Comparative and International Public Administration: Building Intellectual Bridges

By Heady, Ferrel | Public Administration Review, January-February 1998 | Go to article overview

Comparative and International Public Administration: Building Intellectual Bridges


Heady, Ferrel, Public Administration Review


The Section on International and Comparative Administration (SICA) of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) is 25 years old. This is an opportune time both for retrospection and for looking ahead. My purpose, however, is not to undertake a balanced analysis of achievements and shortcomings--I hope others will do that--but to examine closely only one aspect of the history of SICA. In my opinion, SICA has not yet succeeded in its long-standing mission of bringing together comparative and international public administration. The task is a complicated one because the intellectual history of the two subfields has been so different. But there are areas of overlap and problems that would benefit from a more integrated point of view. With a slight reorientation of focus, SICA can facilitate substantive progress in both fields.

SICA Origins

SICA resulted from the abolition of two earlier ASPA entities and the merger of their functions in a single new one. These were the Comparative Administration Group (CAG) and the International Committee. The Comparative Administration Group had been, since its creation in 1960, the center of action for the comparative administration movement, which flourished for more than a decade under the chairmanship of Fred W. Riggs. The International Committee had been in existence considerably longer, under the leadership of several different chairs (most notably Charles Ascher), with ups and downs in the level of its programs and frequent changes of focus for its activities, but with its most consistent interest being the maintenance of U.S. ties with organizations such as the International Institute of Administrative Sciences. I was chair of this committee when SICA was created.

The consolidation presumably assumed that there were advantages to be gained by combining in one place ASPA's interests in comparative and in international administration.

The SICA Record

SICA has accomplished much over 25 years, but it has not succeeded in bringing its two components together in a meaningful way. In my view, the focus of attention has shifted frequently as occupants of the SICA chair and members of the executive committee have changed, with some having moire of a comparative and some more of an international perspective. Most SICA projects have had either a comparative or an international focus. Few have been deliberately aimed at exploring the current relationships between these two aspects of administrative studies, of at integrating them better. This is what I propose should receive more systematic attention.

I am not attempting to assess the multiple contributions of individual members of SICA, either as researchers or practitioners. These contributions have been significant, but they have not been the result of SICA initiatives, and with few exceptions they have not focused on the interconnections between comparative and international administration.

Past Subfield Relationships

My suggestion for SICA's agenda is the outgrowth of efforts on my part to explore the relationships between the subfields of comparative public administration and international public administration. My initial findings were published several years ago (Heady, 1989) and have been recently updated (Heady, 1998).

My conclusion in 1989 was that mi the put these two fields of interest had been dealt with separately rather than mi tandem, and that a gradual convergence of effort would be of benefit to both the comparative and international components of studies in public administration. Since 1989, I have seen little evidence that this convergence is actually taking place. SICA should make bringing the two subfields closer together a major program objective. To understand what needs to be done and why, we need to examine how these two subfields have evolved.

International public administration is concerned with the administrative operations of agencies created by sovereign nation-states as instrumentalities for international or regional cooperation. …

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