Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Godwin Ong'anya

Dr John Mwaruvie

Comparative Public Administration (PPA 813)

23 February 2009

Concept, Nature and Scope of Public Administration

Comparative public administration is the study of two or more public administration systems, and then drawing parallels from them. It has to do with an analysis of the operations of the system in question, for the purpose of finding the strengths and weaknesses. Generally, comparative studies present problems of a general nature (Rodgers, Greve and Morgan 1968, 11), not necessarily concerned with one particular society. It brings out a general view of phenomena, drawing parallels for betterment of the system in question. Through the study, new ideas are generated thus according new solutions to existent problems on the basis of an analytical approach. As the society is dynamic, it becomes imperative to reinterpret and re-evaluate administrative structures to be in line with the ever changing trends in life. This is best done through Comparative Public Administration. A comparative study is usually done on an interdisciplinary format, thus encouraging more analysis on social phenomena. In discussing the subject, it is imperative that Public Administration be defined.

Public Administration is the bureaucracy of government, the latter being the working machinery under which the state operates. The government exists for the good of the population/the state. According to Thomas Hobbes, in the absence of state, man's life is 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short' (Hobbes 1651). The same may be said of the absence of government, and therefore public administration.

The government has the responsibility of providing security, safeguard the fundamental human dignity and happiness for all. It is therefore charged with serving the proletariat against bourgeoisie exploitation and vice versa (the dictatorship of the proletariat). Anticorruption and antipoverty campaigns are a part of the commitment of public administration in a political system. However, here is a global clamour for democracy, a nebulous concept connoting communalism and pluralism which may be based on irrational decisions. This sharply contrasts bureaucratic coordination on the basis of professionalism, elitism and hierarchical system of operation. The nexus between bureaucracy and democracy is thus provided by public administration (Henry 2007, 3).

Public Administration is the act of implementing public policies, as feedback is relayed to the policy makers. It is government in action, a collective effort of getting things done in accordance with the laid down procedures and within the legal framework. Various scholars have come up with various definitions, all of which have a hinge on the public. It "pre-supposes planned human activities by organising human and material resources" (Mukhi 1998, 2). L. D. White says it is that which "consists of all those operations having their purpose fulfilment or enforcement of public policy." In his words, former American President Woodrow Wilson defined it as a detailed and systematic application of law (Wilson 1941). To him, therefore, any application of law amounts to public administration.

Corson and Harris define public administration as "… decision making, planning the work to be done, formulating objectives and goals… establishing and reviewing organisations, directing and supervising employees … exercising control and other functions performed by government executives and supervisors. It is the action part of government: the means by which the purposes and goals of government are realised" (Harris and Corson 1963). It has been argued that public administration should be considered as the fourth arm of government, in addition to the known executive, judiciary and legislature (Barber 1972). This is because administration is quite different from the executive, as it comprises of bureaucrats. This is the full time professional civil service, with technical expertise in policy.

Nicholas Henry talks of public administration as

… a broad ranging and amorphous combination of theory and practice; its purpose is to promote a superior understanding of government and its relationship with the society it governs, as well to encourage public policies more responsive to social needs and to institute managerial practices attuned to effectiveness , efficiency and the deeper human requisites of the citizenry. (3)

From the above definitions, one thing is clear. Public administration has to do with the policy process in general, and policy implementation in particular. However, there is no single definition so far of the concept except that it is government in action. It therefore becomes both a government as well as a public machinery of operation.

Different scholars still have different views on coverage of public administration. Some see it first and foremost as a policy science, thus categorise it as Political Science. These hold the integral view as they also believe public administration concerns itself with all activities and policies that go with administration. As a result, they lump ministers and legislators into one category of 'administrators.' Others conceptualise it as an art. Administrators are thus people who get things done through others, as managers. On their own, they cannot do the work.

As such, public administration provides a link between the three traditional arms of government, namely the legislature, executive and judiciary. It may be said to be supportive in each case, without which the arms cannot operate. As the establishment that interacts with the general public, public administration is part of the political process, and therefore helps in policy formulation through feedback mechanism.

Lutter Gullick contends that functions of public administration include the following:

  • Planning- setting the broad agenda and fixing the targets to be met by the staff.
  • Organising- establishing formal structures of authority, coming up with a chain of command.
  • Staffing- getting the correct people for the correct job specifications in a public office.
  • Directing- giving orders and providing guidelines to the responsible staff.
  • Coordination- creating harmony between and among different departments for optimum functioning. It reduces duplication and wastage.
  • Reporting- getting the right information to the right persons within the organisation, for record management.
  • Budgeting- this function deals with financial planning and controls as well as budgeting, as the name suggests.

This traditional view has not gone without criticism that it is a shallow view of the concept of public administration. It has been criticised for neglecting human relationship. It is also

silent on assigning of roles to trade unions and other organised working classes. Modern view of PA considers the subject in terms of administrative theory (the knowledge) and applied theory (the practice), both of which a public administrator should possess. It lays much emphasis in interdisciplinary approach as it deals with human behaviour which is affected by a whole complexity of issues.

Elements of Public Administration.

  • Public administration holds the administrative machinery and this is based on the principle of organisation.
  • The subject deals with the staff, that is, the public servants and individuals.
  • Finances are also a part of the commitments of public administration.
  • Work study includes research of administrative resources and where they are available. This brings in material management as an element of public administration.
  • Managerial techniques.

Comparative public administration

After the World War II, there was a misconception that public administrative system could be applied uniformly across the world. However, this was not the case as the western kind of weberian bureaucracy could not apply in some areas. This then brought a need for a comparative study, considering the environment that the system is to apply, a study of which brought the advent of Comparative Public Administration. This is the study and analysis of different administrative systems from different social, geographical and cultural backgrounds, then putting them on a balance. Robert Jackson believes that there is need to come up with a science of Public Administration. To achieve this, the various patterns of administrative behaviour across different administrative systems need to be brought together then subjected to rigorous systematic analysis. This would bring about a body of knowledge in Public Administration.

Jackson argues that there should be a full exploration of the administrative systems across other cultures for purposes of analysis with empirical findings being put together for scientific analysis. By doing this, hypotheses may be drawn on administrative patterns, and then those that are found to be universally applicable integrated into a general Public Administration theory.

The Comparative Administrative Group has expanded their definition of Comparative Public Administration to include the practice and the theory of the subject. They define it in terms of theory of applied Public Administration across cultures and national sceneries, as well as the accurate data by which it can be inflated and tested.

Nature of Comparative Public Administration

Ferral Heady has categorised Comparative Public Administration into four. The first category is the modified traditional focus of research, and has to do with administrative institutions and organisations, organisational structure, local administration and administrative system of public sector industrial units. This is characterised by a comparison of administrative functions and systems in the west on the basis of their civil service.

The second focus is on the development oriented research. This deals with the omnipresent socio-economic and political changes. Due to the current trend of globalisation, these changes have to find a way of being harnessed for the better of society: public administration has to provide a solution for this.

General system model building is the third focus. It has no specific area or system of focus, but rather the whole complexity of Public Administration. It studies the whole administrative system relative to the environment in place. The middle range theory is then the last focus and this considers a particular administrative system. It is the mirror image of the general system model building.

Fred Riggs has laid three trends he believes are taking place in the study of Comparative Public Administration. The first one is the shift from normative to empirical orientation. According to him, traditionally the study was centred on norms rather than factual basis. Thanks to Behaviouralist Revolution, current studies are based on hard facts.

The second shift is one from ideographic to nomothetic orientation. Ideographic concentrates on particularities or unique cases, as opposed to nomothetic which focuses on generalities and regularities.

The final one is the shift from non-ecological to ecological orientation. Initially, administration did not consider environment in its study. There is always interaction between the people and the environment, and so a society cannot be understood without regard to environments, thus the need for the shift.

Scope of Comparative Public Administration

Just like the scope of Public Administration, the scope of Comparative Public Administration is in doubt, though the ubiquity is not. However, attempts have been made at setting the scope, with scholars arguing that it studies public administrative system of a country or a culture and of different countries and cultures.

Comparative public administration studies the democratic institutions and systems of different countries, the causes of success or failure of distinct democratic institutions, how the concept is applied and the level of success of a democratic system. Political systems are also studied, as of the working of a parliamentary system in one country, as compared to another with the same system or different like the presidential in the United States.

The different methods of controlling administration are also studied. Different political systems have different ways of administration. The way administration in a unitary totalitarian regime works is different from the way operations of administration are run in a decentralised liberal democracy. The workings of the three traditional arms of government also vary with the political system in place.

Control and management of human resources is also within the scope of the study. It does not only consider methods of employee administration but also individual employees in their social life. Thus problems and grievances are addressed in Comparative Public Administration. In the developing world, there are often cases of industrial action on the base of working conditions and remunerations, issues which are not pronounced in the affluent societies. Work place discipline is also relatively higher in the developed world as opposed to the least developed countries which wallow in the miasma of poverty, corruption and political impunity.

In the hobbesian sate of nature, life was brutish, short, and characterised by fratricidal bloodletting. The state came in to bring sanity and order. A welfare state therefore emerged to take care of its citizens, and so Comparative Public Administration studies the different ways of administering a welfare state with due cognisance of the social, economic and cultural environment.

The workings of the traditional three arms of government are studied relative to different political systems. The role of the head of state in a parliamentary system like in the United Kingdom where real power rests with the monarch, and that of , say, the United States where real power is vested in the President. In such cases, the study considers the influence of the head of state in administration of the state. The subject also studies administrative systems in presidential systems, like in France and the United States, where power rests with the president, but applied differently. Studies on the interaction between the three arms of government are also made. Whereas the United Kingdom has a fused system, the United States has separation of powers with a strict system of checks and balances.

Comparative Public Administration studies institutions at international levels. The changing paradigms in international relations brought about by globalisation, terrorism, piracy, global warming, etc all are within the scope. It studies the operations of local self institutions in different countries, as well.

As the study intensifies, the scope of study widens. With globalisation developing at an ever faster rate, so is the exchange of ideas on public administration reforms. International conferences and seminars have been organised around the world to have a way for public administration and has worked to widen the scope of study. An example is the introduction in Kenya and Zimbabwe of a mixed system of a president and a prime minister.


Works Cited

Barber, Michael P. Public Administration. London: McDonald and Evans Limited, 1972.

Harris, and Corson. Public Administration in Modern Society. London: McGraw Hill, 1963.

Henry, Nicholas. Public Administration and Public Affairs. 10th Edition. New Delhi: Prentice-Hall Inc, 2007.

Hobbes, Thomas. "Project Gutenberg EBooks." Project Gutenberg. Edward White. 1651. (accessed February 19, 2009).

Mukhi, H. R. Comparative Public Administration. Delhi: Surjeet Book Depot, 1998.

Rodgers, Barbara N., John Greve, and John S. Morgan. Comparative Social Administration. Edited by Brian Chapman. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1968.

Wilson, Woodrow. "The Study of Administration." Political Quarterly, 1941.



  1. So interesting.It helps me so much in my studies.Thanks

  2. now please discuss pol.science is the study of state and government comprehensively with reference to different political philosopher or theorist and include your own point of view.plzzzzzzzz i really need it urgently or kindly guide me from where i can get such stuf

  3. A very good and interesting work. makes one to easily understand what the course is all about. Many thanks

  4. Tnx...good one!!!!

  5. thanx....one learns alot from this exellent work

  6. m just joined newly for master of arts in public administration...i can see so much helpful for my syllabus..thank u so much sir..:)

  7. A very nice staff for me,it has uplifted me several steps higher in my MPA course assignments.

  8. I can't thank you enough for this wonderful work

  9. Can I call it as anything that consist governmental activities ??

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Can you please tell me what is the scope of CPA after Masters?

  12. is public administration more of a political science than management? how and why??