Current Public Administration Magazine (October-2017) The Future of Public Administration around the World : The Minnowbrook Perspective

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Administrative Theory

The Future of Public Administration around the World: The Minnowbrook Perspective

The Minnowbrook Conference, held every twenty years, is one of the most significant academic conferences in public administration in the United States. Minnowbrook I, which took place in 1968 at Minnowbrook, Syracuse University’s conference centre, marked the beginning of the ‘New Public Administration’. Minnowbrook II, which took place in 1988, reflected on the impact of the ‘New Public Administration’. Both Minnowbrook I and Minnowbrook II resulted in significant, historic, publications. This article (and the book of the same title) presents the best of Minnowbrook III, held in late 2008.
Minnowbrook III was organised in two phases on the theme ‘The Future of Public Administration, Public Management and Public Service around the World’. Phase One, a pre-conference workshop that included fifty-five participants at the original Minnowbrook site on Blue Mountain Lake, New York, was for scholars who had completed their PhD programmes within the previous ten years. Phase Two, which directly followed the new scholars’ event, was held in Lake Placid, New York, for scholars and practitioners of all ages and degrees of experience. The Lake Placid group included at least thirty veterans of Minnowbrook I and/or Minnowbrook II. A total of 200 scholars and practitioners from thirteen countries participated in Minnowbrook III. The Minnowbrook III conference was the most demographically and internationally diverse gathering of public administration scholars of the three meetings over the last forty years. Little doubt existed among those in attendance that the next gathering, to be held in 2028, would be even more diverse and internationally representative.

The outcomes of both phases of Minnowbrook III involved analyses of the current state and future direction of the field. The topics explored and debated included: making public administration scholarship relevant; academic-practitioner relations; collaborative governance; democratic performance management; financial management; globalisation/comparative perspectives; information technology and management; law, politics and public administration; leadership; methods of inquiry; interdisciplinary research; networks; public administration values and theory; social equity and justice; transparency and accountability; the training of the next generation of public servants. An example of one output of Minnowbrook III may be found in the ‘Statement of Commitment for New Public Administration Scholars’ (see box).
The two phases of the Minnowbrook III experience provide a useful analytical heuristic for understanding the evolution of the scholarly side of the field, as well as a set of benchmarks against which to measure the relevance of public administration scholarship in the future. Minnowbrook III participants recognised a need to evaluate what works and what does not, before offering broad, untested theories and recommendations. The future, as represented by Minnowbrook III participants, clearly lies in a more global approach to thinking about institutions and the work of public administrators.
Public Administration Going Global

The most prevalent and important issue addressed at Minnowbrook III was the impact of globalisation on the field. This is the most important change since Minnowbrook II, and certainly since Minnowbrook I. Public administration as a field of academic study has gone through several stages since its inception; globalisation has posed unprecedented challenges, and it is not an exaggeration to say that globalisation has caused a revolution in public administration in terms of increased studies in comparative public management, more public policy research that crosses international boundaries, and the increased role of international organisations in governance.
Minnowbrook III participants illustrate concrete examples concerning how comparative public administration research and practice have responded, and continue to respond, to the challenges of globalisation. Some authors propose the integration of a global perspective in public administration scholarship. Other authors contribute to the volume by analysing a growing number of international organisations and regional networks of public administration that influence more comparative studies on good governance, government effectiveness, the New Public Management, government reforms and transparency in developed and developing countries. And a number of scholars underscored the demand for scholarship that emphasises comparative public administration with a global perspective for the twenty-first century.

The insights and analyses presented by these academics call for scholars in public administration to engage in critical dialogue on issues concerning the development of rigorous research methods for comparative studies with a global perspective. This, of course, is nothing new. What is new is how far-reaching the global perspective has become in the field. It is difficult to find a public administration scholar anywhere in the world today who does not have some sort of comparative experience or perspective.

Evolving from Government to Governance

Discussions and debates at Minnowbrook III centred on the fact that governance in many countries is changing from hierarchical and stovepiped orientations with government as the dominant actor to more networked forms of governance. In the latter form, government is an important institutional actor, but not the only or most important one. Governance forms and functions are evolving and they manifest themselves and their connectedness to others through networks, contracts and a range of information technology innovations. At the same time, scholars of public administration are examining new and complex questions about authority, responsibility, the rule of law and citizen engagement. These are representative of current inquiry. What these new forms of governance suggest is that collaboration is the required norm, and that power is becoming diffused through a number of institutional mechanisms and policy instruments. As a result, ‘new’ managerial tools – such as facilitation, negotiation, collaborative problem solving and dispute resolution – are taking on heightened prominence.

Accordingly, a different type of professional training and education will be needed to prepare public administrators to work with a range of institutional and individual actors and across governance domains and sectoral boundaries. Emerging from these governance changes is a field of public administration practice that is becoming more professionalised than in the past in terms of systems, processes and tools. Professionalisation, however, does not connote increased democratisation. Rather, governance is taking shape across political forms, philosophies, cultures and citizenship. Some of those forms seek more active citizen engagement and participation, while others are evolving toward that state in only the most incremental of steps. This is one indication that while governance has become more global, diverse, and represented by complex governing arrangements and values, it is also a departure from the long dominant norms embedded in Western notions of democratic governance. These changes will require more research and engagement between scholars and with practitioners and fundamental changes to teaching the next generation of leaders: They may very well be topics on the agenda at the Minnowbrook IV Conference in 2028.
Looking Forward

The Future of Public Administration Around the World: The Minnowbrook Perspective is organised into six parts containing twenty-seven chapters written by seventeen seasoned scholars and twenty new scholars. The chapters in part I focus on the public organisations of the future. The possibility of a global paradigm is addressed in the chapters in part II. The chapters in part III concern twenty-first-century collaborative governance. The chapters in part IV analyse trends in deliberative democracy and public participation. The challenges of teaching the next generation of leaders are tackled in part V. Finally, the chapters in part VI return to an enduring Minnowbrook theme: the challenge of remaining relevant. The book’s conclusion closes with an essay reflecting on the field of public administration, weaving in the critiques of conference plenary speakers, and analysing the mix of enduring issues to which the field keeps returning, coupled with new emerging issues and challenges.

Taken as a whole, the ideas in this book push readers to think about the past, present and future of public administration. The place, tradition, ideas, spirit, gatherings and challenges of Minnowbrook are historic and one of a kind. What makes this book different – and, we argue, relevant – to those who work in and study public administration is that it is both historical and forward looking, with contributions from some of the field’s established, senior leaders and a number of new scholars who are or will become leaders in the discipline. Therefore, the perspectives, using history as one set of evaluation criteria, are based on experience, present new thinking and also set forth questions and propositions about where the field could be – and in many cases should be – headed in the near term. These perspectives help frame the future of a field that has achieved a great deal, but which still has a significant distance to travel.

Statement of Commitment for New Public Administration Scholars

As we reflect on the state of Public Administration today, we feel that our strength is the diversity of disciplines, methods, theories and approaches that we bring to public problems. However, we believe that the future of public administration is limited by the institutional and personal barriers that researchers and scholars confront in their work. We recognise these barriers as:
institutional incentives for promotion and tenure, curricular limitations (such as budgetary incentives to restrict interdisciplinary approaches), publication issues (including editor consistency, reviewer supply and reviewer timeliness), limited funding for PA research and the challenge of conducting international and comparative public administration research.
We, the new scholars at Minnowbrook III, commit to serve as change agents to uphold and shape the culture of Public Administration, a culture that is open minded to and appreciative of multiple theoretical and methodological perspectives, with an emphasis on ‘publicness’. To achieve this goal, we commit to do the following:

In the research process we will . . .

  • Expand our discipline’s acceptance of various units of analysis (local, state, national and international actors; government, non-profit and private organisations; individuals at various levels of organisational hierarchy; stakeholders and citizens).
  • Create a research environment that promotes the sharing of data and collaboration among our colleagues to advance the availability of quality data within our field.
  • Acknowledge the limitations of our research methods and design in order to provide direction for future research and to avoid foreclosing questions that merit further attention.

In the classroom and community we will . . .

  • Strive to create research based tools that reinforce the utility of a good theory.
  • Promote rigorous research methodological training and the use of mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative).
  • Invest appropriate time in sharing knowledge with practitioners.
  • Cultivate the ability among practitioners to reflect in the moment and adapt when faced with complexity.

In the publication process we will . . .

  • Strive to publish relevant work (for practice and/or theory).
  • Expand our field’s use and appreciation of cross-disciplinary theory, while emphasising the role of ‘publicness’.
  • Seek to promote the inclusion of multiple methods and rigorous methods of all types.
  • Review research within the paradigm in which they were conducted.

SOURCE: Institute of Public Governance & Management Institute of Public Governance & Management

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