Evolution of Public Administration


Evolution of Public Administration as an Activity

As an aspect of governmental activity, Public AdministrationOpens in new window is very old as much as human history (civilization). In European languages, the term Public Administration began to creep in during the seventeenth century to separate the absolute monarch’sOpens in new window administration of public affairs from the management of his private household. This was a period when the church was separated from the state and government was superimposed on all other societal institutions within a definite territory.

In contemporary societies there are some activities like maintenance of law and order, and security carried out in the interest of the citizens.

Public Administration is the means through which such tasks are undertaken.

At the present stage of civilizationOpens in new window, Public Administration as governmental activity has proven to be indispensable in the conduct of human affairs.

Besides maintainance of law and order, revenue collection and security functions, it operationalizes a vast array of public laws, provides public services like post and telegraphs and transport facilities in cities and towns, and is the main instrument of socioeconomic transformation in modern societies.

Evolution of Public Administration as a Discipline

Public Administration as an academic discipline is a little over a hundred years old and hence one of the younger social sciences.

It is only during the last half-century—or so it seems—that much academic attention has been given to administrative activity that dates back to the beginnings of civilization. Its developmental phase began to take shape in the USA towards the end of the nineteenth century.

The evolution of Public Administration as an academic discipline falls into a number of periodical stages.

We'll be taking a close look at these periods in the following discussion, with special emphasis on the United States of America.

1.   The first stage: Wilsonian politics-administration dichotomy

The symbolic beginning of Public Administration as an academic discipline, can be traced back to the seminal essay authored by Woodrow WilsonOpens in new window, published in the Political Science QuarterlyOpens in new window in 1887.

In this essay, entitled “The Study of Administration”, Wilson had introduced the doctrine of politics-administration dichotomy by making a distinction between political activity and administrative activity.

  • He referred to Public Administration as the implementation of public laws which are determined by political officers.
  • He treated Public Administration as the business and operational side of government removed from the hurry and strife of politics.

Wilson’s essay thus laid the foundation for the systematic study of Public Administration in the United States of America.

Wilsonian’s 1887 essay symbolized the beginning of what was later to be an autonomous academic field of inquiry. Thus, Wilson is regarded as the founding father of the discipline of Public Administration.

Frank J. GoodnowOpens in new window, another eminent author, who endorsed the Wilsonian theme of politics-administration dichotomy in 1900, elaborated further on the theme by conceptually distinguishing the two functions.

According to him, “Politics has to do with policies or expressions of the state will,” whereas “administration has to do with the execution of these policies.”

Apart from this, the institutional location of these two functions were differentiated.

  • The location of politics was identified with the legislature and higher levels of the government where major policy decisions were taken.
  • The location of administration was identified with the executive branch of the governmental and the bureaucracy.

In 1926, Leonard D WhiteOpens in new window wrote Introduction to the Study of Public AdministrationOpens in new window which was recognized as the first textbook on the subject. This book, while advocating a politics-administration dichotomy, stressed the human side of administration dealing comprehensively with administration in government.

2.   The second stage

The second stage of evolution was heralded by the tendency to reinforce the idea of politics-administration dichotomy and to develop a value-free science of management.

The central belief of this period was that there are certain principles of administration which was the task of scholars to discover and advocate. W. F. Willoughby’sOpens in new window Principles of Public AdministrationOpens in new window in 1927 was the inauguration of the principle approach.

Other important works of this period stressing this approach were:

  • Principles of Organization by James D. Mooney and Alan C. Riley, Creative Experience by Mary Parker Follett,
  • Henri Fayol’s Industrial and General Management and
  • Papers on the Science of Public Administration by Luther Gulick and Lyndall Urwick.

In all these works, empirical studies were undertaken to find a scientifically accurate method of organizing human relationships in large-scale organizations ‘the one best way’ to achieve a desirable level of organizational efficiency and economy.

With the help of scientific management methods, the leaders of Public Administration tried to discover certain principles of Public Administration which could be of universal applicability. Division of work, specialization, coordination, scalar principle, unity of command and span of control were some of the principles developed by them.

Luther GulickOpens in new window and Lyndal UrwickOpens in new window coined the word POSDCORB to promote some of these principles of administration.

POSDCORB stands for Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting and Budgeting.

These maxims of administration were said to be of universal applicability in all organizations.

3.   The third stage

The third stage in the development of the discipline of Public Administration was characterized by the rise of the Human Relations School led by Elton MayoOpens in new window.

While the classical writers emphasized the structural aspects of organizations, the Human Relations School focused on the importance of human factor and human relations in organizations. Mayo’s famous Hawthorne experimentsOpens in new window revealed the powerful influence of social and psychological forces on the work situations.

These studies also draw attention to the formation of work groups in organizations and the importance of group behaviour to management. In other words, the work in organizations gets affected by the attitudes, feelings, sentiments, and other social relations of the workers. Thus the Human Relations School led to the discovery of the effect of the informal organization on the formal structure.

4.   The fourth stage

In the fourth stage the growth of the study of Public Administration was greatly influenced by the behavioural approach started after World War II. Chester BarnardOpens in new window, Herbert SimonOpens in new window, Robert DahlOpens in new window, Chris ArgyrisOpens in new window, Douglas Mc GregorOpens in new window and Rensis LikertOpens in new window are prominent among the behaviouralists.

In his Functions of the Executive, Barnard stressed the behavioural factors in analysis of organizations. However, the behavioural approach was ushered in by the publications of Herbert Simon’s Administrative Behaviour and Robert Dahl’s The science of Public Administration: Three problems.

These two writers criticized the core beliefs of the pre-war orthodox Public Administration. They showed its inadequacies and limitations.

Simon argued that Public Administration has not become a science and regarded its principles as little more than contradictory proverbs and maxims of folk wisdom. He emphasized decision-making as the central aspect of administration.

He therefore, laid emphasis on logically precise approaches to studying behavior as the best way to develop a sound administrative theory.

Robert Dahl showed reasons why Public Administration could not claim to the status of a science. In his opinion the problems of creating the science of Public Administration were immense because subject matter was involved with values, the social framework, and individual personalities and behaviour.

The other behaviouralist argued for a more humanitarian problem. They have attached great importance not only to the human behaviour in organizations but also to the development of human personalities in the organization.

They have stressed such psychological problems as the need of the employees for recognition, security and ego-satisfaction. Thus, the psychological character of organizations forms the foundations of their theories.

In this new era of behavioural revolution in social sciences Fred W. RiggsOpens in new window concentrated on studying administrative behaviour in other cultures and settings, especially the developing nations.

As a result of these studies new and flourishing sub-fields of development administration and of comparative administration have developed within Public Administration proper. Thus, the scope of the study of Public Administration has extended to the “varying historical, sociological, economic and other conditioning factors”. It has also become interdisciplinary by accepting contributions from sociology, social psychology Opens in new window, anthropology, economics Opens in new window and computer science.

5.   The fifth stage

In the fifth stage, the study of Public Administration and its evolution have been greatly influenced by the developments in computer technology, and the invention of analytical techniques such as PERT (Programme Evaluation and Review Technique)Opens in new window, PPBS (Planning Programming Budgeting System)Opens in new window and OR (Operations Research)Opens in new window.

As a result of these developments and of the changes occurring in social sciencesOpens in new window there has emerged the concept of generic administration.

Generic administration refers to the idea that all administration, whether public or private, is essentially the same and utilizes much the same knowledge and processes.

Consequently, ‘Management Science’ approach to Public Administration has come into vogue. Academic Programmes have also been developed with the object of training administrators for both public and private sector management.

Exactly at this stage of its development Public AdministrationOpens in new window was experiencing the crisis of its identity.

6.   The final stage

In the final stage, the study of Public Administration and its evolution has exhibited much interest for public policyOpens in new window analysis. As governments seek to formulate and implement more and more welfare programmes, policy making and decision making have become the primary areas of study in Public Administration.

Writers in Public Administration have also shown much interest in the related areas of policy sciencesOpens in new window, political economyOpens in new window, the public policy making process and its analysis, and the measurement of policy outputs.

By adopting policy analysis approach Public Administration has gained in social relevance and has become realistic. It has also become interdisciplinary.

As an eminent scholar had noted, “the problem of crisis of identity has been resolved with the recognition and acceptance of the field as interdisciplinary and an applied subject”.

The social and political upheavals of the 1960s created a general spirit of criticism of the field of Public Administration demanding reform.

In 1968 some young Public Administration academics and practitioners, who gathered at the Minnowbrook conferenceOpens in new window sponsored by Professor WaldoOpens in new window, expressed their views on the state of Public Administration and its future. The genre of criticism and contributions made by them came to be called the New Public Administration Opens in new window.

To bring this discussion to a close, the brief exploration of the growth and evolution of the study of Public Administration reveals that Public Administration has withstood certain circumstances and stands the test of time. It has evolved to earn its place as the machinery for policy implementation, decision making, goals and objectives formulation, etc.

Today, Public Administration is inter-disciplinary and heterodox and hence its boundaries are vague and indeterminate. Nevertheless Public Administration today has acquired a more or less standard disciplinary appearance, despite much diversity in its development as a discipline.

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