Approaches to Public Administration

We have come across a number of times during our exploration of the topic, that it is somewhat difficult to define public administration in concrete terms. It has close association, interaction and influences from several fields of studies like law, political and social science administrative science and human relations and even behavioral science for that matter. One can easily infer that the approaches to study this field would also be as varied and as vast as the subject matter itself. And indeed so, that there are many approaches to public administration as we shall read about in consecutive articles. For the moment, we would take a step back and try and understand the reason behind so many approaches to this field of study and why were they required.

Public administration as a serious subject which required scientific attention was first promulgated by Woodrow Wilson and as we read in the Wilsonian vision of Public Administration he fiercely recommended that there should be more scrutiny and debate and studies carried out in this area to make it more efficient and robust.

However, it was only during the beginning of the twentieth century that American Universities introduced Public Administration as a subject of academic study influenced by L.D White’s important book called Introduction to the Study of Public Administration. There were also attempts made by scholars to differentiate between politics and administration, hence comparative study of two to understand Public Administration better came into existence.

Sometime later the Principles approach to public administration was introduced. This approach was influenced by W. F. Willoughby’s work called Principles of Public Administration in 1927. His work emphasized that scientific study and research of administration can help derive fundamental principles regarding the same. This approach was championed by other authors and scholars like Fayol, Mooney, Lyndall, Urwick etc. So, resorting to scientific method of exploring, researching, observing, recording, classifying etc was used to study Public Administration.

By this time, some important work had started happening in the areas of Human Relations by the likes of Elton Mayo, his Hawthorne experiment threw interesting light on social and psychological forces in work situations. So the importance of attitudes, feeling, sentiments and social relations, work group dynamics etc started influencing the vey formal structure and way of working; present and preferred by the public organizations.

After the Second World War, behavioral sciences were quite a hot debate in the academics with a lot of research and work carried out in the field. Herbert Simon’s Administrative Behavior and Robert Dahl’s, The Science of Public Administration: Three Problems; critically questioned the inadequacies and limitations of the orthodox public administration of the pre war days. Simon focused on the aspect of decision making in Public Administration and stressed on the need to develop a robust and relevant administrative theory based on precise and logical study of human behavior.

And recently with the advent of technology in every walk of life and a common consensus amongst authors and scholars that both public and private administration are similar in many manner, the management science approach to public management came into existence.

The newest approach is that of policy analysis approach since the Government is venturing into new areas and different activities with increased involvement in welfare programs, the process of making public policies and its analysis, the measurement of the output etc became the new areas of study for the scholars and subject matter experts.

In the subsequent articles we shall dwell deeper into some of these approaches described above and see how they shaped and influenced the study of Public Administration.


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