Public Administration Research from a Practitioner Perspective

Article excerpt

In recent years, a number at authors nave studied me accumulated works of public administration scholars. This series began with research on public management conducted by Garson and Overman (1983). Since this time, an impressive body of literature has developed that examines and debates the quality and nature of research in the field. The work of doctoral students has received a great deal of attention, for example. Dissertation abstracts have been examined (Cleary 1992; McCurdy and Cleary 1984; White 1986b), as well as the productivity of doctoral program graduates (Brewer et al. 1999). Researchers have also studied the research methodologies used in Public Administration Review (Perry and Kraemer 1986; Stallings and Ferris 1988) and other public administration journals (Houston and Delevan 1990). The topics addressed in PAR also received scrutiny (Bingham and Bowen 1994; Watson and Montjoy 1991).

These empirical studies renewed interest in an old debate about research standards in the field (Adams 1992). A criticism that has emerged from recent studies is that public administration research lacks theory building and proposition testing, cumulative research, and rigorous research methods. While such critiques have offered some important insights, they have tended to press a decidedly academic research agenda, raising questions about the future role of practice in the field of public administration. Indeed, some recent critics have called directly for a break with practice. Stallings (1986), for example, advises that doctoral research needs to rise above the "individual and particular problems of day-to-day practical administration" (239). Stallings and Ferris (1988) maintain that public administration has been clinging to a practitioner focus to justify its existence in higher education, and Houston and Delevan (1990) argue that this behavior has hindered the field's intellectual development. These comments raise a serious concern, given that practice is, in many ways, the very soul of the field. Researchers have been drawn to public administration since the early 1900s out of a desire to address the problems of government and society.

Of course, this ongoing debate has not been totally one sided. Authors such as White (1986a) and Box (1992) defend practitioner-oriented research, and they have helped clarify the types of knowledge that practicing administrators need. These authors define approaches to public administration research that contribute to a dynamic, enduring knowledge base that is relevant to practitioners. One thing their arguments lack, however, is a discussion of the types of topics that need to be covered. We now have a better idea of what types of research can contribute, but we know very little about the specific knowledge needs of practicing managers.

In this article, we examine research in public administration from the perspective of an important group of practitioners. Many researchers have considered the field from an academic perspective, and we want to look at another side of the story. McCurdy and Cleary (1984) make some interesting points in defending their critique of public administration dissertations. They contrast research in public administration with medicine, and note that medical practitioners "await new findings in the New England Journal of Medicine (or can be sued for malpractice if they do not keep up)" (554). Achieving this level of relevance requires both a rich body of skillfully conducted academic research and strong linkages between academics and practitioners. Understanding the current state of this linkage is the first step toward achieving this goal.

Practices for Effective Local Government Management

The "Practices for Effective Local Government Management," developed by members of the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA), form the foundation of this research effort. These practices represent the best thinking of the city management profession about the knowledge and skills required of an effective local government manager. …