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Article

Thomas Bierschenk and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan

Anthropology is a latecomer to the study of bureaucracy. Nonetheless, the anthropological study of organizations—of which bureaucracies are a subtype, as larger organizations are always bureaucratically organized—was initiated by anthropologists as early as the 1920s. Since the 2010s, the anthropology of bureaucracy has slowly consolidated into a discernible subfield of the discipline. It brings to the study of public administrations a double added value: (a) a specific concern for the informal aspects of bureaucracy, (b) the emic views of bureaucratic actors and their pragmatic contexts, based on long-term immersion in the research field, as well as (c) a non-Eurocentric, global comparative perspective. Anthropologists have focused on bureaucratic actors (“bureaucrats”), the discursive, relational, and material contexts in which they work, the public policies they are supposed to implement or to comply with, and their interactions with the outside world, in particular ordinary citizens (“clients”). A foundational theorem of the anthropological study of bureaucracies has been that you cannot understand organizations on the basis of their official structures alone: the actual workings of an organization are largely based on informal practices and practical rules; there is always a gap between organizational norms and “real” practices; large-scale organizations are heterogeneous phenomena; and conflicts, negotiations, alliances, and power relations are their core components. Thus, one of the major methodological achievements of the anthropology of bureaucracy has been to focus on the dialectics of formal organization and real practices, official regulations, and informal norms in organizations “at work.”

Article

Archives, including primary documents such as meeting minutes, memoranda, white papers, blueprints, drafts for laws, and acts, are a crucial part of a consistent research inquiry that provide significant understanding of the public-policy processes in public administration. Within qualitative methods for studying public policy and public administration, archives are a key step of the process-tracing method for comparative historical analysis. Archival research is the backbone of any process-tracing exercise. Using archives for public administration studies requires rigorous planning. It starts with the definition of a time horizon of analysis that sets the dates over which the analysis will be performed. The time horizon will also help design the types of documents and indicators needed to identify the decision-making process, along with the goals and the budget performance that will accompany the policy decision. The key elements of time, sequence, selection, and classification of archives in public-policy studies determine the causal process mechanisms within a public-policy process. Identifiers, data-mining software, and sequencing are additional tools for improving classification and interpretation.

Article

Guillaume Fontaine

We contribute to the debate surrounding comparative public policy (CPP) analysis as a method and an area of policy studies, based on the following questions: What is CPP? What is it for? How can it be conducted? We begin with a presentation of the historical evolution of the field, its conceptual heterogeneity, and the recent attempts to bridge the gap between basic and applied research through the policy design framework. We proceed with a discussion of the logics operating in CPP, their approaches to causality and causation, and their contribution to middle-range theory. Next, we explain the fundamental problems of the comparative method, starting with a revision of the main protocols in use, then presenting their main methodological pitfalls. The article concludes with a reflection about the contribution of CPP to policy studies through design.

Article

In 1887 Woodrow Wilson captured the challenge of public administration when he wrote, “It is getting to be harder to run a constitution than to frame one.” While he was referencing the United States, the concept is not bounded geographically or by any one form of government. What prevails is that the role of public administration is as dynamic as the political and institutional landscapes in which it resides. Subsequently, public administrators face ongoing questions on the meaning and function of their job within differing worldviews and images of government. This means having to decide on ways to implement laws, policies, and programs within situational conditions that are sometimes routine, stable, and predictable and at other times fragmented, distorted, and unique. Thus, public administrators are never too far removed from the fundamental question of how administration should come to know and understand society when having to make difficult choices. Knowledge, after all, is a sine qua non to running a government. While the answer to this question often conjures up a methodological response, a deeper analysis suggests fundamental differences at play in terms of how knowledge, and subsequently reality, is formed. Constructivism is centered on the idea that all knowledge is subjective and socially constructed. So much so that even the hallmark of science—objectivity—cannot escape social construction, which makes absolute scientific understanding impossible. Therefore, constructivism rests on the premise that objectivity is never possible because there is no way to get fully outside of the experiences that preshape and prestructure what can be seen, thought, and analyzed. Language itself is a preconstructed way to communicate, and while simple words like dog and cat may have agreed-upon generalities, they have highly individualized meanings. This is not unlike scientific facts, such as gravity. Science can define gravity in general terms, but individuals experience it in their own way. To the constructivist, scientific facts are no more than the facts that matter and make situational sense at that moment. The meaning of facts can change along with the situational conditions as new understandings emerge or, like the pragmatist, until something better comes along to more fully explain a phenomenon. This creates a challenge for public administrators, who find themselves having to contend with varied situational interpretations emanating from preexisting experiences within a socially constructed world muddled with implicit bias, prejudices, and prejudgments. The profession is fraught with impeding political expectations, institutional and constitutional constraints, and unreconcilable public interests. Administrators are supposed to know what to do and how to do it. They are expected to be experts, but what justifies expertise in a socially constructed world if not knowledge and knowing? What constitutes knowledge is, therefore, a central concern to the profession and is always in question. Constructivism is a broad field that can be traced through pragmatism (knowledge as practical application), phenomenology (knowledge as experienced and situated), postmodernity (knowledge as power), and most recently transdisciplinarity (knowledge that transcends disciplinary frameworks). Within each of these, knowledge is hermeneutically refined. Scholars within public administration tend to adhere to particular schools of thought that often contrast constructivism and positivism as dichotomous modes of inquiry. This point of departure is not trivial, as it routinely presents a quandary on what basis to use when making effective decisions, shaping policy, understanding organizational goals, and implementing programs. These are ongoing challenges within public administration that remain unsettled. As a result, public administration is often referred to as a non- or preparadigmatic disintegrated field of study from which constructivism is as much contested as it is influential in shaping the meaning of the work and research.

Article

Our current era is one of profound changes and uncertainties, and one issue is to understand their implications for high-risk systems and critical infrastructures (e.g., nuclear power plants, ships, hospitals, trains, chemical plants). Normal Accidents (NA), Perrow’s classic published in 1984, is a useful guide to explore the contemporary epoch, in the third decade of the 21st century. One reason is that this landmark book has triggered a sustained interest by scholars who have debated, challenged, rejected, refined, or expanded its core thesis over almost now 40 years. With La Porte’s, Sagan’s, Vaughan’s, and Hopkins’s contributions into what can be described as the “standard NA debate” in the late 20th century and the more recent “new controversies and debates” by Downer, Pritchard, or Le Coze in the early 21st century, the book can still resonate with current changes in the 2020s. These changes include phenomena as large, massive, intertwined, consequential, and diverse as the advent of internet and of digital societies, the increase of transnational flows of diverse nature (people, data, capital, images, goods) and the ecological crisis captured by a notion such as the Anthropocene. Taking stock, historicizing, and revisiting NA with such debates and changes in mind leads to characterize a post-NA narrative.

Article

Crises are uncertain and disorderly situations, which temporarily destabilize power relations and impede centralized control over operational crisis responders (e.g., firefighters, police officers, paramedics). Consequently, responders wield considerable autonomy and have room to act on their own initiative. They make crucial decisions in frontline crisis operations based on their situational understanding and professional expertise. As such, they are similar to other “frontline workers” (or street-level bureaucrats) in government service. Their important work has attracted increasing attention in crisis management literature, in which three tensions have emerged. The first tension revolves around the nature and extent of frontline discretion. In some studies, these frontline responders are presented as implementers who are considerably constrained by extensive rules, planned routines, and detailed protocols. Other studies, instead, emphasize the independent and proactive behaviors of frontline workers who use their discretionary space to shape crisis response efforts. The second tension centers on the reasons for discretionary actions. Typically, crisis scholars analyze social and rule-based pressures on frontline workers to explain their discretionary actions as they implement public policy. Critics, instead, build on responders’ own stories to grasp their meaning-making attempts and use this as a basis for understanding why and how responders enact their discretionary practices. The final tension concerns the advantages and disadvantages of frontline worker discretion. There is a widespread belief that frontline discretion in crisis response enables much-needed improvisation, creativity, and flexibility, but increased discretion may also raise legitimacy questions and potentially burden frontline workers with complex ethical dilemmas. To move the understanding of frontline workers in crisis management forward, further research is required in several areas. Empirically, frontline workers are increasingly working in transboundary crisis networks, so that more research is necessary to understand how such crisis networks affect frontline discretion. Theoretically, literature on frontline work in crisis management has remained by and large isolated from other micro-level theories on crisis management, even though there are opportunities for fruitful cross-fertilization with adjacent literatures.

Article

Qualitative interview is one of the most important methods used to understand how public administration and the policy process work. It essentially involves questioning actors to obtain exclusive data about their day-to-day activities, their production of knowledge, the arguments they use, their relationships, the discrete meetings they participate in, their struggles, their strategies, and so on. Privileging “how” over “why,” it allows researchers to consider interviewees as witnesses of their own activities, enabling them to access the daily happenings within the administration, rather than as analysts from whom “good” and “acceptable” reasons are sought to justify their actions. These interviews must be analyzed exclusively by the interviewer, which supposes an epistemological analysis of the discourse and also requires researchers to bear in mind that any interview is a social relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee and necessarily leads to data bias, even though experience and several tips can help limit these biases.

Article

Q methodology was introduced in 1935 and has evolved to become the most elaborate philosophical, conceptual, and technical means for the systematic study of subjectivity across an increasing array of human activities, most recently including decision making. Subjectivity is an inescapable dimension of all decision making since we all have thoughts, perspectives, and preferences concerning the wide range of matters that come to our attention and that enter into consideration when choices have to be made among options, and Q methodology provides procedures and a rationale for clarifying and examining the various viewpoints at issue. The application of Q methodology commonly begins by accumulating the various comments in circulation concerning a topic and then reducing them to a smaller set for administration to select participants, who then typically rank the statements in the Q sample from agree to disagree in the form of a Q sort. Q sorts are then correlated and factor analyzed, giving rise to a typology of persons who have ordered the statements in similar ways. As an illustration, Q methodology was administered to a diverse set of stakeholders concerned with the problems associated with the conservation and control of large carnivores in the Northern Rockies. Participants nominated a variety of possible solutions that each person then Q sorted from those solutions judged most effective to those judged most ineffective, the factor analysis of which revealed four separate perspectives that are compared and contrasted. A second study demonstrates how Q methodology can be applied to the examination of single cases by focusing on two members of a group contemplating how they might alter the governing structures and culture of their organization. The results are used to illustrate the quantum character of subjective behavior as well as the laws of subjectivity. Discussion focuses on the broader role of decisions in the social order.

Article

Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) is increasingly establishing itself as a method in social research. QCA is a set-theoretic, truth-table-based method that identifies complex combinations of conditions (configurations) that are necessary and/or sufficient for an outcome. An advantage of QCA is that it models the complexity of social phenomena by accounting for conjunctural, asymmetric, and equifinal patterns. Accordingly, the method does not assume isolated net effects of single variables but recognizes that the effect of a single condition (that is, an explanatory factor) often unfolds only in combination with other conditions. Moreover, QCA acknowledges that the occurrence of a phenomenon can have a different explanation from its non-occurrence. Finally, QCA allows for different, mutually non-exclusive explanations of the same phenomenon. QCA is not only a technique; there is a diversity of approaches to how it can be implemented before, during and after the “technical moment,” depending on the analytic goals related to contributing to theory, engaging with cases, and the approach to explanation. Particularly since 2012, an increasing number of scholars have turned to using QCA to investigate public administrations. Even though the boundaries of Public Administration (PA) as an academic discipline are difficult to determine, it can be defined as an intellectual forum for those who want to understand both public administrations as organizations and their relationships to political, economic, and societal actors—especially in the adoption and implementation of public policies. Owing to its fragmented nature, there has been a long-lasting debate about the methodological sophistication and appropriateness of different comparative methods. In particular, the high complexity and strong context dependencies of causal patterns challenge theory-building and empirical analysis in Public Administration. Moreover, administrative settings are often characterized by relatively low numbers of cases for comparison, as well as strongly multilevel empirical settings. QCA as a technique allows for context-sensitive analyses that take into account this complexity. Against this background, it is not surprising that applications of QCA have become more widespread among scholars of Public Administration. A systematic review of articles using QCA published in the major Public Administration journals shows that the use of QCA started in mid-2000s and then grew exponentially. The review shows that, especially in two thematic areas, QCA has high analytical value and may (alongside traditional methodological approaches) help improve theories and methods of PA. The first area is the study of organizational decision-making and the role of bureaucrats during the adoption and implementation of public policies and service delivery. The second area where QCA has great merits is in explaining different features of public organizations. Especially in evaluation research where the aim is to investigate performance of various kinds (especially effectiveness in terms of both policy and management), QCA is a useful analytical tool to model these highly context-dependent relationships. The QCA method is constantly evolving. The development of good practices for different QCA approaches as well as several methodological innovations and software improvements increases its potential benefits for the future of Public Administration research.

Article

Gary Ackerman and Douglas Clifford

Simulations are an important component of crisis preparedness, because they allow for training responders and testing plans in advance of a crisis materializing. However, traditional simulations can all too easily fall prey to a range of cognitive and organizational distortions that tend to reduce their efficacy. These shortcomings become even more problematic in the increasingly complex, highly dynamic crisis environment of the early 21st century. This situation calls for the incorporation of alternative approaches to crisis simulation, ones that by design incorporate multiple perspectives and explicit challenges to the status quo. As a distinct approach to formulating, conducting, and analyzing simulations and exercises, the central distinguishing feature of red teaming is the simulation of adversaries or competitors (or at least adopting an adversarial perspective). In this respect, red teaming can be viewed as practices that simulate adversary or adversarial decisions or behaviors, where the purpose is informing or improving defensive capabilities, and outputs are measured. Red teaming, according to this definition, significantly overlaps with but does not directly correspond to related activities such as wargaming, alternative analysis, and risk assessment. Some of the more important additional benefits provided by red teaming include the following: ▪ The explicit recognition and amelioration of several cognitive biases and other critical thinking shortfalls displayed by crisis decision makers and managers in both their planning processes and their decision-making during a crisis. ▪ The ability to robustly test existing standard operating procedures and plans at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels against emerging threats and hazards by exposing them to the machinations of adaptive, creative adversaries and other potentially problematic actors. ▪ Instilling more flexible, adaptive, and in-depth sense-making and decision-making skills in crisis response personnel at all levels by focusing the training aspects of simulations on iterated, evolving scenarios with high degrees of realism, unpredictability through exploration of nth-order effects, and multiple stakeholders. ▪ The identification of new vulnerabilities, opportunities, and risks that might otherwise remain hidden if relying on traditional, nonadversarial simulation approaches. Key guidance in conducting red teaming in the crisis preparedness context includes avoiding mirror imaging, having clear objectives and simulation parameters, remaining independent of the organizational unit being served, judicious application in terms of the frequency of red teaming, and the proper recording and presentation of red-teaming simulation outputs. Overall, red teaming—as a specific species of simulation—holds much promise for enhancing crisis preparedness and the crucial decision-making that attends a variety of emerging issues in the crisis management context.

Article

Storytelling is a common and pervasive practice across human history, which some have argued is a fundamental part of human understanding. Storytelling and narratives are a very human way of understanding the world, as well as events, and can serve as key tools for crisis and disaster studies and practice. They play a tremendously important role in planning, policy, education, the public sphere, advocacy, training, and community recovery. In the context of crises and disasters, stories are a means by which information is transmitted across generations, a key strategy for survival from non-routine and infrequent events. In fact, the field of disaster studies has long relied on narratives as primary source material, as a means of understanding individual experiences of phenomena as well as critiquing policies and understanding the role of history in 21st-century levels of vulnerability. Over the past several decades, practitioners and educators in the field have sought to use stories and narratives more purposefully to build resilience and pass on tacit knowledge.