Public Administration: Meaning, Definition and Concept

Public administration is a special field of study within the academic discipline of political science. It emphasizes the structure and operation of bureaucracies and organizations, including budgeting, personnel, and formal and informal internal controls. It’s always hard to make a simple, clear, and precise definition of academic subjects, this also happens to public administration.

Scholars have long been trying to use a simple phrase to define it, but yet after a near half-century of hard work, it remains in vain. In the CSS examination, public administration is an optional subject and most important for being a government office holder. Here, I am going to explain public administration its, meaning, definition, and concept.

1. Definition of Public Administration

Public administration is a field in which leaders serve the public to advance the common good and effect positive change. Public administration professionals are equipped with skills to manage at all levels of government.

Extended Meaning of Public Administration

Public administration, as a bureaucratic organization, is conceived to work within a set of rules with legitimate, delegated, legal-rational authority, expertise, impartiality, continuity, speed and accuracy, predictability, standardization, integrity, and professionalism to satisfy the general public interest.

As an instrument of the State, it is expected to provide the fundamental bases of human development and security, including freedom of the individual, protection of life and property, justice, protection of basic human rights, stability, and peaceful resolution of conflict, whether in allocation and distribution of resources or otherwise. In this light, effective public administration is indispensable for the sustainability of the rule of law.

According to Encyclopedia

Public administration is the study and implementation of policy. As a moral endeavor, public administration is linked to pursuing the public good through the creation of civil society and social justice.

The adjective ‘public’ often denotes ‘government’, though it increasingly encompasses nonprofit organizations such as those of civil society or any entity and its management not specifically acting in self-interest. The term public administration sometimes is taken to refer narrowly to government bureaucracy.

Management and Organization studies

One core stone of public administration is based on knowledge from management and organizational sciences. A managerial definition of public administration proclaims that it is the executive function in government or a management specialty applied in public systems. Although public sector management is distinguished from private sector management, in many ways the two systems share a surprisingly broad area of similarities.

First Beginnings of Public Administration

Public administration was born towards the end of the 19th century when the business of the state started to attract social-academic attention. The revolution turning public administration into an independent science and profession is traditionally related to the influential work and vision of Woodrow Wilson (1887) and Frank J. Goodnow (1900).

These scholars were among the first who advocated the autonomy of the field as a unique area of science that drew substance from several sources. In the first years, law, the political theory of the state, and several hard sciences such as engineering and industrial relations were the most fundamental and influential mother disciplines.

Over time, these fields strongly influenced the formation and transition of public administration but the extent and direction of the influence were not linear or consistent.

The legal Definition of Public Administration

As maintained by Rosenbloom, the legal approach views public administration “as applying and enforcing the law in concrete circumstances” and is “infused with legal and adjudicatory concerns”. This approach is derived from three major interrelated sources:

  • Administrative law, which is the body of law and regulations that control generic administrative processes;
  • the judicialization of public administration, which is the tendency for administrative processes to resemble courtroom procedures; and
  • Constitutional law redefines a variety of citizens’ rights and liberties. Several legal definitions argue that public administration is law in action and mainly a regulative system, which is the “government telling citizens and businesses what they may and may not do”.

Socio-political context

Studying public administration is also a social issue. Thus, another approach that is highly relevant to the understanding of public administration bodies and processes rests on a sociological apparatus. It has a very close relationship with the political approach, so it is sometimes defined as a socio-political view of public systems or as a study of political culture. Yet its core prospects are beyond the political context.

Public Administration as Academic Discipline

The academic field evolved in the United States from both academic political science and law as a separate study in the 1910s. In Europe, notably England and Germany (Max Weber), it started as a separate scholarly field in the 1890s, but it was first taught in Continental universities in the 1720s.

The Federalist Papers several times referred to the importance of good administration, and scholars such as John A. Rohr see a long history behind the constitutional legitimacy of government bureaucracy.

Frame of reference

Three main disciplines serve today as core sources of knowledge in the study of public administration:

  • Policy analysis, Political science, and Political Economy
  • Sociology, Cultural studies, and Community studies
  • Management and Organizational studies

Public Administrators

Actors are the experts, especially experts in alliance with dominant political powers. The confidence in expert knowledge manifests itself both in the planning optimism and in the formation of new professional groups in connection with the implementation of welfare programs. Also in this case their alliance with political power becomes important for effects on policy.

2. Concept of Public Administration

The theory of Public Administration

Public Administration is an area where discussions of the meaning and purpose of government, bureaucracy, budgets, governance, and public affairs take place.

In recent years, public administration theory has occasionally connoted a heavy orientation toward critical theory and postmodern philosophical notions of government, governance, and power, but many public administration scholars support a classic definition of the term which gives weight to constitutionality, service bureaucratic forms of organization, and hierarchical government.

The missing link

Public Administration scholars have not established a strong causal relationship between the outcomes of government on the one side and its structures, processes, and personnel, on the other.

Analytical Focus

While analyzing policy processes one has to assume that some factors are accountable for the quality of governing. They include the quality of decision-making, the knowledge capability of governments, the capacity to mediate between political interests, and the effectiveness of administrative institutions responsible for the implementation of governmental policies.

Connoting the “Public”

The word public often seems to be a synonym for ‘universal’. But you are not just public administrators; you are also administrators of various ‘publics’, in the form of communities, neighborhoods, interest groups, and a wide variety of wildly diverging but very concrete citizens, residents, and persons. And it is the reality of these diverse publics that makes the application of universals difficult.

“Public” is the heart of the matter

Whether public administration is operating at the global, regional, national or local community levels, the multitude of public interests and needs that have to be satisfied in a complex variety of ways make it highly desirable that there be a close engagement, involvement, and participation of the various publics in the identification, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of public administration.

Organizational Actors in Public Administration

Every government consists of political and administrative actors playing roles within organizations. The character of political and administrative leadership is of utmost importance for the governing process.

Constitutional rules that constrain political and administrative actors constitute a legal framework for their operations. Actors and institutions are also influenced by political and administrative cultures that permeate human societies.

The Misunderstood Concept

The world of government and public administration has traveled far since the early days of its struggle for disciplinary independence. Lately, there has been talking of the advent of a new spirit in the public sector, or at least expectations of its coming. Some say that such a spirit is already here. Others aver we are witnessing only the tip of change.

The worldwide globalization process supported by stronger orientations towards open markets, open highways of information, growing levels of organizational learning, and interdisciplinary in the social sciences have also made their impact on the study of our bureaucracies.

Yet by all definitions, public administration at the beginning of the 2000s still lacks the sense of identity that other fields of the social sciences have long since obtained.

In other words, the field is looking back and down into its individuality, searching for orientations and signs that can direct it on its way forward. Today, public administration is already very different from what it used to be forty, thirty, and even twenty or ten years ago. In the coming years, it is going to be even more different.

3. Reforming the Public Administration

Reform can transform public administration and thus improve the odds bringing yet others to the surface. It is tempting to offer strategies for fundamental reforms, for no one can embrace waste, abuse, or mismanagement.

The promise of a cheaper and better-functioning government prompts the designing and implementation of public administration reform and modernization policies to be rooted in decision-making processes that secure majority support or socio-political consensus.

Government, policymakers, and decision leaders should anticipate the need for such reform and modernization policies and take the time to create propitious conditions for their adoption through consensus building or inclusive decision-making.

Reforms Process

The reform process must include reforming institutions to enable them to perform effectively. This will also ensure that capable personnel with adequate knowledge, skills, attitude, and networks confront the challenges in a sustainable manner; staff the institutions of public administration.

This implies that revitalizing public administration must be equally concerned with uplifting the capacity of human resources in the public sector. A restructured public administration must be capable of building up, strengthening, and appropriately utilizing human capital.

Renewed institutions, together with their human resources, must be capable of embracing partnerships with other stakeholders and key players in the private sector and civil society to facilitate the practice of engaged or shared governance.

Governance, Transparency, and Knowledge Society

Engaged governance will necessitate participation, transparency, information, and the capacity for knowledge sharing as well as flexibility and ability to adapt to new thinking within the information society.

A revitalized public administration will embrace and master the tenets of creating and managing a knowledge society, while at the same time ensuring that the entire public administration adopts attributes of a learning organization to catalyze and respond to change and cope with the challenges and opportunities of globalization.

Tools of Development

What is important is that reform in public administration must be viewed within the overall principles of “good governance”. Partnerships, a critical aspect of “good governance”, need to be seen as key tools of development management and as accountable institutional frameworks dedicated to the common goals of poverty reduction and sustainable human development.

5. Reinventing Government

Reinventing government is a revolution in government management. It is less a revolutionary than an evolutionary movement.

To its great credit, reinventing government has evolved to the point that it has recognized the central dilemma: redefining accountability for performance in the many programs where government partners share responsibility for performance.

The Reinvention Evolution

Government reform—especially management reform—has become an inescapable issue for governments everywhere. Developed nations with large social welfare systems found that their economies could not sustain the systems’ costs. Developing nations, struggling to grow their economies, worked to sweep away old regulatory systems and insider schemes to leap ahead.

6. Governance

Thinking about how best to govern is not a new issue. It was central to Aristotle’s thinking about how best to facilitate people’s ability to lead flourishing lives in Ancient Greece.

Theory of Governance

Conventional wisdom in governance is not developed as a credible theory, but with trial and error, tradition-blessed familiarity, and the dominance of either managers or management mentality. Governance is a paradigm of concepts and principles applicable to any governing board, whether profit, nonprofit, or governmental, and whether appointed or elected. There should be universal principles of governance.

The Substance

Governance refers to processes- how things are done, not just what is done. It requires more than a focus on government. It also relates to the nature of relations between the state and society. Governance refers to the nature of rules that regulate the public realm – the space where state and economic and societal actors interact to make decisions.

The Constitutional Framework of Governance

Theories of governance and public administration emphasize a variety of conditions facilitating effective government. A theoretical assumption orienting the institutional studies of policy-making and public administration assumes that institutions of political and administrative systems may be conceived of as the independent variables that account for cross-national variations of the policy orientations and effectiveness of governance.

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