Public Administration : Key Issues Challenging Practitioners

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2012-04-05
  • Publisher: Textstream
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How public affairs are run depends upon the degree of authority and control central government decides to relinquish to regional and local governments, and the extent to which it favors citizen involvement in the governing process. Public administrators do not operate in a vacuum. The context within which decision making takes place greatly influences public administrators' approach to public issues. Consequently, what government decides to do and how it decides to carry it out affects the lives of people and how people perceive their role in the unfolding of public affairs. In Valuing People: Citizen Engagement in Policy Making and Public Service Delivery in Rural Asia (2012)1, I argue, echoing what many scholars sustain, that it is by creating an environment where citizens are given democratic space to exercise 'voice' that government can truly reflect the will of the people, even in between elections. While the institutionalization of the electoral mechanism is by all means a fundamental pillar of democratic society, it is certainly not enough. Despite its merits, in fact, the mechanism falls short of truly empowering and engaging citizens in the decision-making process in matters that matter to the people rather than the elected representatives alone. But can citizen engagement fare well in a country where basic public institutional systems are not fully developed? Or is it the reverse case – can citizen involvement, instead, bring about functional public administration systems? What are really the core principles of the more recent democratic awakening we have witnessed around the world just in the last year? Are the 'awakened' people calling for a change of and in government with better run institutions and better provided public services alone or are they really demanding to have a direct say, a voice, in decision-making in addition to just voting in elected officials? The events represent a great opportunity for citizen engagement; anything less, however, would constitute a half-baked solution. Even if government is better run and public services are provided more efficiently, where does that leave the ordinary person? Are elections and more efficient governments alone truly reflective of the spirit of democracy? When do ordinary individuals cease to be regarded as customers, recipient of services, and when do they begin being citizens, co-designers of services needed? This is exactly what sets Public Value Management abysmally apart from the New Public Management philosophy in running government and public administrations. Just as individuals can and, more importantly, should be more engaged in public affairs, even government needs to see it this way. In fact, it is certainly up to the government to create an environment where ordinary citizen can play an influential role in decision-making both at the policy level and the delivery of public services. While governmentremains central to society, scholars and practitioners have debated over which public administration approach best addresses public issues. In so doing, they draw, to varying degrees, from experiences from past and existing models. The Weberian bureaucracy, though tendentially out of style, is still practiced around the world.With regards to New Public Management (NPM), some authors go as far as saying it 'is dead'2 while others, instead, argue that while 'on the defensive by now...NPM is very much alive and very much kicking'3. NPM remains ingrained in the operationalization of government but under a highly contentious debate vis-à-vis the principles of Public Value Management (or New Public Value, Public Value, or New Public Service, to name a few). The commonality among these models is that they each 'reflect different circumstances, different needs and different philosophies about the role of government in society.'4 That said, in considering approaches, practitioners should not pose the question of 'either/or' (rules and processes or efficiency and economic effectiveness or citizens participation and value) but rather they should embrace an approach based on inclusion and complementarity, built on a continuum of practices and values. While different circumstances will call for different approaches, it should be possible to sustain a form of government and governance that carries out plans and services based on sound and practical rules (traditional public administration), streamlined processes, business-like practices rather than its values (new public management), designed as efficiency measures to promote effectiveness, all geared towards one single focus – that of the welfare of citizens and their values as citizens themselves see them (public value management), rather than imposed or perceived. This means that, while there is value in old and new public administrations, the citizen rather than the customer should remain sovereign. While co-existence between principles of NPM and values of PVM should be possible, scholars and practitioners' efforts should have been directed all along at focusing on doing more with better, meaning with a better governance, rather than of doing more with less29. While public administration varies from one country to another, public administrators inevitably face similar challenges. Running a government is not easy; it is complex, dynamic, contested, supported, subject to special interests, both demand- and supply-driven, just to name a few. In executing government functions, public administrators unsurprisingly contend with major decision-making questions. While obviously not exhaustive, this book addresses some key issues challenging practitioners. These challenges include questions on what gets included in the policy agenda, questions on policy response to problems through adoption and/or adaptation of exogenous policies, questions on the dangers of displacing policy goals, questions on transferring government activities to specialized agency, questions on decentralizing powers to regional and local governments, questions on combating corruption, and questions on managing public resources.

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