Public Management Needs Help: Research in Public Administration Research and Organization Studies |

Public Management Needs Help: Research in Public Administration Research and Organization Studies

20120309_Steven-Kelman_w170On March 9, 2012, Professor Kelman spoke about the academic research in public administration and its future scenario, with the government as an important organization to be studied. Western countries spent around 35-50 per cent of their gross national product on their governments. These organizations had serious performance issues which were not being addressed through a standard academic research. Prof. Scott Fritzen chaired the session.

Prof. Steven Kelman is Weatherhead Professor of Public Management, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government. Currently, he is holding the distinguished Li Ka Shing Chair at the LKY School.

Referring to a line made famous by poet Robert Frost, he called research in public administration as a ‘road not taken’. He traced its evolution from an important branch of political science in 1920s to 1950s to a subject with its own theory and research methods under the influence of Dwight Waldo. He also cited an interesting account of Mr. Waldo’s scholarly stand-off with another young scholar of the time, Herbert A. Simon – both critical about the previous approaches to public management. Mr. Waldo – who later appeared as a leading scholar of the subject – emphasised ‘democratic participation’ as an objective of public sector management. He separated the field from social science research methods. Herbert A. Simon, who favoured social science research methodology in this arena, argued that the goal of public administration was performance.

Prof. Kelman said the discipline of public administration took a new turn in 1990s with the advent of ‘New Public Management (NPM)’ theory. Interestingly, this move was initiated by some practitioners and later adopted in academia by Professors Michael Barzelay, Eugene Bardach, Robert D. Behn and himself. The NPM brought private sector business techniques to the public sector and ‘managerialism’, ‘customer service’, and ‘entrepreneurship’ became the key words in this area. The opponents of NPM criticized it, on account of its treatment of people as “customers” rather than “citizens”, which entails rights and duties within a country and argued that public administration should accord citizenry public respect. Anti-NPM proponents upheld old values of ‘fairness’ and ‘rule of law’ in public sector management.

In elucidating the future course of public administration research, Prof. Kelman appeared to be aWaldoan follower. He maintained ‘customer service’ was more intuitive as a concept to the public sector managers. The people were more concerned about the performance of civil servants than anything else. He was apprehensive that the discipline of public management was not offering its practitioners sound research on various issues that might help them shape their managerial designs. There were many organizational commonalities between service and profit sectors. Drawing on these similarities, scholars might focus on the government more as there was a considerable drop in scholarly work on the government, as an organization, in the leading journals since 1980s, he added.

He concluded his lecture by listing some areas he considered important for potential researchers – bureaucratic organizational forms, non-financial performance measurement e.g. crime rate and air quality, public service motivation in officials, inter-governmental production or public-private partnership, disaster management and corruption in public sector.


By Asif Mehmood, a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the LKY School.


Multimedia: Webcast |


Given the importance of government, improving the management of public organizations is an important, and difficult challenge. However, the split that developed more than 50 years ago between mainstream research on organizations (mostly at business schools) and research on government organizations has been bad both for mainstream researchers and for public administration researchers - and bad for providing research that could help government work better. This lecture will discuss and analyze the split, and make suggestions for ways forward.

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Prof. Steven Kelman, Li Ka Shing Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy; Weatherhead Professor of Public Management, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government

Friday, 09 March 2012
5.15 p.m. - 6.30 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-1
Level 3, Manasseh Meyer
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
469C Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 259772

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