Douglas F. Morgan
Portland State University
The disinterested performance of a duty by government and/or its agents on behalf of a superior.
Despite the variety of uses of the term "stewardship" in the literature and practice of public administration, it has retained a surprising consistency of meaning that reflects its etymological roots. Although the term has biblical origins, its use in government arose during the medieval period. It was associated with the work performed on behalf of a lord or, in the case of kingship, on behalf of the crown. Normally, this work involved responsibility for managing the basic financial and household activities of the estate. After the English civil wars in the 1640s, stewardship increasingly became associated with action undertaken on behalf of the "people" or their surrogates. Thus, when the term "stewardship" is found in the literature and practice of contemporary public administration, it still reflects its etymological origins of disinterested performance of householdlike duties by government and/or its agents on behalf of a superior.
There are three characteristics of the term that have been consistently reflected throughout history and are retained in their current usage in the literature and practice of public administration. First, stewardship has always entailed some kind of subordinate role to a superior on whose behalf one acts as a steward. Second, stewardship has always been associated with managing the basic, but critically important, activities of an enterprise that is too large and complicated to be performed by one person. Finally, the activities undertaken by stewards have always required a distinctive competence in managing those rudimentary financial, legal,