Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Organizational Advocacy of Cultural Competency Initiatives: Lessons for Public Administration

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Organizational Advocacy of Cultural Competency Initiatives: Lessons for Public Administration

Article excerpt


The concept of cultural competency is relatively new in the historical development of public administration research. However, the practice of cultural competence is firmly rooted in broader public administration values of diversity and effectiveness. Cultural competence reflects and aids good government as it promotes effective delivery of services (Norman-Major and Gooden 2012). Given the benefits and impacts of cultural competency, it is not surprising that initiatives within public administration continue to grow.

Cultural competency can be characterized as specific organizational actions and policies that enable the organization to more effectively serve its culturally diverse populations. That definition can also be broadened to actions and policies that help a diverse workforce feel more engaged with their workplace. Local municipalities, where cultural differences have become most evident due to shifting demographics, are able to adapt and provide proactive responses (Benavides and Hernandez 2007).

Cultural competence can be found in practice as early as the 1800s, but it wasn't until the 1980s that a collective effort to promote culturally competent practitioners emerged in health and social services (Satterwhite et. al. 2007). This study reviews current advocacy in health care, social work, and other public sector organizations. Specifically, the study reviews public service academies, associations and accrediting bodies that can apply themselves to informing, guiding and advocating cultural competency initiatives in public administration. International cultures require cultural competency for public servants working abroad as well (Imoh 2012), but the focus of this paper will be on U.S. organizations and public administration within the country. Ultimately, the paper intends to outline current guiding principles and policies that service organizations use in advancing cultural competency. To this end, the paper aims: 1) to provide a reference framework for public administration entities and their respective policies, and 2) underscore the breadth and the beneficial potential in a culturally competent service organization.

Literature Review--Cultural Competency

Cultural competency can be approached in various ways; however, a common factor emphasized across each approach is organizational change so that the organization can better serve its customers/public and workforce. One example refers to cultural competency as the "ability of organizations and individuals to work effectively in cross-cultural or multicultural interactions" (Fernandopulle 2007, 16). Moreover, Lonner (2007) outlines cultural competency as a continuum "with no absolute fixed endpoints; that is, there is neither an exact bottom for total cultural incompetence nor an exact top measure" (6). The National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC), a federally funded institution, was founded as a means for advancing a more consistent understanding of cultural competency and as a resource for the health sector. The NCCC defines cultural competency as "having the knowledge, skills, and values to work effectively with diverse populations and to adapt institutional policies and professional practices to meet the unique needs of client populations" (Satterwhite et al. 2007, 2).

In terms of operationalizing various approaches to cultural competence, some scholars have developed models for practice and assessment. Brach and Fraser (2000) develop a conceptual model for reducing racial/ethnic health disparities in order to avoid ignoring cultures and opportunities. The Purnell Model of Cultural Competency (Purnell 2002), developed for health care, underscores major assumptions for cultural competency implementation. These assumptions include: cultures change slowly over time; differences exists among, between, and within cultures; individuals and families belong to several cultural groups; and culture has powerful influence on one's interpretation of health care (Purnell 2002). …

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