Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Public Deliberation: An Alternative Approach to Crafting Policy and Setting Direction

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Public Deliberation: An Alternative Approach to Crafting Policy and Setting Direction

Article excerpt

General managers face two basic challenges in leading and managing their public bureaus. They are expected to strive for both organizational efficiency and organizational effectiveness. Webster's Third (1971, 725) defines efficiency as the "capacity to produce results with the minimum expenditure of energy, time, money, or materials" and effectiveness as "productive of results" (1971, 724). To achieve efficiencies, managers focus on doing things well. They attend to the internal organization and center their energies on routinizing, refining, formalizing, and elaborating on existing knowledge, and on making short-run improvements. "Efficiency thrives on focus, precision, repetition, analysis, sanity, discipline, and control" (March, 1995, 5). On the other hand, to achieve effectiveness, managers must be concerned with doing the right things. Knowing what to do typically comes from an understanding and interpretation of the external environment as it signals what ongoing adaptations are required in organizational technology, knowledge, strategy, and values. "Adaptation thrives on serendipity, experimentation, novelty, free association, madness, loose discipline, and relaxed control" (March, 1995, 5).(1)

Both effectiveness and efficiency are necessary for bureau performance. Each plays an important part, but at the same time each interferes with the other. In the competition for scarce organizational resources, the natural processes of each tend to pit one against the other. Effectiveness thrives on exploration and experimentation, but efficiency attempts to drive them out (March, 1995, 5).

Depending on their pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness, managers have developed four basic approaches to general management: the directive approach; the reactive approach, the generative approach, and the adaptive approach (Figure 1). Each approach should be considered as an ideal type that emerges from an interaction among an organization's major elements--its political, technical, social, and economic environment, as well as internal leadership, membership, and design factors. (It is possible to have hybrids that mix elements from each approach, but they will not be developed here.)


After a brief overview of the four approaches, this paper will explore the generative approach in greater depth, especially its use of public deliberation as an alternative way to establish public policy and set bureau direction. Having observed several of these deliberations to establish public policy, my goal is to distill the essence of their structure and process for the purpose of both improving future practice and building better theory. To this end, two cases will be examined: budget deliberations in a local school district and public deliberations over state educational policy.

Four Approaches to General Management

General managers employing the directive approach (the first quadrant of Figure 1) resolve the tension between efficiency and effectiveness by designing bureaus for optimal efficiency and minimal effectiveness. In practice, they pursue efficiency by running their bureaus like well-oiled machines (Mintzberg, 1996a). They avoid questions of adaptation and effectiveness that force a reexamination of current operations. Instead, they focus on maintaining internal order and control. Serving as the locus of decision-making, they set the organization's goals to ensure that all members act in concert. They insist on formalized jobs and standardized work to maintain orderly, reliable, and coordinated activity. Using both budgetary and operational controls to monitor actions, they correct deviations in performance. They oversee uniform policies that cover rights and duties, promotions based on competence and merit, and impersonal role relations to ensure the smooth flow of work. Since change disrupts orderly operations, they minimize it whenever possible. …

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