Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Public Administrator as Collaborative Citizen: Three Conceptions

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Public Administrator as Collaborative Citizen: Three Conceptions

Article excerpt


Western welfare bureaucracies historically had little concern for or explicit place for the public in administrative decision making (Vigoda, 2002; Kathi and Cooper, 2005). The traditional bureaucracy, as Weber conceived it and as it was in its essentials implemented in the growth of public service structures, required a hierarchical and specialized division of labour, operation according to standardized rules in which all 'cases' were treated equally, the preeminence of expertise and 'men of reason' as decision makers, and the separation of politics from administration. Yet enabling members of the public to engage directly with decision makers in determining key public policy choices (i.e., 'public participation' or 'citizen engagement') has become, over the last number of decades, a subject of much academic and practical interest in Anglo-American countries. In short, we have seen many arguments for the importance of democratizing public administration. The role of the public administration practitioner is fundamentally implicated in the creation of this new democratic linkage.

The success of public participation involves a change in the conception and organization of public sector agencies. Several theorists have attempted to locate these imperatives within a coherent philosophical stance. These I have grouped here into three main streams: one which draws upon critical theory, articulated for instance by Jurgen Habermas; one that has its roots in American pragmatism, and whose sources include Dewey and James; and one that traces its ancestry to the virtue-based ethical thought of Aristotle, filtered through modern writers like Arendt or Barber. My goal in this paper is to interrogate some of these positions in greater detail, to determine if they truly do end up, as they at first seem to, with comparable prescriptions for how to open up and democratize governance and public administration. I will consider what the particular logic of each tradition would suggest in practical terms for the public administrator--how, in sum, would it affect the way in which civil servants approach their interactions with the public? Is there any practical guidance here for practice?

In the remainder of this paper, I first describe the roots of these three alternative philosophies and their implications for understanding what role(s) the public administrator can and should take in terms of promoting and supporting public engagement in the policy process. Subsequently, I argue that greater attention to the implications of these positions could be combined with the existing extensive work on methods and techniques for engaging the public in deliberative discussions, and/or within network arrangements.

Models of Collaborative Citizenship

I use the term collaborative citizenship here to refer to a situation in which public administrators interact with the public not as experts with privileged insight and right answers, but as people charged with encouraging collective processes of deliberation and discussion that identify priority issues, possible courses of action, and the best way to implement these to build upon the strengths existing already among communities and with individuals. This end point has been reached by each of the three traditions which I consider here: critical theory, pragmatism, and virtue-based theories. The three streams are not mutually exclusive, as theorists can and do draw selectively upon aspects of these different philosophies in their work. Each of these philosophies as well contains subtleties and nuances, even different strains. Inevitably some of this rich detail, worthy of further investigation in its own right, is lost in my effort to provide here a concise but overarching statement of the major claims associated with each tradition. This is not in other words a comprehensive overview.

Nor is this an exhaustive assessment of all different philosophies of public engagement. …

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