Public Administration Research and Practice: Are Academician and Practitioner Interests Different?

Article excerpt

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.


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. …