Nature, Scope and Evolution of Public Administration

Nature, Scope and Evolution of Public Administration
Nature, Scope and Evolution of Public Administration

Concrete understanding of public administration is easy but understanding the nature, scope and evolution of Public Administration is a little bit tricky. We board a train or a bus run by a government agency. Patients are admitted to government-run hospitals. The police constables maintain law and order. So, there are innumerable activities that the government undertakes.

Nature, Scope and Evolution of Public Administration as Welfare State –

Welfare state means more government functions. In the third world, government is involved in many sectors of social life: economic, cultural, social, regulatory, productive and many others. This has been necessary because of the management need for socio-economic leadership from the government. Unlike the developed West, the Third World’s development has basically been government-led. Public administration as visible public-serving activity is before everyone’s gaze.

Public administration is a system of organization and action oriented with performance of these activities. It can best be looked at s an instrument that is used for the realization of the goals of government. Just as societies have their political systems and economic systems, they also have their public administrative systems.

Nature, Scope and Evolution of Public Administration as Government Activity –

As an aspect of government activity, evolution of public administration has been coexisting with every political system as the action part of government for the fulfillment of the objectives set by the political decision makers. Functioning of the machineries of government has attracted the attention of scholars and observers since the time of recorded history. Kautilya’s Arthasastra, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana contain many insightful observations about the organization and working of government. In the history of western political thought. Aristotle’s Politics and Machiavelli’s The Prince are important contributions to both political and administrative issues and ideas.

As a field of systematic study, public administration cannot, however, claim a long history. In the eighteenth century, the German scholars in Western Europe felt interested in this branch of academic inquiry.

Two great systems of public administration had developed in the West:

The Anglo-American and the French.

The first, as Leonard White has pointed out, has been “based on a deep-seated preference for self-government in local communities, wide citizen participation, dispersion of authority, well-established responsibility of the administrative system to the legislative body and the responsibility of officials to the ordinary civil courts at the instance of the private citizen”.

In contrast, the French system which was formulated by Napoleon has been “based on the concentration of executive power, on the dominance of national over local authorities, on the professionalization of the public service and its psychological separation from the body of citizens and on the responsibility of officials to a separate set of administrative courts.”

Despite such sharp contrasts, the two systems have come much closer over the years with democratic and industrial changes in the West in recent times. With the growing importance of government in the wake of expanding public functions, public administration became highly complex and more and more specialized. The need for better management of public affairs through scientific studies and analysis of government working and for training of public employees was voiced by practitioners and academics alike. It is in the United States of America that the need was more keenly felt, although the Germans started administrative analysis much earlier in practical terms.


The study of public administrative, as Peter Self point out, ‘developed as an offshoot of political science or public law and until recently administrative as an academic subject was the very plain step-sister of these older discipline.’ It has not always been easy to get access to government department, hence the word of administrative has rarely been an open. Also, the technicalities of administrative have not been particularly interesting to the scholars.

With the expansion of government activities and with more and more concern for both efficiency and accountability, discussions slowly started on better performance of the public sector. The movement for government reform gathered momentum especially in the united states of America, where intellectual effort were systematically expanded for the steady development of an exclusive body of knowledge on the structure and functioning of public administration.

The evolution of public administrative as a specialized field of study falls into a number of critical stages. The first stage can be called the era of politics-administrative dichotomy.
Politics-administrative dichotomy is often traced to the Wilsonian call for a science of administrative, which, as Waldo has pointed out, goes back to much earlier European administrative traditions. It has been questioned: to what extent Wilson desired separation between the two.

Functionally, administration was separated from politics. Evolution of Public Administration, it was argued, is concerned with implementation of policy decisions taken politically. Frank Goodnow sought to conceptually distinguish the two functions. According to him.” Politics has to do with policies or expressions of the state will” and “ Administration has to do with the execution of these policies.” Apart from this analytic distinction, the institutional locations of these two functions were differentiated. The location of politics was identified as the legislature and the higher echelons of governments where major policy-decision would be made and the larger questions of allocation of values decided upon. By contrast, the location of administration was identified as the executive arm of government, the bureaucracy.

The processes of evolution of administration, it was argued, have a certain regularity and concreteness about them and these are amenable to scientific investigations which are likely to lead to a science of administration.

The second stage of evolution of public administration is marked by the tendency to reinforce the idea of politics-administrative dichotomy and to evolve a value- free ‘science of management’ The ‘public’ aspect of public administrative was virtually dropped at this stage and the focus was almost wholly on efficiency. This stage can be called the stage of orthodoxy, as efforts were underway to delineate firmly the boundaries as a new discipline of ‘management’. Public administration merged into the new science. The questions of ‘value’ were no longer bothering the new science of administrative. Politics as practiced by the politicians was considered irrelevant. Scientific management to efficiently handle the ‘business’ of administrative became the slogan. Principles of administrative were worked out as ready-made aids to practitioners. The administrative practitioners and the business schools joined hands to emphasize the mechanistic aspect of management untrammeled by the whims of politicians and the frailties of human beings.

The merger of public administrative and general managements has not been totally fruitless friendship. Certain aspect of administrative such as the structures and processes of public organizations were put to more rigorous analysis but the excesses of scientific management triggered a series of reactions against the mechanistic concept of administrative which the new movement sought to establish. Studies on private firm revealed new data about the actual working of organizations. The findings might have their origins in private management, but these were general enough to embrace all organizations both private and public.

The most notable contribution, in this connection, came from the famous Hawthorne experiments in the late 1920s executed by a group of scholars at the Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Company. The experiments, focussed upon work group, shook the foundation of the scientific management school by demonstrating the powerful influence of social and psychological factors on the work situation. The mechanistic notion of organization was exploded by showing that manipulation of monetary rewards and physical aspect of the work situation had very limited impact on the worker and productivity.

The Hawthorne experiments pioneered a movement which came to be known as the Human Relations approach to management, marking the third stage of evolution of administrative thought. Its impact was felt much more widely on public administrative in the post-war period. This approach to organizational analysis drew attention to the formation and effect of work groups in the organization, the force of informal organization in the formal set up, the phenomena of leadership and conflicts and cooperation among groups in the organizational setting. In short, the human relation approach brought out the limitations of the machine concept of organization in ‘scientific management’ thought. By drawing attention to the social and psychological factor of work situation, it underscored the vital importance of the “human side of the enterprise”.

The fourth stage was heralded by two significant publications in the 1940s-herbert Simon’s Administrative Behaviour and Robert Dahl’s essay entitled ‘ The science of public administrative: Three problems’ Simon’s book is a critique of the older public administrative More importantly, it sets forth the rigorous requirements of scientific analysis in public administrative. About some of the classical “principles”, Simon’s conclusion was that these were unscientifically derived and were “no more than proverbs”.

He rejected the politics-administrative dichotomy; at the same time he brought in the perspective of logical positivism in the study of policy- making and the relation of means and ends. Drawing on the perspectives and methodology of ‘behaviorism’ in psychology and social psychology, Administrative Behavior pleaded for the raising of scientific rigor in public administrative. The substantive focus was on “decision-making” and as Simon insisted “If any ‘theory’ is involved, it is that decision-making is the heart of administrative and that the vocabulary of administrative theory must be derived from the logic and psychology of human choice.”

Simon’s approach provided an alternative definition of public administrative and widened the scope of the subject by relating it to psychology, sociology, economics and political science. In the development of the ‘discipline’, he identified two mutually supportive streams of thought. One was engaged in the development of a pure science of administrative which called for a good grounding in social psychology Another stream was dealing with a board range of values and working out prescriptions for public policy.

The second approach was, in Simon’s view, analytically is very far-ranging. It would imply swallowing up of the whole of political science and absorption of economics and sociology as well. Public administrative, he feared, would lose its identity in the second approach. But he favoured the coexistence of both the streams of thought for the growth and development of the discipline.
As he noted, “there does not appear any reason why these two developments in the field of public administrative should not go side by side, for they in no way conflict or contradict. But the workers in this field must keep clearly in mind in which area, at any given time, they propose to work”.

Dahl’s essay identified three important problems in the evolution of science on public administrative:

(1) The first problems arises from the frequent impossibility of excluding normative considerations from the problems of evolution of public administration. Scientific means to achieve efficiency must be found on some clarification of ends.

(2) The second problem arises from the ‘inescapable fact that a science of public administration must be a study of certain aspects of human behavior.’ Dahl criticized the ‘machine’ concept of organization and argued that the study of administrative must embrace the whole psychological man.

(3) The third problem relates to the conception of the principles of administration. Referring to the study of evolution of public administration in the United States, he commented on the narrow and parochial nature of the intellectual pursuits. There was a tendency universal principles based on a few examples drawn from limited national and historical settings.

To quote Dahl,” the study of public administrative inevitably must become a much more broadly based discipline, resting not on a narrowly defined knowledge of techniques and processes, but rather extending to the varying historical, sociological, economic and other conditioning factors…..”This last point has been taken up as a challenge and considerable efforts have been expended so far in the developing countries in a bid to “establishing propositions about administrative behaviour which transcend national boundaries.”

The next stage of the evolution of public administrative coincides with a general concern in the social sciences for public policy analysis Earlier Simon had mentioned the public policy perspective in administrative analysis. With the abandonment of politics-administration dichotomy, the public policy approach became intellectually easier. Evidences from the practical world of administrative have also been reveling the close nexus between politics and administration.

As government seeks to formulate and implement more and more welfare programmes, concern for policy studies in public administrative starts gathering momentum. At this stage, the study of evolution of public administration has been gaining in social ‘relevance’ no doubt; but the boundaries of the academic field are not as clearly distinguishable now as it used to be in the olden days of politics-administration dichotomy.

Mosher’s comment is particularly relevant in this context:

“Evolution of Public administration cannot demark any subcontinent as its exclusive province unless it consist of such mundane matters as classifying budget expenditures, drawing organizational charts and mapping procedures. In fact, it would appear that any definition of this field would be either so encompassing as to call froth the wrath or ridicule of others, or so limiting as to stultify its own disciples. Perhaps, it is best that it not be defined.

It is more an area of interest than a discipline, more a focus than a separate science………. It is necessarily cross-disciplinary. The overlapping and vague boundaries should be viewed as a resource, even though they are irritating to some with orderly minds.”



About Sneha Sharma 26 Articles
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