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Article

Constructivist Approaches to Public Administration  

Nicholas C. Zingale

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

Whole-of-Government Crisis Management: From Research to Practice  

Kathryn H. Floyd

When a crisis manifests, the problem or situation is often at a terrible point where sage and timely decisions are of critical importance. Ideally, the particular emergency has been known previously and various challenges, roadblocks, and solutions workshopped in a tabletop or other exercise. Whether in advance or at a sudden precipice, a whole-of-government approach can navigate, mitigate, and alleviate the disaster in a holistic and comprehensive manner that is tailored to the task at hand. Whole-of-government crisis management—at the local, state, national, or international level—involves several elements. First, those in command need to know the myriad of players who may have roles and responsibilities to play at pivotal moments. Every organization will not be required in every crisis, and a strategic mix and match is often valuable. Second, each agency needs to understand how it fits into the larger puzzle and adjust their internal culture accordingly to support interagency operations, regardless of who is providing a lead function and who is supporting. Then, the agencies must have the staff available to fulfill their tasks and surge capacity, making provisions for alternative personnel or a “backbench” to execute everyday operations while the frontlines are busy. Elements of whole-of-government approaches appear throughout all aspects of crisis management. A relatively recent term, whole of government is an expansive framework for coordinating interagency responses that is often invoked in policy documents, as well as examined in academic studies. As it is adopted by various administrations and organizations during times of calm and emergency, the whole-of-government approach has aspects that are enduring, countervailing, and aspirational. The instruments of national power—diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME)—provide one lens through which to examine whole-of-government crisis management. Past interagency responses demonstrate best practices and difficult lessons learned for future whole-of-government operations. A broad analysis of whole-of-government crisis management enables government leaders, practitioners, scholars, researchers, and others to create comprehensive and flexible strategies with delineated roles for dedicated interagency partners in advance of the next hurricane or terrorist attack.

Article

Comparative Abortion Law and Politics  

Udi Sommer and Aliza Forman-Rabinovici

Public debate rages around the world as to if and when a woman has a right to access abortion services. Though abortion policy has become more permissive over time in various places, there are still many countries with severe restrictions. The variety in state abortion policies at the state and regional levels reflects the different religious, cultural, and political attitudes toward this issue. Literature on this topic engages with larger theoretical debates within the study of public policy. That includes definitions of morality policy and determinants of feminist policy. Researchers continue to search for the ideal way to compare permissiveness of abortion policy in light of the extensive variation, conditions, and caveats that exist within abortion legislation. A number of variables, including female political representation, dominant religious groups in the country, and women’s movements have emerged as central correlates with permissiveness of abortion policy. The difference between de jure abortion law and de facto access also constitutes an important part of abortion policy research.

Article

Afghanistan: Martial Society Without Military Rule  

Amin Tarzi

Since its inception as a separate political entity in 1747, Afghanistan has been embroiled in almost perpetual warfare but has never been ruled directly by the military. From initial expansionist military campaigns to involvement in defensive, civil, and internal consolidation campaigns, the Afghan military until the mid-19th century remained mainly a combination of tribal forces and smaller organized units. The central government, however, was only able to gain tenuous monopoly over the use of violence throughout the country by the end the 19th century. The military as well as the Afghan society remained largely illiterate and generally isolated from the prevailing global political and ideological trends until the middle of the 20th century. The politicization of the Afghan military began in very small numbers after World War II, with Soviet-inspired communism gaining the largest foothold. Officers associated with the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan were instrumental in two successful coups d’état in the country. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, ending the country’s sovereignty and ushering in a period of conflict that has continued into the third decade of the 21st century in varying degrees. In 2001, the United States led an international invasion of the country, which was followed by efforts to organize smaller, professional Afghan national defense forces, which remained largely apolitical and became the country’s most effective and trusted governmental institution. However, designed by foreign forces to support foreign goals, they disintegrated when left to defend the country independently against the Taliban in 2021. The Taliban may represent a new phenomenon in Afghanistan, that of having a politicized militarized force.

Article

Ethics, Corruption, and Integrity of Governance: What It Is and What Helps  

Leo Huberts and André van Montfort

Ethics, corruption, and integrity do matter for society and are relevant topics to take into account in the research (and practice) of public administration and governance. The many views, perspectives, and interpretations that are available with respect to these issues can be integrated in a challenging framework. This framework takes the concept of integrity of governance as a starting point, with a focus on relevant moral values and norms for political and administrative behavior and a discussion of various forms of integrity violations in the public sector. Based on a large amount of research on “what helps to protect integrity and prevent integrity violations,” it specially pays attention to integrity management and integrity systems. The framework concerning ethics, corruption, and integrity of governance offers starting points for formulating an agenda for the future. This agenda should express the desirability of both an “integrity turn” in public administration and political science and an “empirical turn” in integrity research.

Article

Evaluating Success and Failure in Crisis Management  

Allan McConnell

Crises and disasters come in many shapes and sizes. They range from global pandemics and global financial crises to tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic ash clouds, bushfires, terrorist attacks, critical infrastructure failures and food contamination episodes. Threats may be locally isolated such as an explosion at a local fireworks factory, or they may cascade across multiple countries and sectors, such as pandemics. No country is immune from the challenge of managing extraordinary threats, and doing so out of their comfort zone of routine policy making. The crisis management challenge involves managing threats ‘on the ground’, as well as the political fallout and societal fears. Populist and journalistic commentary frequently labels crisis management initiatives as having either succeeded or failed. The realities are much more complex. Evaluators confront numerous methodological challenges. These include the careful consideration of multiple and often competing outcomes, differing perceptions, issues of success for whom, and gray areas stemming from shortfalls and lack of evidence, as well as variations over time. Despite such complexity, some key themes appear continually across evaluations, from internal reviews to royal commissions and accident inquiries. These pertain to the ways in which evaluations can be shaped heavily or lightly by political agendas, the degree to which evaluating organizations are able to open up, the degree to which gray areas and shortfalls are stumbling blocks in producing findings, and the challenge of producing coherent investigative narratives when many storylines are possible. Ultimately, evaluating crisis initiatives is “political” in nature because it seeks to provide authoritative evaluations that reconcile multiple views, from experts and lawyers to victims and their families.

Article

The Political Economy of Development Finance in Latin America  

Leslie Elliott Armijo

Finance is frequently, but incorrectly, judged a technical matter best left to experts. Equally mistaken is the exasperated conclusion encapsulated in the phrase “people, not profits,” which holds that capitalism, private investors, and markets are simply evil. Finance is necessary for economic development, but also has profound, and often unexamined, implications for social and political spheres. Channels for financial intermediation may be public or private, and national or foreign, implying tradeoffs among organizational forms. Public banks typically are superior in providing public goods and implementing national strategic plans, but private banks and capital markets normally are more efficient, assuming competitive markets. Savings may be sought within the national economy or from abroad, with domestic savings implying a smaller pool yet less subsequent international vulnerability, and foreign inflows offering potential abundance at the cost of external dependence. This framing yields four ideal-types of long-term finance (LTF): national public finance from state development banks; national private finance from domestic private banks and capital markets; foreign public finance via bilateral or multilateral aid or state investment (including from non-traditional lenders, such as China); and foreign private finance sourced from global investors seeking returns. Both national public and foreign public finance dominated long-term investment in Latin America in the early postwar decades of import-substituting industrialization. In the 1970s through the 1990s, they were succeeded by foreign private bank loans, followed by crisis and retrenchment. In the 21st century global political and market conditions brought a resurgence of foreign capital, including from both global private investors and non-Western public sources. Worries about problems arising from Chinese public finance to Latin America are likely overblown, as the quantity remains small, except in some Bolivarian Alliance countries. However, private foreign inflows, strongly promoted by Western-led multilateral actors, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to the World Bank, during the 2010s, may be more problematic. Excessive dependence on private securities markets funded by globally mobile capital often undercuts achievement of other valued societal goals such as reducing inequality and ensuring democratic accountability. Notwithstanding their predictable flaws, it may be time for a reemphasis on national, and possibly regional, public development banks.

Article

Competing Values in Public Administration  

Zeger van der Wal

Public administration theory and practice are been rife with competing values, and 21st-century trends and challenges create new value dilemmas. Values—standards and qualities that guide behavior and decision making—can compete for attention because they may be of equal importance to the larger public interest that administrative actors are aiming to realize yet adhering to each of them at once is not feasible or possible. Examples are transparency, accountability, equity, effectiveness, efficiency, and legality. Hence, administrative actors have to find ways to manage competing values at an individual and institutional level.

Article

The Politics of Crisis Terminology  

Allan McConnell

The politics of crisis terminology is rarely examined directly. Crisis is an “umbrella,” under which resides a multitude of terms such as accidents, emergencies, fiascos, disasters, and catastrophes, as well as variations such as natural disasters, transboundary crises, and mega-crises. Yet the sheer diversity and frequent ambiguity among terms reflects the “politics” of how societies and political actors seek to cope with and address extreme events, which often pose a mixture of threat and opportunity. Central to an understanding is how (a) different terms are means of framing issues such as the scale and causes of the crisis, (b) crisis terms are part of governing strategies, and (c) nongovernmental actors (opposition parties, media, lobby groups, social movements, and citizens) can seek to influence government. A pivotal point in developing an understanding of crisis terminology is that rather bemoaning the lack of singular meanings for crisis and associated terms, or criticizing actors for “abuse” of the terms, one should recognize and accept that complex and contested crisis language and definitions are in themselves manifestations of politics in political societies.

Article

The Politics of Cost–Benefit Analysis  

Niek Mouter

Cost–benefit analysis (CBA) is a widely used economic appraisal method that aims to support politicians in making decisions about projects and policies. Several researchers have tried to uncover the extent to which CBA actually impacts decision-making by investigating the statistical relation between the results of CBA studies and political decisions. Although these studies show that there is no significant statistical relation between the outcomes of CBA studies and political decisions, there is clear evidence that the institutionalization of CBA affects the planning and decision-making process within the bureaucracy. Civil servants, for instance, use CBAs to government projects in the early phases of the planning process. The literature identifies various barriers that hamper politicians’ use of CBA when forming their opinion. First, politicians often receive results of CBA studies too late in the process. When politicians receive a CBA after they already made up their mind and communicated their viewpoint, the chance is low that the results of the CBA will (substantially) influence their decision. A second important barrier that limits the use of CBA by politicians is that they do not have enough trust in CBA’s impartiality. A third barrier is that politicians contest value judgments implicit in CBA. The literature distinguishes six ideological value judgments that inevitably need to be made when conducting a CBA: (a) Which individuals have standing in a CBA? (b) Which preferences have standing in a CBA? (c) Which procedure is used to value impacts? (d) On which dimensions are standard numbers differentiated? (e) Which weight is assigned to preferences of individuals in the social welfare function? (f) Which approach is adopted to select the social discount rate? The implication of the fact that CBA analysts cannot escape from making value judgments when conducing the study is that CBA is currently a problematic tool for democratic decision-making because, when applied in practice, the analysis is based on a specific set of politically loaded premises that foster (damage) the interests of politicians (not) endorsing these premises. It is possible to overcome this problem through informing politicians about the extent to which switching value judgements leads to different CBA outcomes. The introduction of so-called normative sensitivity analyses safeguards that politicians with different belief systems are equally equipped to use the results of a CBA to arrive at a well-founded evaluation of a government project.