Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Politics/administration Interface as Locus for Planned Change: Perspectives on Helping Intended Things Happen in Critical Places

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Politics/administration Interface as Locus for Planned Change: Perspectives on Helping Intended Things Happen in Critical Places

Article excerpt


This article does multiple duty. Thus, it generates a substantial panel (N = 24) of planned change applications at the politics/administration interface, describes them and estimates their success rates. In addition, the panel is used to test--or better said, to probe-might working rules-of-thumb for practice that are commonly accepted in the literature of planned change. Overall, the panel provides only mixed support for the relevance of these guides for applications of planned change at the politics/administration interface. So much the more for "common opinion"!


Virtually since the earliest notices of Organization Development (or OD) as useful in the public sector, commentators have emphasized the relevance of the interface between what is classically labelled Politics vs. Administration--roughly, the policy-determining vs. technical or implementing arenas.' Thus, Golembiewski (1969) warns that what with so many things subject to "going political," at so many points in time, in response to such a broad range of stimuli, OD faces special challenges at the interface, perhaps especially in public agencies but in other organizations as well.

Such warnings seem alarmist, however, when the literature on OD applications is reviewed in detail. That is, public sector applications seem about as frequent as the proportion of public employment justifies, and success rates of OD applications in the public sector are about as high as in business locations, where they are formidable (e.g., Golembiewski, Proehl, and Sink, 1981; Nicholas, 1982). Indeed, in some panels of applications, public sector applications have higher success rates (eg., Golembiewski and Sun, 1990).

So what is going on? Two major ways of reconciling the several points above come to mind. First, something like the P/A interface may exist in business organizations. This article is not alone in attributing a public interest to all organizations of substantial scope-- whether business, public, or voluntary (e.g., Dahl, 1975)--and the rationale for acknowledging various degrees of "publicness" in all organizations is growing (e.g., Bozeman, 1987; Golembiewski, 1995c). In sharp contrast, the usual convention has relied on an in/out distinction when it comes to public/business assignments, but today's organization forms are too complex for such a simplicism, even if other times permitted such classification.

Second, ODers have developed a substantial catalog of ways-and-- means of dealing with change, whatever the locus or level. For example, substantial if incomplete details have been published about the features of the interface, as well as about related implications for useful intervening (eg., Golembiewski, 1985:233-365).

Both points get some attention below, with emphasis on the second point above. Providing the appropriate perspective will involve three basic emphases derived from OD applications at the P/A interface, both in business and government. In introductory summary:

several classes of designs for planned change in large systems will be described;

a panel of efforts at planned change impacting the interface will be introduced, and their success rates will be estimated; and

several general guidelines will be assessed as to whether or not they are supported by the panel of applications.

In sum, these ambitions have strong motivations. Thus, no such panel focusing on the interface presently exists, and such an assemblage alone will permit adding to existing capabilities. Realistically, the panel will provide only a place to start, but even that might help motivate the greater attention to interface effects on which more definitive work can be based.


Basically, four classes of designs associated with Organization Development, or OD, will be distinguished in this article. These classes of interventions have been applied at the interface: traditional OD designs, which often build initially upon the development of values/attitudes/skills generating regenerative interaction, which then can provide the foundation for a program of change including appropriate policies, procedures, and structures (e. …

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