Going beyond “Altruism-Based” Public Service Motivation (PSM): Through the Lens of Self-Determination Theory |

Going beyond “Altruism-Based” Public Service Motivation (PSM): Through the Lens of Self-Determination Theory


The research on public service motivation (PSM) is all the rage in the last 20 years. Based on Perry (1996), PSM is not only affective but also rational and norm-based. It is reflected in four altruistic dimensions, namely attraction to policy making, commitment to public service, compassion, and self-sacrifice.

However, the assumption of altruism is problematic. Public servants can provide service because service symbolizes pride and honor. It is possible that they do not want to “look lazy.” In some cases, they serve people because they are afraid of being blamed. That is, public service as an action can be driven by many non-altruistic reasons. A complete PSM typology should include all of them, according to self-determination theory (SDT).

SDT further shows that public servants can internalize non-altruistic motives and gradually perceive the value of altruism once their needs for Big Three (autonomy, competency, and relatedness) are satisfied. The perspective of “Big Three satisfaction” facilitates the integration of PSM with many crucial research themes such as red tape, pay-for-performance, and civil service exam. The speaker will elaborate on this in his talk. In sum, after the development for over 20 years, PSM research should go beyond the four-dimensional framework and move toward a formal theory.

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Dr. Chen Chung-An, Assistant Professor, Public Policy and Global Affairs Program, Nanyang Technological University

Wednesday, 17 April 2013
5:15 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-4,
Level 3, Manasseh Meyer,
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy,
469C Bukit Timah Road,
Singapore 259772

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