Major Schools of Thought in Public Administration

The purpose of public administration is to serve the public. Historically there are many schools of thought that are worked for the progress of Public Administration. Here in this article, I am going to share with you major schools of thought in public administration. In preparation for the CSS examination, it is necessary to study the schools of thought in public administration.

Schools of Thought in Public Administration

The Semantic Flow of School of Thought

A school is a collection or group of people who share common characteristics of opinion or outlook of a philosophy, belief, social movement, cultural movement, or art movement. It is for this reason a school is often called a school of thought.

Schools are commonly characterized by their currency, and thus classified into new and old schools. This dichotomy is often a component of a paradigm shift. However, it is rarely the case that there are only two schools in any given field.

Schools of Administrative Thought

Within the historical perspective of the development of public administration, eight schools of administrative theories have been discussed.

The empirical school, the school of human behavior, the bureaucratic school, the school of the social system, the decision-making school, the mathematical school, the business management school, and the administrative process school.

Prelude to Discussion

Gladden (1972) identified various views through which administration, as a discipline, could be approached. The different views include:

  1. constitutional law
  2. institutional
  3. business economics
  4. implementation
  5. comprehensive
  6. conventional
  7. management
  8. the generic view

➤ The constitutional view regards administration as a function of organizations concerned mainly with the execution or implementation of governmental activities. While the institutional view refers to administration as the work of specific organizations such as health or provincial administration.

➤ The business economics view regards administration as reporting, archives control, and general office organization, thus the operational routine matters.

➤ The management view holds that administration is limited to specific categories of employees with the purpose of achieving and fulfilling functional activities.

➤ The implementation view refers to administration as the act of implementation found in forms such as the administration of legislation or the administration of schools.

➤ The comprehensive view sees the administration as the total product of human behavior toward the realization of any goal.

➤ The generic view of administration constitutes the functions of public administration.

➤ The functions are generic in nature because of their universal applicability. Furthermore, the generic functions are also mutually inclusive, implying that collectively they constitute the effective and efficient functioning of the public service.

The Empirical School of Thought

The empirical school describes administration as the study of theories and opinions about the truths of administration, discovered through its practice.

The empirical school of thought was evident in countries where the practice of administrative law was apparent, such as Germany, Britain, and France.

The empirical school of thought can also be closely associated with the historical approach to public administration.

However, the current dynamics of public administration are not taken into consideration and thus, this school of thought contributes to the historical understanding of public administration, but not necessarily to its current realities.

The School of Human Behavior

The school of human behavior describes how administration takes place among people and intends to determine the levels of happiness and satisfaction based on various sociological and psychological criteria.

This school of thought bases its assumptions on the principle that an internal need could only be satisfied through an external expression. Thus, public administration is perceived as an enabler of job satisfaction and happiness.

The foundation for the integrated approach to human resource management has its origins in the school of human behavior.

The Bureaucratic School The bureaucratic school of thought is based on the principles of Max Weber. He described the organization as the culmination of the process of historical rationality and bureaucratization of social institutions.

The bureaucracy is a control system based on rational rules that regulate the organizational structure and processes in compliance with technical knowledge and maximum efficiency.

The Social System School

The social system school, promoted by Chester Bernard, is based on the assumption that organizational units are comprehensive systems of mutual cooperation, united in a common objective, with both a formal and informal form of organization.

The terms of the contract can either be expressed in an implicit or explicit agreement about what the organization will offer in the form of inducements and what will be expected from the individual, in terms of contribution.

This particular school of thought is a basis for the current performance management system implemented in the public service.

The Decision-making School

The decision-making school proposed by Herbert Simon makes a strong argument for the continuous responsibility of managers to make decisions.

Only through decisions can correct actions be obtained. Simon used an inductive approach based on logical position to revise the concept of the decision-maker in order to develop a descriptive model of organizational decision-making.

According to Simon, once an individual employee decides to participate in an organization, he/she takes on an organizational personality and the issue of compliance becomes central to the decisions taken.

The Mathematical School

The mathematical school proposes that administrative problems could be analyzed through mathematical simulation coordination. Models are identified using the variables and their relationships to one another as a basis.

The model is then used to quantify objectives, characterize shortcomings and define the unknown. However, the human dynamics and changing nature of the current public service cannot be explained in pure mathematical equations.

The Business Management School

The business management school bases its argument on the ability of the public service to reduce its efficiency to business principles and apply them to the public service in order to ensure effective and efficient service delivery. However, if services become privatized, they would longer fall within the realm of public service delivery.

The Administrative Process School

This school of thought is based on the arguments of Frederick Taylor and Henri Fayol. Administrative acronyms SLOCUS (staff, line, organization, communication, unity of command, span of control) and POSDCORB (planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordination, reporting, and budgeting) are also proponents of this school of thought.

History of Management Thought

The history of management thought suffers from a constricted definition of its subject. The term thought tends to be equated to knowledge, and thus given a positivist cast, or described in instrumental terms and thereby reduced to a generalized form of practice.

The history of management thought, in short, invites more expansive treatment than it has hitherto received.

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