Comparative public administration (CPA) is directed at the study of administrative phenomena focusing on organization (bureaucracy), personnel (public employees, administrative elites), and the relations between administrative actors/processes and political decision makers (making). The comparative approach encompasses cross-sectional (e.g., cross-country and cross-policy) as well as cross-time (longitudinal) analyses. In its historical development CPA research unfolded in the United States after 1945 in focusing on developing countries. Since the 1970s CPA research has largely turned on “developed” industrial countries in increasingly dealing with European (particularly EU member) as well as other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. With regard to subject matter, the study of organization and personnel, as well as the relations between administrative actors and political decision makers, have loomed large. As occurred in the wake of the marketization and privatization of public functions prompted by New Public Management, the distinction between public and private has blurred the “radar” of CPA researchers and has accordingly widened. The growth of CPA research has been reflected in and promoted by the proliferation of CPA-related national and international professional and academic associations, networks, journals, publications (handbooks, textbooks, etc.), and databases. While the appropriate (“purposive”) selection of countries (and cases) is of key importance in the conduct of valid comparative research, it often proves impossible to apply methodologically rigorous (“quasi-experimental”) comparative logic, so that most research has settled for methodologically softer selection strategies. While in the past qualitative (case-study based) research has prevailed, recently quantitative-statistical analyses have advanced. In sum, the state of art in CPA research offers a mixed balance. On the one hand, there seems so far to be no generally accepted single theory or methodological approach in the pursuit of CPA research. On the other hand, the large (and still growing) body of CPA research findings (and the steady accumulation of research experience and sophistication in the research community) hold the promise of further advances, including theory-building.
B. Guy Peters
Contemporary administrative systems are shaped in part by their past and by the conceptions of good administration that are embedded in administrative culture. Administrative traditions shape contemporary administration in Europe and have been heavily influenced by European models. Administrative tradition means an historically based set of values, structures, and relationships with other institutions that define the nature of appropriate public administration. Seven dimensions can be used to both define these traditions and categorize public administration into four groups of nations. This explanation is similar to cultural explanations, but it includes the influence of structures as well as ideas. While the model of traditions developed is based largely on European and North American experiences, it can also be applied to a much broader range of administrative systems.
José Nederhand and Astrid Molenveld
Q methodology is an approach well suited to identifying and comparing patterns of similarity and differences in people’s viewpoints. The method systematically maps perceptions—including which elements of the perceptions are shared or unique. Q methodology originated in psychology, but it has been widely applied in multiple disciplines. The approach has also increasingly gained ground in public administration, in which studying perceptions, attitudes, and related biases is of key importance. William Stephenson, one of the founders of the method, developed Q methodology in order to be able to study persons as a complex whole, instead of just their characteristics, which is common among statistical methods. Unraveling the multiplicity of debates and perceptions is very useful for informing and evaluating the practice of public administration researchers and practitioners. By providing systematic insight into clusters of perceptions surrounding a specific topic, Q methodology allows researchers to develop new concepts and to advance the (existing) literature. For practitioners, the method is particularly suited for describing societal and political debates and practices, for designing governance and policy interventions, and for evaluating the implementation of policy programs.
Eva Thomann and Jörn Ege
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.