Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Gauging Social Justice: A Survey of Indices for Public Management

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Gauging Social Justice: A Survey of Indices for Public Management

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Social equity remains underexplored, compared to efficiency and effectiveness, owing perhaps to the positivist underpinnings of the New Public Management, which dominates the field. Empirical analyses rely upon measureable constructs, and equity resists quantification to a greater degree than do efficiency and effectiveness. Few empirical studies have been conducted to evaluate to what extent social equity has been achieved due to a policy intervention. As Chitwood (1974) observes, scholars of public administration and management face considerable ambiguity when trying to determine the specified characteristics of a service whose magnitude determines the amount of service to be delivered. Challenges to policy implementation also include determining whether potential service recipients are eligible for benefits. Further, unequal treatment is often needed to achieve an equitable outcome, but unequal treatment is often unpopular. Measurement of equity becomes critical to determine the degree of inequality between groups, as well as how much unequal treatment is needed to remedy past injustices.

This paper is intended to demonstrate the measurability of social equity as the third pillar of public administration (Frederickson, 1990) by introducing indicators that can be used to evaluate to what extent a policy realizes the value of equity. Social equity is defined using Rawls' theory of justice and Frederickson's (1990) compound theory of equity. We propose measures borrowed from other social science fields to be applied to public management and administration by reviewing key inequality measures that have been used in social science research and discussing their strengths, weaknesses, and relevance to public management research. Equality measures can be applied to capture disproportionate distributions of services delivered by demographic category of recipients, or by geographic location/political entity. The contribution made by the measures is that they directly gauge how much more resources a disadvantaged group still needs in order to catch up with the rest of the society, or if the gap has been closed. Acknowledging the complexity of social equity issues in the context of growing disparities between haves and have-nots, we believe that any equity measure should be applicable to more than just race/ethnicity categories. Race and ethnicity are increasingly insufficient as simple proxies for socioeconomic status. A better gauge of equity identifies the disadvantaged by unmet needs for resources and services, rather than race/ethnic categories alone.

The section below outlines the definitions of equity including foundational definitions by John Rawls (1974), and the corresponding interpretation in public administration by H. George Frederickson (1990). The following section includes a brief analysis of five equity measures found in public management and administration and fields that inform them; an illustration of how they can be applied to service delivery is shown after the discussion of each measure. The paper concludes with a summary of our assessments of the five indices, as well as thoughts on further research.


Before examining the theoretical ground upon which social equity is defined, we would like to emphasize our normative position that equity as the third pillar of public administration is a public value that public management ought to serve both in practice and in research. Although equity is inherently subjective and people hold different opinions of an equitable resource allocation (Stone, 1997), we believe that equality of resources and services is an integral part of the equity construct. The root of this argument is found in the Rawlsian theory of justice that advocates for equality of the most extensive rights among people as discussed below. Based upon this theoretical foundation, we review the measurement of equality across groups. …

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