Comparative Public Administration

As with any field of study, there needs to be defined and uniform standards with which to research and expand the realm of knowledge of the field. The same is true for the field of public administration. But, it is often argued, that because public administration is arguably in its infancy, it lacks a uniform standard of research and “as long as the study of public administration” lacks a comparative standard “there could not be a science of public administration in the sense of a body of generalized principles independent of their particular national setting” (Fitzpatrick, et al., 822). In their work, researchers Jody Fitzpatrick, Malcolm Goggin, Tanya Heikkila, and Donald Klingner review articles published in public administration and recommend a number of changes to enhance a uniformed best practices for public administration.

            In the beginning of their research, the team realized that “despite recognition of its value, there is little knowledge or synthesis of current CPA (comparative public administration) literature” and they stress the need to enforce “best practice solutions” (Fitzpatrick, et al., 821). Their work studied 151 articles from 2000 to 2009 to answer: How research is framed; What were the subjects of focus; and what methodologies were used. Because they discovered that the field lacked a consistent use of comparative standards and also noted “the scarcity of empirical data or quantification” (Fitzpatrick, et al., 822). These first observations lead to the idea that the field not only lacks a credible overreaching CPA theory, but it is abandoning its use of logical positivism with which it has performed its research in the past. Another observation of this study shows that the existing literature is “scattered and diffuse” and often covers a wide variety of topics not pertaining to public administration (Fitzpatrick, et al., 822). In addition, the studies were often micro-level and only present in a few countries. If that trend continues, there seems to be little hope for a comparative research standard.

            The items examined were: types of articles; types of research; comparative framework; the use of empirical research; and the subject matter and countries studied. In general, the research team saw that about one in five articles were essays about existing research based on the writer’s own reasoning instead of new data or information. Of those studied, the majority were empirical research articles were the authors collected new information. The rest were categorized as “apparent research” which did not rely solely on existing research. Instead, the authors failed to cite references they presented as their findings. For the articles that were not essays, the research team reviewed the purpose of the research and to what extent they were testing hypotheses and explored the design of the article (descriptive, causal, exploratory). The researchers found that most were descriptive in nature and about one third were casual.

            The biggest concern for a uniform standard of best practices would be if authors utilized logical positivism and other empirical research to build their arguments. It would be important to build on existing research or gather new information to continue to improve the field of study that is public administration. Thankfully, this research found that 80 percent of articles they reviewed cited empirical research to build their arguments. With that basis for factual research settled, the team then studies the subject matter and regions studied to ensure that the field of public administration can stand up to best practices in the twenty-first century. The authors studied were found to have concentrated on countries and comparing countries – primarily Europe, Asia, and North America.  There was very little research covering Africa, Australia, or South America which, the team points out, is worrying and they suggest increasing the scope of studies to be more international and diverse. They note that “we cannot learn how administrative actions and policies work if comparative researchers restrict themselves to primarily ‘developed’ Western and Asian Countries” (Fitzpatrick, et al., 827-828). Another suggestion this research asserts to that culture needs to be addressed more often in comparative work rather than just countries – they also warn that by “ignoring cultural norms, values, and traditions” the research “leads to misinterpretations of findings” (Fitzpatrick, et al., 828).

            In conclusion, the research team found that “CPA scholars have struggled for years with defining boundaries for the field and establishing its place as a subdiscipline of public administration” and stress the values of not only relying on empirical data gathering, but also researching outside one’s own country and culture to “test the effectiveness of innovations and to expand theory” of public administration (Fitzpatrick, et al., 828).

Fritzpatrick, Jody, Malcom Goggin, Tanya Heikkila, & Donald Klingner. “New Look at Comparative Public Administration: Trends in Research and an Agenda for the Future” Public Administration Review, (November/ December 2011), 821 – 830.

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