Defining Public Administration

San Francisco City Hall

Defining and Re-defining Public Management

Woodrow Wilson first described public management as a distinct set of knowledge, abilities and skills in his 1887 article, “The Study of Administration.” In the 1980’s, an updated approach to public management emerged modeled after techniques current in the private sector. As bureaucracies grew and became more complex, new public management focused on cost management and increased efficiency. The traditional public administration model emphasized managing a strict hierarchy and meritocracy, adherence to rules and the merit system for hiring that would prevent partisan interference in the implementation of policy. New public management tackled contemporary economic, social, technological and political issues by implementing elements rooted in business management.

These advances in public management theory have been spurred by fiscal needs to deliver better public services at lower costs. The development of information technology has enabled instant communication and sharing of information that has less need for the earlier 20th century system of controlling workers hierarchically, which can be expensive and time consuming. Instead, new public management allows for the delegation of duties, contracting of goods and services and market techniques of competition and customer service aimed to improve performance using information technology gains for accountability and transparency. New public management includes better management of policy implementation, emphasizing entrepreneurial leadership, evaluating and auditing performance management and expanding the use of resource allocation and other contractual service delivery from private enterprises.

3 Strategies for Conducting Public Management Innovations Research

Innovations in management techniques in public administration relies on research. There are many strategies for researching effective methods of public management. The following three qualitative research methods provide insight into the benefits and drawbacks of public management techniques, supplementing quantitative and budgetary analysis.


The interview is a conversation between an interviewer and interviewee that is considered a primary source of data collection. Interviews may also be conducted in a group setting or in the form of surveys. In public management, policy analysts and administrators rely on survey research information when investigating government programs and finding out why they are necessary and if they are efficient and effective. Interviewing allows for asking in depth and direct questions on a multitude of topics, such as government decentralization, citizen participation, salaries and wages for civil service, health care and public hospitals.

Document Analysis

Documents are secondary sources found in either hard copy or electronic form. This strategy can complement other methods such as interviews. Document analysis can prepare the interviewer by providing background information on the interviewee and public administration issues. Documents that are useful for public management research include agency reports, conference papers, legal documents and national, state and local newspapers.

Document analysis requires concentration and analytical skills and special attention must be paid to the validity and reliability of the sources. Document analysis also allows for investigations into past documents that hold insight into current issues in public management. Today there is an abundance of documentation, due to the wealth of available information on the internet and increased modes of correspondence, such as email, that can serve as relevant research into the efficacy of public management practices. Presidential libraries are one source of documents that help explain how our administrative state has operated and changed over time. For instance, President Johnson’s library in Dallas houses 25 million pages of documents.

Literature Review

Another secondary source, literature review is a technique for collecting research reports and data that can be easy to access, more flexible and wider in scope than other methods. Literature review involves a comprehensive survey of past inquiries that are relevant to the research question at hand. This method gives the researcher the opportunity to compare their research within the historical and intellectual context of those who did the work before them. Seeing how others have approached research topics can shine light on the best approach for tackling a particular issue or question, the challenges and dead ends that the researcher may run into, the quality and historical relevance of the findings and the overall outcome. Literature review also allows a researcher to look at questions raised but yet to be answered in the materials that has been published, areas for further analysis. Fortunately for researchers, there is a large body of literature for review on a most public administration topics.

New public management is an answer to the changing public sector. Increased connectivity and the widespread adoption of social media is being used by the public to take part in bureaucratic processes and to hold administrators accountable. In addition to this, economic, political and social pressures require public sector organizations to continue research into public management techniques and discover innovative ways to streamline their processes and increase efficiency.

Learn More

If you seek to change the world on a local, national, or global level, the University of San Francisco is a great place to start. By learning more about the University of San Francisco Online Master of Public Administration (MPA), you will be taking an important first step toward pursuing your professional goals and commitment to social justice. Our program is designed for professionals who want to become effective managers and civic leaders who affect change through policy management and advocacy.

Recommended Readings

3 Ways Social Media Is Challenging Public Officials
The Role of Performance Measurement in Public Administration
Public Administration: The 4 Core Values


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