Comparative Public Administration


What Is Comparative Public Administration?

Comparative public administration is the study of administrative system of other countries in a comparative fashion.

The study of comparative public administration contributes to a greater understanding of the individual characteristics of administrative systems functioning in different nations and then we can endeavour to adopt those practices which can fit in our own nations and systems.

In addition, comparative studies also help in explaining factors responsible for cross-national and cross-cultural similarities as well as difference in the administrative systems. Thus, comparative public administration is a comparative study of diverse administrative systems, on whose conclusions most scientific efforts are made in public administration.

Through the comparative public administration, the achievements and political systems of different countries are compared. Analysis is made to learn in any specific country, how some specific plan was launched and how many people were benefited from it. In this vein, an eminent author observes,

Comparative public administration is a quest for patterns and regularities of administrative action and behaviour. Through comparative analysis, we are able to show not only the diversity of human experience, but also the amazing uniformity within and among states.

Comparison extends our knowledge of how to explore, reflect, and better understand universal administrative attributes, instead of being confined to ethnocentric views. Under comparative public administration it has become easier to study the administrative system of developing and developed countries.

Scope of Comparative Public Administration

To make comparative public administration a genuine comparative study, it must be national and cross cultural.

Comparative administrative studies can be conducted at three analytical levels:

  1. macro,
  2. middle-range and
  3. micro.

1.   Macro study

Macro studies base emphasis on the comparisons of whole administrative systems in their proper ecological fashion.

A macro study would involve, take for example, a comparison of the administrative systems of Nigeria and USA. It will comprise detailed analysis of all important aspects and parts of the administrative systems of the two countries.

Basically, whatever relationship may exist between an administrative system and its external environment are highlighted in the macro level studies.

2.   Middle-range study

The middle-range studies are on certain important parts of an administrative system that are sufficiently large in size and in scope of functioning.

Take for example, a comparison of local government in different countries will form part of middle-range studies.

3.   Micro study

Micro studies are concerned with comparisons of an individual organization with its counterparts in other settings.

Basically, a micro study might relate to an analysis of a small part of an administrative system, such as the recruitment or training system in two or more administrative organizations.

In practice, micro studies are more realistic to be undertaken and a huge number of such studies have been conducted by scholars of public administration. In the contemporary comparative public administration, all the three types of studies coexist.

Approaches and Models to Comparative Public Administration

There are many approaches which prompts the basis for which the studies of comparative public administration are conducted.

Particularly after Second World War, a number of approaches have emerged in comparative administrative analysis.

Much of this effort is based on adaptation of the developments in comparative anthropology; comparative sociology and comparative politics. In what follows, we discuss the different approaches to comparative public administration:

1.   Structural-functional approach

Prof. Dwight Waldo presented the structural-functional approach in comparative public administration for the first time in 1955. Prof. Riggs approved the idea of Prof. Waldo. However, in 1957, Prof. Riggs presented an agrarian industrial model on the basis of this approach. As event would turn out, Prof. Riggs was regarded as the pioneer of the structural-functional approach in the field of comparative public administration.

Talcott Persons, Robert Merton, G. Almond, David Aptor et al, did not support its application in public administration.

The exposition of structural-functional approach in the field of public administration is that there is a structure of every administrative system and by this structure and its organs (components) various functions are carried out.

The supporters of this approach hold that public administration is like a planned dynamic machine which can be studied like a scooter, motor car or a cycle and their parts. All these parts perform their functions with coordination and interdependence and are called organizational structural functions.

2.   Ecological approach

The ecological approach examines the interactions between an administrative system and its external environment.

According to this approach, as all plants cannot grow in all climates, likewise all administrative systems cannot be feasible in the ecology of all countries.

The public administration is also affected by the impact of the political system, economic system, social system, the cultural system and the ecology of the country. Thus, the structure and behaviour of the administrative system as well as the influence of the administrative system on these environmental structures is highlighted in the ecological approach.

The proponents of the ecological approach are said to be, Prof. F. W. Riggs, Robert A Dahl, J. M. Gaus, Roscoe Mastin et al. Fred Riggs has successfully applied the ecological and structural functional approaches in his analysis of societies and their administrative systems. His typology of “agraria-transitia-industria” systems, developed in 1957, was superseded by the typology of “fused-prismatio-diffracted” societies that was constructed in 1959.

For the past thirty years or so, Riggs model of prismatic society and its administrative systems known as “sala” has ruled the contemporary model-building scene in comparative public administration.

3.   Behavioural approach

The behavioural approach was introduced in comparative public administration, to make public administration more pragmatic and useful. This approach is built in with “facts”, rigorous scientific methods of data collection and analysis, quantification, experimentation, testing, verification and an interdisciplinary orientation.

The behavioural approach applies focus on the analysis of human behaviour in administrative settings. It is the latest approach in comparative public administration introduced by Prof. Herbert Simon, Blow Merton, Weidner, Haddy Stokes, Calton etc. In his book, Administration Behaviour, Prof. Herbert Simon discarded traditional methods of study for the study of public administration. He remarked that if we wished a correct and scientific analysis of the organization, our study should be made upon behaviour.

Attaching importance to the behavioural aspect of the administration, Herbert Simon added that everyone working in an organization, harbours some feelings and aspirations, and his behaviour is affected by psychological conditions and inspirations or motivations.

The individual and social conditions of an individual mould his behaviour. The behavioural study can successfully express the behaviour of the person working in an organization. While the period up to 1960 is called the apex of the behaviouralism, the period of post-behavioural revolution are after 1970.

Merits of Study of Comparative Public Administration

  • Comparative public administration has broadened the field of social research, while previously it was limited by natural cultural bonds.
  • The revolution of comparative approach has made the principle formation more scientific.
  • Comparative methodology makes our outlook broader, with the result we do not watch the world subjectively.
  • Comparative public administration is broadening the process of social analysis.

Objective of Comparative Public Administration

  • To formulate general principles and concepts by studying specific administrative problems and systems.
  • To present far reaching analysis of different cultures, nations and systems, and thereby extend the scope of modern public administration.
  • To find out the causes of their successes and failures by locating comparative circumstances of diverse administrative forms and systems.
  • To point out the necessity of administrative improvement in the context of comparative studies, to bring out the shortcomings into light.
  • To make experiences dynamic by making their use.
  • To contribute in the policy determination of the government.
  • To broaden the horizon of public administration and to make it practical.
  • To encourage the use of the new techniques of managerial and administrative science in the developing countries.

Reasons for Evolution of Comparative Public Administration

1.   Contact with Developing Countries

During Second World War, the scholars of public administrations of the USA, UK and other European countries came into contact with the principles and procedures of the public administration of developing countries.

They found many novelties and new characteristics in those systems; and were encouraged to make comparative analysis of the systems to learn their characteristics and fundamentals intensively.

2.   New Challenges of World War II

The traditional public administration could not face the new challenges of World War II. Dwight Waldo has remarked, “The student of traditional public administration can acquire knowledge of a single country alone and is unable to make the similarities or distinctions with other countries.”

Modern writers of public administration were not prepared to compromise with these shortcomings of traditional public administration. Therefore, new philosophy of public administration came into light.

3.   International Cooperation and Coordination

The Second World War helped in the extraordinary development of international cooperation and coordination. Different countries had to increase their dependence upon other nations. This dependence was not confined to economic, industrial or technical fields, but also extended to the field of administration.

Ultimately, every country became interested in making use of administrative principles and achievements of other countries, this has created international cooperation and coordination which has helped the development of comparative public administration.

4.   Claim for a Science

In the post-war era, almost every social science claimed to be a science. The public administration could not present its claims due to lack of comparative approach. In 1947, Prof. Robert A. Dahl admitted in an essay, “Unless the study of public administration was comparative, it cannot be accepted as a science”. Importance was attached to the study of public administration to make it meet the criterion of a science.

5.   Demarcation of Subject-Matter

In the beginning, there was no clear-cut systematic demarcation of the subject-matter of public administration.

Prof. Edward Shields holds that by systematic comparison of diverse societies their similarities and peculiarities were observed and indicated. Thus, development of comparative methodology was essential for the systematic explanation of subject-matter of public administration.

6.   Cold War

After the Second World War, the world was bifurcated into American and Russian blocs. These engaged in intense cold war. Both blocks competed to turn all developing countries in their favour.

The USA and USSR took recourse to diplomacy, providing all sorts of assistance in the field of economic, industrial and technical development. It could only be properly utilized when these countries used the know-how to make use of new technology. Thus, the personnel of these countries were sent abroad to be trained in developed countries, and the administrative systems of these countries were employed in developing countries.

7.   Development of Comparative Public Administration as a Discipline

From the beginning the authors of public administration considered the comparative approach so significant that they were sure of its bright future as an independent discipline.

8.   Relationship between Administration and Society

The close relationship between administration and society played an important role in the development of comparative public administration. It became essential for the writers of public administration to study the relationship between social and administrative structure.

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