ASPA was founded on the ideal of connectedness among practitioners and academicians, across specializations, and between senior and younger professionals. The first part of that foundation now barely survives! - Chester A. Newland
Scholars and practitioners comprise the "community" of public administration. The founding mothers and fathers of the field, the original "pracademics," formulated a profoundly unique identity of unity between those who study and those who perform public administration. However, there seems to be a perpetual division within the "community," an identity crisis of sorts which threatens the mission of service each carries for the other. There is a proclaimed lack of interest and perceived utility of what each group brings to the table, ensuring a growing chasm in which public administration, as a whole, suffers. It is, therefore, important to examine the nature of this chasm, or gap. Are academicians and practitioners attending to different areas of interest, thereby contributing to an overall fracture in a community of interests? By determining what issues are of most concern for these two groups, we can better articulate the characteristics of this gap and begin to formulate strategies for bridging it.
Public administration (PA) academics and practitioners have, what Newland calls, "struggles for connectedness" (2000, 20). For example, the 1999 Building Bridges Tour of Public Administration Review (PAR) editors consistently heard of the tension between academics and practitioners and "the impossible job" required of the journal to meet their different needs and interests (Stivers 2000). Lee (2007) professes, "it's time to throw in the towel" and recognize that ASPA and its national conference cannot satisfy the needs of both professors and practitioners (21). As further evidence, Streib, Slotkin, and Rivera (2001) discovered a "noteworthy disconnect between published research and the knowledge need identified" by local government officials (522). Stallings (1986) presupposes these groups maintain two types of knowledge called "acquaintance with" and "knowledge about" (236). That is, PA practitioners have "direct familiarity with phenomena gained through first-hand experience," whereas the academic's knowledge is based upon "more abstract formulations some would characterize as theory" (Stallings 1986, 236). Bolton and Stolcis (2003) question the relevance and utility of academic research for practitioners, claiming these two groups are focused upon different and conflicting goals for research.
LOOKING AT THE LITERATURE
To examine the research-practice gap, PA academicians have investigated the quality of PA research and its subsequent utility to practitioners. For example, a critique of dissertations and journal articles, published in a series of articles in Public Administration Review, declared and debated insufficient rigor in PA research resulting in questionable contribution to the field (McCurdy and Cleary 1984; White 1986; Perry and Kraemer 1986; Stallings and Ferris 1988; Houston and Delevan 1990; Hummel 1991; Cleary 1992, 2000; Box 1992). Others, also attending to a gap, have focused on educational efforts to clarify purpose and relevance of graduate programs to practitioners (Broadnax 1997; Denhardt 2001; Denhardt et al. 1997; Hummel 1997; Marshall 1997; Miller 1997; Sellers 1998; Ventriss 1991; Weschler 1997). However, what has eluded an in-depth investigation are the very topics of interest to PA academics and practitioners. Specifically, to what extent do these topics diverge? The nature and content of a research-practice gap should be the point of origin from which we, as a field, can better understand the adequacy of our research, teaching and practice.
One means by which to examine the nature of a research-practice gap is in terms of the interest areas that characterize PA literature. Are we are talking about the same things? Investigations specific to content in PA literature have, to date, centered on PAR articles. Watson and Montjoy (1991) examined subject matter content in PAR regarding research on local government issues. They found that 31% of PAR articles, from 1979 to 1989, were "fully or partially concerned with local government" (169). They also found a focus on "narrower, more technical, management questions rather than broader, social issues" and concluded "public administration literature is not focusing on the really important issues facing public administrators" (170). Streib, Slotkin and Rivera (2001) compared 15 years of PAR articles on local government (1984 to 1998) with the practices for effective local government management developed by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). They found a broad range of interests by academics but concluded "their range of interests appears substantially narrower than those of local government managers" (521). Bingham and Bowen (1994) broadened the focus and sampled PAR articles over 50 years (1940 to 1991). Their purpose was to determine what constituted "mainstream" PA topics over time, comparing articles in PA's leading journal to a sample of introductory textbooks. They found a wider range of PA topics in introductory textbooks than in PAR and concluded that "PAR appears to reflect but one vision of the overall field" (207).
While the above-described studies suggest a gap in the literature regarding the interests of PA academics and practitioners, several features of those studies limit their findings. Watson and Montjoy (1991) focused on a very narrow subset of articles: articles published during one decade in one journal regarding one topic. Streib et al (2001) restricted their attention to articles referencing ICMA practices; the extent to which these findings apply to the field of PA as a whole is therefore unknown. And although …