted given their relative scarcity in public management to date. Field and survey experiments in particular have great potential for joint working with public organisations, and can help boost the external validity of findings from experiments in the laboratory to real world contexts.

Individual experiments sit within programmes of research using multiple experiments to tease out different causal mechanisms and explore mediation or moderation of treatment effects. Replication of experiments is an important part of verifying findings and thinking about contextual variation. In our own work we have sought particularly to develop such programmes. For example, experiments have shown that priming citizens to think about their need for a public service rather than encouraging a political mind-set can reduce party political based motivated reasoning in assessing performance information as evidence about service quality. Related experiments on public services into user choice and choice overload have shown that increasing provider choice sometimes reduces users’ likelihood of stating that they would switch away from a poorly performing provider. As part of a growing community of scholars using experiments we hope to contribute to advancing understanding of experimental methods appropriate to our discipline and to promote more and better experiments on an increasing range of research topics.

Oliver James, University of Exeter, UK.

28 April 2017 | The Role of the Pubic Administrators and Some Implications to Our Programs, By Stuart Bretschneider*

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

Recent efforts by the new administration to change a wide variety of policies and programs has led me to look back at how our field has thought about the role of the public administrator.  Much of the current thinking on this is still rooted in the work by political scientists from the 1940s and 1950s.  This is not surprising given that in that time period we saw the emergence of the administrative state.  The Frederick-Finer debate, Dwight Waldo’s The Administrative State and his debates with Herbert Simon on this all dealt with the tension between scientific and professional competencies on the one hand and politics and the support of democratic institutions on the other.  These ideas have never really gone away and continue to play an important part in how we conduct our scholarship and how we train our students. My concern in this posting is to ask is we might be failing our students in our efforts to cover both professional skills on the one hand and understanding of democratic institutions and their role in maintaining and supporting them.

Let me start with some potential deficits on the professional side of the scale.  I remember having a discussion with Jack Knott shortly after the great recession about the growing emphasis in our field of private provision of public services.  My concern with this trend was that sometimes these options are portrayed in relatively un-critical often positive ways. Essentially public-private partnerships, social impact bonds and other such alternatives are by designed to provide private firms access to public dollars in new and more diverse ways.  Since the inception of our nation our governments have purchased goods and service from private firm but these new forms dramatically increase the diversity of forms and amount of this.  We almost never assume the motivation for selling the government various goods or services are to do good and most of our procurement activities begin by assuming “caveat emptor.” Shouldn’t this be the same standard when entering into a public-private partnership or considering social impact bond? My suggestion to Jack at the time was we should teach our students sufficient economic theory so that they would understand an appropriate starting assumption for any negotiations around programs of this sort begin with the idea that our potential private sector partner seek a deal that permits them to rent seek.  I further argued that the professionally competent public administrator had to have sufficient training in designing such contracts (e.g. corporate and public finance) as to prevent that rent seeking outcomes.  While some may argue this is being overly pessimistic, my response is that if this starting point is wrong little is lost but if it is correct and not sufficiently accounted for the cost are extremely high.  Think of this as a min-max strategy.  Nevertheless, how many of our program provide this level of capacity in our graduates.

Now let me turn to other side of the tension, understanding of and support for democratic institution.  Society as a whole has difficulty understand the design principles of our constitution and our federated form of government but this should not be the case for our students and a good public administrator.  The media, for example, constantly decry problems of grid lock in Congress but as any good and well train public administration student knows (of should know) that is exactly the outcome desired by the founding fathers.  During the Obama years Republicans marshaled the Courts and Congress to block administration efforts while today we see the same thing by Democrats. As individuals we have preferences and may view Republican’s under Obama as obstructionist and Democrats under Trump and protectors or vice versa but this is overly self-serving. To what extent are we providing our students with the simple insight that grid lock is the normal state of affairs, not an aberration? Along with this insight is the basic idea that our democratic structures and institutions were designed to prevent external groups (e.g. political parties) from capturing and controlling all the branches of government and exercising unconstrained political authority.

We actually have numerous example of how this system works.  In the 1980s President Reagan appointed Ann Gorsuch Burford to run the EPA with the expressed objective of shrinking the agency and walking back environmental standards.  Sound familiar?  During that time Democrats and some Republican thwarted those efforts.  In fact Congress confronted the President over a constitutional issue surrounding executive privilege and disclosure of agency document as part of that conflict.  In today’s situation we again have a President attempting to gut the EPA.  Some of my colleagues have argued that because the President’s party controls Congress, Trump is more likely to succeed.  While I believe that schisms in the Republican Party make this more problematic than that, from an institutional perspective we still have the system of Courts and Laws that slow down any such process of change. See how the initial immigration bans we delayed and more importantly transformed as a result of Court challenges. We also have the potential in the future if there is a Democratic President and/or Congress to reverse this direction.

Another example of how Democratic Institutions work is through the election cycle themselves.  I have a very distinct memory of Carl Rowe arguing they had created a ‘permanent republican majority,’ only to find there temporary majorities in both Houses of Congress give way. It is in the genius of the system that it favors divided government and political completion not efficient political processes.  This is not a guarantee for all time but a recognition that we must do a better job of preparing our students to understand and support these forces.

There are real threats though.  The use of contracting, especially with private sector firms, increase the likelihood arguments for efficiency over democratic process may lead to attempt to change our democratic institutions.  Also we have seen some liberal democracies slide towards autocracy in the past few years like Poland, Hungary, Egypt and even some older more established democracies like Turkey in recent years.  We need to remember that both Hitler and Mussolini came to power initially through democratic elections.

I always recognize I might be wrong in my assessment.  But ask your students what would be their basic assumptions in trying to establish a public-private partnership and why they made those assumptions?  Ask your students if divided government is bad and we should be strive for less conflict in policy making? I would be interested in what you hear.

* Foundation Professor of Organization Design and Public Management | Center for Organization Research and Design (CORD) | Arizona State University

23 March 2017 | Making a Difference in the Real World through Public Affairs Research, By Stephanie Moulton

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

In light of the recent election in the U.S. and reliance on “alternative facts”, it is easy to feel disheartened about our role as researchers– particularly researchers who care about issues that are often central to public debates.  This topic recently came up during one of our monthly fireside chats between faculty and doctoral students at the Glenn College. How can we make a difference in our profession? Should we close our laptops and take to the streets instead? Certainly there is a time to engage in political activism, and as citizens who genuinely care about the future of our country and protecting the public interest, we can and should feel empowered to speak out.  But we can also make a difference through our research- something that we are uniquely trained and positioned to do.

During our fireside discussion, my colleague Jill Clark said something that got my wheels turning. She said that part of our role as researchers is to create “implementation resources” that can be used by practitioners on the ground as they carry out their important work.  She was speaking in the context of her work related to local food policy. As engaged scholar, Jill often collaborates with local nonprofit organizations, government agencies and policymakers to collect and compile data that she will use for her research.  Together through the research process, as survey data is collected and statistics are compiled, implementation resources are created that both groups can use for their purposes. For Jill, this is likely an academic paper to be submitted for publication, which may be of little value (at least in the short term) for the local partners. For the local partners, it may be a graphic presentation of local food data documenting the needs on the ground, which would fall far short of the standards of our academic peer review process.  Jill’s research is making a difference in the real world, not only through her academic publications, but through the creation of implementation resources.

After the discussion, I went back to my office and brushed off Heather Hill’s 2003 JPART article on implementation resources, “Understanding Implementation: Street‐Level Bureaucrats’ Resources for Reform.”  In the article, Hill defines implementation resources as “individuals or organizations that can help implementing units learn about policy, best practices for doing policy, or professional reforms meant to change the character of services delivered to clients” (269). It occurred to me that in our role as public affairs researchers, we can make a difference in the real world through our day to day process of collecting and collating data and sharing our findings. As we pull together data for our analyses, we are often creating information and artifacts, facilitating learning, and bringing together groups who may not have previously been connected. We as public affairs researchers can be more intentional about our role in the creation of implementation resources. And by doing so, we can perhaps have an even greater impact on the real world than we do through the occasional academic article that gets picked up by policymakers or brought directly into the public debate.

10 March 2017 | Expertise, Advice Seeking, and the President, By Michael Siciliano

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

Individuals across the organizational spectrum face complex work tasks and decisions that require them to reach out to others for information and advice.  An important question is: “Which individuals are sought for advice and why?” Particular sources of information influence the way in which we understand novel events and shape the criteria and options we use to make decisions.  As someone interested in bureaucratic behavior and the formation of help seeking relationships within public organizations, one dynamic in the early weeks of the Trump administration has proved particularly interesting – how President Trump makes decisions and from whom he seeks advice when formulating those decisions.  In some cases, he articulates his opinion, but relies on experts in his administration to determine policy.  This approach was on full display when ABC’s David Muir interviewed him on January 25th.  President Trump stated that he believed torture, and in particular waterboarding, was an effective interrogation tactic.  However, he said he would defer to the advice of James Mattis, his Secretary of Defense.  Mattis has openly stated that torture does not work and that you get further with “a pack of cigarettes and a beer.”  In this instance, the opinion of the expert, Secretary Mattis, supersedes the President’s own position.

In most other cases, Trump relies on family members and a small number of close strategists to design policy.  This approach was highly publicized in the aftermath of the controversial travel ban signed on January 27th. Many criticized the ban for being developed without accessing or properly integrating expert opinion and for avoiding standard inter-agency processes.  Many homeland security and justice department staff were unaware of the details of the executive order.  Some reports suggest Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly only saw final details shortly before the signing.  In this instance, the ban appears to have been developed by the White House in isolation, with limited input from experts or from the agencies tasked with implementation.

What might lead one to defer to experts in one area and seemingly ignore them in another? In a recent study [1], I examined the role of expertise in shaping the advice seeking behavior of bureaucrats.  The study took place in a large public school district in the Midwest.  The research aimed to understand how teachers, when in need of help or advice, utilized the expertise and knowledge of their peers. I want to highlight three of the findings and then use those findings as framework for thinking about the President’s decision-making.

First, there are psychological costs associated with advice seeking.  An individual’s decision to seek advice from another is not solely driven by a rational pursuit of information.  As humans, we are hesitant to make others aware of what we do not know.  For these reasons, people weigh the value of the potential information against the psychological costs incurred from obtaining that information.  Teachers in the study were asked to rate, on a five point scale, how comfortable they felt seeking help and assistance from each of the other members of their school. On average, just a one point change in how comfortable a teacher felt with another, corresponded to a nearly 25% increase in the likelihood of seeking that person for advice.

Second, accessibility matters. The world’s foremost expert on a given subject may be just down the hall, but if they do not make themselves accessible to you in a timely manner, than their expertise is not really useful to you.  People have a natural tendency to form perceptions of those around them and those perceptions function as a social lens to guide behavior.  As with psychological costs, teachers were asked how accessible they perceived each of their coworkers to be.  A one unit change on a five point accessibility scale translated into a 65% increase in the odds of seeking that person out for advice.  When people need help, they want it as soon as possible.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the role of expertise may depend on the type of information sought.  In the study, rather than conceptualize help seeking as a general action, specific knowledge domains known to be critical for effective teaching were used.  In particular, two domains were chosen which varied in their level of knowledge explicitness: (i) student behavior and classroom management (less explicit/more tacit), and (2) instructional material design and student assessment (more explicit/less tacit). The instructional material design and student assessment domain is more explicit, as the knowledge associated with that domain can be captured and transferred in written documents, such as tests, quizzes, and lesson plans. I asked teachers to nominate the coworkers they deemed as expert in each of the two knowledge domains and to identify who they sought for help when in need of that knowledge.

The results were surprising. In the more tacit knowledge domain of classroom management, teachers tended to ignore the experts.  In fact, across all five schools in the study, peer expertise had no influence on whether or not that person was sought for advice on classroom management. For the less tacit and more explicit knowledge domain concerning instructional material design, the results were quite different.  Peer expertise was now found to be a significant predictor of help seeking in the majority of the study schools.

What can explain this difference in social behavior when it comes to expertise?  One theory relates to the distinction between process- and product-focused goals.  While this distinction is often used to characterize fundamental differences in public vs private organizations, it aligns directly with different knowledge types and their level of explicitness.  For process-oriented tasks, such as managing behavior in the classroom, there is likely no single best solution as the problems related to this aspect of work are constantly changing.  In this context, the advantages of seeking the expert may be reduced, and individuals may be more likely to turn to close colleagues or those who hold similar views as way to minimize the social and psychological costs associated with advice seeking.  In comparison, with product-focused goals, obtaining expert advice may be of primary concern, as one aims toward innovation and developing a single best solution (in the case of teachers, the best lesson plan or quiz). This suggests that the relative weight of the costs and benefits shifts depending on the knowledge and context.

What are the implications of these findings for the decision-making of the Trump administration?   While generalizations are limited, applying the results can be instructive and offer fodder for further thought and research on how advice networks operate within our bureaucracies as well as in the highest levels of our administration. Take for instance, the reports of President Trump’s call to his then National Security Advisor Mike Flynn to ask whether a strong dollar was good or bad for the US economy. One way to think about why such a call would occur is to consider the psychological costs of seeking that advice.  As Derek Thompson of the Atlantic put it: “Reaching out to a national security adviser for economic advice further suggests that Trump doesn’t have many people he can trust with a brief, and potentially embarrassing, question about policy.”  Exactly.  The key word being embarrassing.  Of course he could have called an economist.  He is the President.  But doing so would have required him to suffer the psychological costs of admitting that he (a business mogul who was elected in part on the belief that he can rebuild the US economy) didn’t know the answer to a basic economic question.

Going back to the first two examples: torture and the travel ban. In the first instance of whether waterboarding works, one could argue that seeking advice on torture is product focused, in the sense that there can be a correct answer to whether a particular type of interrogation tactic works.  Ignoring the moral aspects of this issue, either you should interrogate suspects in a particular way or you should not. It is a question about the most effective means for securing needed intel. And individuals like Secretary Mattis are in a unique position to have an answer. In that case, and on a policy topic for which no one expects President Trump to be an expert, the benefits of relying on an expert seem to outweigh the costs.  Contrast this with the travel ban.  There is no single solution for how best to keep America safe. Broad aspects of national security, and most other complex policy areas, are certainly process driven.  This creates an environment where ideologies take center stage, and those in charge rely on pre-existing opinions and beliefs to drive their decisions.  When there is no right or wrong answer, going to an expert who may hold a different underlying philosophy may not provide sufficient benefit.

Given the collective level of government experience among the President and his close White House advisors (Bannon, Kushner, Miller), we should pay attention to whether they seek and utilize outside advice when crafting policy decisions and from whom they obtain that advice.  I suspect there will be continued and growing battles over the role of expertise in the administration.  As a recent example, the newly appointed National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, told council members at an all-hands meeting that the phrase ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ harms American security. CNN reported that McMaster urged President Trump to avoid that phrase in his February 28th address to a joint session of Congress. For those of you that watched, you know that the President ignored that advice and in his speech warned of ‘radical Islamic terrorism’.

[1] Siciliano, M.D. (2017). Ignoring the Experts: Networks and Organizational Learning in the Public Sector. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 27(1): 104-119.

February 2017 | Some Principles of Strategic Thinking, By John M. Bryson

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

For the next several months I’ll be concentrating on writing the fifth edition of Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations. (The current edition came out in 2011.)

From the very first edition I have emphasized that strategic thinking, acting, and learning matter most, not any particular approach to strategic planning. Indeed, if public leaders and managers find that a planning approach gets in the way of strategic thinking, acting, and learning, they should drop the approach and try a different one.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about strategic thinking, acting and learning. I was thus intrigued by a review of Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016) by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe. While I haven’t read the book yet, a New Year’s Day review in the New York Times Book Review got me thinking.

Apparently Ito and Howe have formulated some broad theories of technological change that go by such titles as “pull over push” and “compass over maps.” This last theory I found particularly intriguing – especially given my interest in mapping as a tool for strategy development. After all, I’ve co-authored books about the strategic uses of causal mapping with titles like Visual Strategy (Wiley, 2014) and Visible Thinking (Wiley, 2004).

What might compass over map mean? It implies that while having a map is good, you actually need a compass to do much of anything with a map, such as follow a route. So really the theory should be compass over map over route.

Still, how do you decide what direction to take? How do you decide what route to follow? A compass by itself won’t tell you, since you need a purpose first. Purpose helps orient you, so that you can know where north is. That allows you to use the compass to continuously reorient yourself so you can keep going in the direction of your purpose. Purpose also helps you create the map you need, meaning the mental map of images, interpretive schemes, and logic needed to navigate in a world that requires both sense-making and sense-giving. A sense of purpose allows you to sharpen your focus on just the information that is actually relevant to your journey; otherwise, you will be simply overwhelmed and confused by all the information that’s available. So now we have: purpose over compass over map over route.

And where does a sense of purpose come from? Well, authentic and virtuous public purposes typically emerge from deliberative argumentation. Drawing on Michael Barzelay and Fred Thompson (2010), we can say that deliberative argumentation consists of engaging with others in:

Only through that kind of deliberation can a virtuous sense of purpose emerge – one worthy of the high callings of most public and nonprofit organizations. In other words: deliberative argumentation over purpose over compass over map over route. Strategic thinking, acting, and learning begin with deliberative argumentation. Nothing else will do.


Barzelay, M. & Thompson, F. (2010). Making Public Administration a Design Science. Public Administration Review, 70(Suppl. 1), S295–S297.

January 2017 | Thinking about Undergraduate Education in Public Affairs, By Mary K. Feeney*

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

Public affairs programs across the country are developing undergraduate certificates, concentrations, minors, and majors in public administration, affairs, policy, and service. Some view this as an opportunity to expand programming and resources while, for others, it is another challenge in an environment of tightened budgets, expanded administration, and increased pressure to do more with less. Undergraduate programming offers a number of opportunities for our traditional graduate programs and students. Here, I outline some of the challenges and opportunities we face as we work to develop top-notch undergraduate programs that advance public service.

What We Gain from Undergraduate Programs

Universities and departments approach undergraduate degree programs with different needs and expectations. Especially for public universities, there is a need to generate revenue and students in seats translate to revenue. The second, and potentially bigger pay off is a pipeline to graduate programs – enabling us to attract students from a variety of undergraduate majors to public service. Third, we have the opportunity to engage the community in ways that are not done by traditional political science programs. Fourth, undergraduate programs are an opportunity for PhD students to get needed teaching experience, ideally with the guidance of a knowledgeable advisor. Finally, and possibly most important, undergraduate programs are a mechanism to effectively train citizens for the future – best fulfilling our public service missions.

What Undergraduates Gain from Us

Our jobs ask us to prepare young adults to be thoughtful employees and citizens, preparing them to think critically, analyze evidence, engage stakeholders, and solve public problems. Modern students must develop the savvy to consume a variety of media, parse out legitimate information, and use evidence based arguments as they engage in public service. It is our job to teach within a framework of public service, helping students understand how the world works around them, e.g. how policy is made and the many factors that shape it, how change or stagnation occurs, and how government works or doesn’t. Undergraduates need us to prepare them for a life of public-minded service in complex, interconnected private, nonprofit, and public organizations that shape the public sphere.

The Challenge

 Many of us were not trained to interact with and teach undergraduates, let alone develop stand-alone undergraduate programs. In fact, many of us have been teaching graduate courses such as public and nonprofit management, statistical methods, and program evaluation, which do not translate easily to undergraduates. We face a few challenges when developing public affairs undergraduate programs:

(1) Differentiate from our graduate programs. The BA/BS is not the same as a graduate degree in a professional field. Undergraduate programs should not mimic the graduate curriculum, serving as an MPA- or MPP-lite. Rather, they should be introductory, liberal arts degrees in public affairs. That means teaching citizenship, public engagement, policy and public affairs (via the public, nonprofit, and private sectors), logic, and other key components to prepare students for a life of civic engagement and public service.

(2) Differentiate from political science programs. In order to prepare undergraduates for a life of public service, we need to teach American government. However, we should be using American government as the basis for a more applied education in public service. Offering students an introduction to how government sets the stage for complex policy making, careers in public administration, and action in civil society.

(3) Stimulate interest in public administration, policy, and service. I view my job, when teaching undergraduates, as inspiring them toward public service – be that in the private, public, or nonprofit sector. Most of the undergraduate students I encounter want to change the world; make it a better place. They are empathetic, kind, tolerant, and well prepared to navigate a diverse work place and society. What they lack is know how. They often have simplistic views of how policy is made, who holds power, and how to effect policy change. Moreover, they are not adequately prepared to sort through opinion, evidence, and “alternative facts”. Through liberal arts training and experiential learning, we have an opportunity to better prepare them to be the change they want to be. We can help them understand the complexity of policy-making and the hard work that will be required to bring the change they seek. If ending homelessness were easy, we would have done it already. But it’s not easy. And the best part of our job is imparting a bit of knowledge and skill to a large group of energetic young people who can chip away at the big challenges our society faces.

*Associate Professor and Lincoln Professor of Ethics in Public Affairs | School of Public Affairs | Arizona State University

Email: mkfeeney@asu.edu

Twitter: @mkfeeneyASU

December 2016 | Does Public Administration Want Diversity…Really? By Leisha DeHart Davis

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

Earlier this year, Dr. Marybeth Gasman of University of Pennsylvania wrote a Hechinger Report op-ed piece, where she argued that elite universities do not have diverse faculties because they do not want them. Her op-ed cited a litany of excuses used by the Ivies to exclude faculty of color, including low-quality scholarship and the absence of a pipeline. Her counterargument was that pipelines can be created and scholars from minority-serving institutions can be recruited and mentored. What’s lacking is the desire to do so. In response to her op-ed (which was picked up by the Washington Post), she received 6000 emails ranging from gratitude for her candor to overtly racist sentiments.

Gasman’s op-ed raises the same question for the public administration field: do we really want diversity?  As I contemplated the question recently, I realized that the question itself makes two assumptions: (1) that public administration is not a diverse academic field and (2) that the field itself – its associations, conferences, journals, and editorial boards — bears responsibility.

To shed light on the validity of these assumptions, I invited comments through an anonymous Qualtrics survey posted on twitter, the Academic Women in Public Administration email list, and PMRA’s listserv. Twenty-five people posted comments, the substance of which were thoughtful and thought-provoking.

For those inclined to dismiss the results because they are not the product of a large-n survey or random sampling, imagine yourself listening to 25 of your colleagues gathered at a percolator session at PMRC.

The survey asked only one question, “Based on your experiences, is public administration a diverse and inclusive academic field? Why or why not? If not, what can be done? All thoughts, ideas, comments, suggestions, critiques welcome.”

The comments ranged from hopeful to pessimistic. Some were resigned, others were angry. A few were perplexed by the challenges of diversity and inclusion in public administration, but keenly aware of the need for it.  Some themes that emerged:

Public administration is (not) a diverse academic field. A few commenters believe that public administration is diverse and inclusive; most do not.

Across comments, the point was made that diversity is more than gender: it’s race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, physical ability, and political persuasion.With regards to political persuasion, two commenters felt there was no room for conservative voices in the field, with one arguing that the characterization of the right as hateful is hateful in and of itself.

One commenter argued that international students, particularly those from China and Korea, bring diversity to PA. As if hearing the argument across cyberspace, another commenter countered that, while Asian students do indeed bring diversity, that cannot be used as an excuse for ignoring the call for U.S. public administration to be more inclusive of women and faculty of color.

Of the affirmants, one felt that the study of administration’s impact on race, gender and income was a strength of the field. Other yeses came from those comparing public administration to other fields, such as political science and economics.

Another theme that emerged was the notion that public administration is a white field that excludes minority voices. This exclusion is thought to take place through a narrow range of acceptable quantitative methodologies and theoretical frames and through informal networks that privilege homosocial reproduction in hiring and publication.

Some were of the opinion that white men were overrepresented in power positions, whether in editorships, “manels”, or publication in top-ranked journals.

The creation of Academic Women in Public Administration was viewed by some as positive, but others suspect self-serving motives and white feminism at play. (Note to fellow AWPA-ers: these comments provide a valuable opportunity for self-evaluation in 2018).

Public administration gives social equity lip service, thought some, without adequately operationalizing it or incorporating it into research. Several commenters noted the paradox of social equity in public administration: it is bandied about as a foundational value, but largely absent from mainstream PA research.

Moving PMRC from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill was a positive move for diversity and inclusion, but… The board’s decision to move the conference was based on HB2, the state’s bathroom bill that requires public restrooms to be designated for the gender of one’s birth.  But one commenter wondered why PMRA had not taken a similar stance when North Carolina passed a law in 2013 that undercut voting rights that disproportionately affected minority citizens (subsequently invalidated by the U.S. Court of Appeals).  

Now to the second part of the question: what can be done about increasing diversity and inclusion in public administration? Here are some suggestions identified by commenters for moving the field forward into the 21st century:

**Recognize that the absence of faculty and students of color at our conferences reflects a problem. From this perspective, it is no longer good enough to explain away our lack of diversity using the self-serving explanation that we simply have high standards. May this explanation never again escape our lips.

**Intentionally diversify editorial boards, place term limits on editorial positions and be transparent in the selection of journal editors, employing input from board members. Some commenters recommended these tactics as a way of opening the field to more diverse intellectual perspectives. 

 **Reach out to new faculty in the field, particularly faculty of color. Suggestions for outreach included showing interest in emerging scholars’ research and formally mentoring faculty of color.

Now back to the original question. Does public administration want diversity… really? The answer to this question will be revealed as PMRA decides how it will move the conversation forward.

November 2016 | The Past as Prologue: A Discussion with PMRA Founder H. George Frederickson, By Rosemary O’Leary*

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

As Vice-President and President-Elect of PMRA, I have spent the last year learning more about our thriving organization. I have been very impressed with the leadership of Don Moynihan, from whom I often receive official emails or documents at 1:00 in the morning. Don is a tireless leader who has given his all to PMRA the last few years. I am delighted he will be President for six more months, and then remain on the PMRA board as Past-President for two years. Thank you, Don!

As I thought more about building on the past successes of PMRA, I reached out to its founder, my colleague H. George Frederickson. George and I talked extensively about how PMRA has grown and changed, as well as its future challenges. Here are some highlights of our discussion:

The Future of PMRA is Closely Connected to Our Journals and Conferences

I will use George’s insights, as well as other PMRA members’ advice, as I plan my upcoming two years as PMRA President. Please email me at oleary@ku.edu with your ideas and comments. I look forward to working with you and continuing the legacy of the PMRA founders.

* Edwin O. Stene Distinguished Professor, School of Public Affairs, University of Kansas

October 2016 | Studying Networks Over Time, By H. Brinton Milward

Kevin, · Categories: monthly_posts

One of the most frequently heard recommendations for network researchers from those who review interorganizational network papers for JPART and other top journals is “I wish you had studied this network over time.”  While this is sometimes possible based on finding detailed historical records (Padgett & Ansell, 1993) or we can occasionally replicate the study of a previously studied network (Milward, et al. (2010), the typical network paper sent to JPART is a study of one or a small number of public and nonprofit networks over a short span of time–typically the length of time it took the researcher to conduct the network survey.  Elite interviews with network participants can ask about the history of the network but when it comes to mapping the structure of the network to establish the nature of the connections between the actors/organizations in the network the questions are typically a variant of, “Have you engaged in any kind of joint activity in the last six months?”  Network research is a retail endeavor and very time consuming as it requires high response rates to adequately map the network.  The benefit of studying the life-cycle of a network is potentially great.  Does network effectiveness vary over time and if so how?  Are some governance models more effective than others for different stages of the network life-cycle?  Is there a process at work by which networks tend to differentiate and integrate? What is the role of human agency in the success and failure of networks?  Over time do networks become political actors in their own right that can forge a measure of autonomy (Carpenter, 2001)?

Assuming that we could map networks over time, there would still be a host of problems. As networks are viewed as flexible and temporary organizational forms, would you be studying the same network over time?  If there is a new governance mechanism, would that be the same network or a new one?  Moreover, networks can differentiate or merge.  How can we study the life-cycle of a network?  Could we observe the network over a long period of time or send out surveys during different phases of the observation (Isett, et al. 2011)?

This blog post is an attempt to begin a dialogue among public management researchers about how we might begin to design research that would capture the life-cycle of a network using methods that allow the researcher to capture exit and entry of organizations, new governance schemes, and shifts in the task or purpose of the network over time.  Let the dialogue begin!


Carpenter, D.P. (2001) The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputations, Networks, and Policy Innovation in Executive Agencies, 1862-1928.  Princeton University Press.

Isett, K.R., Mergel, I.A., LeRoux, K., Mischen, P.A., & Rethemeyer, R.K. (2011). Networks in Public Administration Scholarship: Understanding Where We Are and Where We Need to Go. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21(Suppl. 1), i157-i173.

Milward, H. B., Provan, K. G., Fish, A., Isett, K. R., & Huang, K. (2009). Governance and collaboration: An evolutionary study of two mental health networks. The State of Agents, a special issue of Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 20, i125-i141.

Padgett, J. F., & Ansell, C. K. (1993). Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici, 1400-1434. American Journal of Sociology, 98(6), 1259-1319.