How Effective is Public Management Research? An Analysis of Scope and Methodology

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How Effective is Public Management Research? An Analysis of Scope and Methodology

David W. Pitts Andrew Young School of Policy Studies Georgia State University 14 Marietta St. NW Ste. 328 Atlanta, GA 30303 404.413.0111 404.413.0104 FAX

Paper prepared for presentation at the 9th Public Management Research Conference, Tucson, Arizona, October 25-27, 2007. The author thanks Sergio Fernandez for assistance in developing the coding instrument and Ravtosh Bal and Lauren Edwards for research assistance. The author accepts all responsibility for errors and omissions.

Introduction Public management research grapples with a number of difficult issues. It is a new field, with developing norms and approaches to research, and there has been little examination of the progress it has made in advancing knowledge. Nomenclature concerns have prevented a coherent analysis of public management research, since much of what many would consider “public management” has historically been classified as public administration or public policy research. In this paper, I analyze public management as a field of scholarship and offer some definitional boundaries for consideration. Using a sample of public management research, I analyze the scope and methodology employed by a set of scholars and assess the breadth, depth, and quality of the research. I pose and answer eleven questions about public management research: six pertaining to its scope and content, and five concerning its research methods. In the following sections, I define public management’s scope and content and outline some key methodological issues in public management research. After formulating some key research questions, I discuss the data and method used in the study, followed by a discussion of the findings. I close with a discussion and implications for future work.

Defining Public Management: Scope and Content Lynn (1996) argues that public management as a field did not begin as an area of scholarship, but rather as a means of policy schools distinguishing themselves from public administration during the 1970s.1 As public administration and public policy scholars began to see themselves tackling similar questions, the name “public management” began to trickle into research as a means of uniting the efforts of public administration and public policy researchers. 1

Use of public management, public administration, and public policy as terms throughout this paper is purposeful. When discussing research that self-identifies as “public administration” or “public policy,” I identify it with those labels.


Others viewed public management as a synthesis of the generic management literature with research in public administration, a development that paralleled the policy school movement (Perry and Kraemer, 1986). Research in public management grew during the 1980s, and in 1991, the first Public Management Research Conference was held in Syracuse, NY (Brudney et al., 2000). The scope of public management research has been broad: it includes elements of traditional public administration, traditional public policy, and “generic” management. That is, focus seems to be not only on how to manage people, budgets, and processes, but also on managing public service provision, policy implementation processes, and program evaluation. Theoretical approaches to public management are borrowed broadly from a number of social science disciplines, including economics, political science, sociology, and organization theory. Definitions of public management are multiple and overlapping. Some view public management simply as a subfield of public administration (Overman, 1984), while others cast it more broadly as an “umbrella” field that encompasses elements of public administration, public policy, and generic management (Kettl, 1990). In one of the first comprehensive treatments of public management, Bozeman (1993) identified five distinctive elements of public management...
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