Comparative Public Administration

Comparative public administration is a systematic comparison of public administration systems, concepts or categories. It is also the theory of public administration applied to diverse culture and national settings and the body of factual data by which it can be explained.

It is concerned with making rigorous cross-cultural comparisons of the structures and processes involved in the activities of administering public affairs in the states. Comparative public administration means identifying similarities and difference between administrative systems with the main purpose of explaining these difference and similarities between the different systems and understanding the circumstances, context, environment, and the conditions (political, social, cultural, economic and technology) that respectively influence or shape them.

For instance, in a comparative public administration, one may decide to study and compare administration system of a country to find out their public financial management system, staff recruitment, training, promotion process, budgetary system, electoral system, political leadership succession and their legislative, executive and judicial structures. Comparative public administration stands for cross cultural and cross-national public administration comparison and understanding.

Factors that led to the Emergence and Growth of Comparative Public Administration

The study of comparative public administration started at the end of the Second World War in the United States of America. Research in comparative public administration can be traced by the following specific factors:

USA World War 11 Experience: after the Second World War, USA embarked on aid programmes and projects in the developing nations of Africa and Asia through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  In administering these aid programme and in assisting in the rebuilding of the administrative system of these developing nations, America discovered that her own administrative system that were being adopted in those nations were not working the way it works in the United States.

As a result of this experience and understanding, the American administrators recognized the importance and influence of environment in the practice of public administration. Therefore they came into conclusion that there is no universal principle in the practice of public administration.

The Setting up of Comparative Administrative Group:  this group encouraged research in comparative public administration. The objective of this group was to encourage research in comparative public administration, to encourage teaching of comparative public administration and to contribute to more effective public policy formulation and implementation in the field of development administration.

Comparative public administration got further impetus in 19662 when the comparative administrative group received fund for research and development in comparative public administration from Ford Foundation. This fund enabled the group to engage in wider research in the administrative system of other countries.

The need to develop and implement sound policies: after the Second World War, there was a need to formulate effective public policies and to ensure their effective and efficient execution in order to meet the critical and urgent development challenges, needs and objectives of the developing nations.

The possibility of achieving this requires practical knowledge of any given public administration system either by foreigners or indigenous bureaucrats. The research undertaken to compare public administration system were intended to serve or promote development.

Dissatisfaction with traditional Public Administration: the traditional public administration dominated the administrative study and practice during the first half of the nineteenth century. The traditional public administration after the Second World War became perceived as too arrow and parochial as it was based essentially on Western model particularly the United States.

Beside, the traditional approach consisted in merely providing parallel description of the administrative institution without any conscious and systematic effort to compare them. Riggs in 1961 argue that American Public Administration should just be viewed as a subfield because public administration is global in scope.

Ecological Approach on Comparative Public Administration

Ecological approach on comparative public administration emphasizes the ecological approach that involves studying the dynamics of interaction between administrative system and its environment. Fred Riggs through his books entitled “Administration in Developing Nations” published in 1964 suggested that public administration is related to its environment in much manner that organisms are studied in relation to the habitat.

The argument being made by Riggs and other ecological theorist is that bureaucracies or administrative institutions can better be understood if the surrounding conditions like politics, economy, and social values are properly analyzed in relation to the administrative system. This is because these ecological factors exert significant influence or impact on administrative actions and behaviours through different means and channels, stimulating or stifling traits and performance.

The concept of ecology has been accepted as very important in studying and understanding public administration. This is because the conduct of public administration has been observed to be actually shaped or influenced by its environment.

It is generally accepted that within any society, political, economic and socio-cultural factors interact with the administrative sub-system, influencing and being influenced by it. For instance, from the social environment comes in the influence of traditional, religious and other primordial and cultural values.

In comparison, one finds out that bureaucrat in Nigeria, for instance, are more likely to succumb to primordial pressure and ignore the bureaucratic principle of impersonality. Again from the political environment comes reasonable level of influence. For instance, the extent of the realization of politics-administration dichotomy which influences public administration is dependent on the nature and pattern of political influence.

For instance, in Nigeria where political control of the bureaucracy is tightly exercised without effective institutionalized control, the existence of neutral or impartial bureaucracy is very difficult.

This is quite in contrast to the situation in a country like the United States of America where there is greater separation of politics from administration and where the bureaucracy is more autonomous from contending social and political forces within the country.

Again, the difference evident in various forms of government (like federal, unitary, parliamentary, presidential, military, autocratic, monarchical, republican or democracy) can lead to variance in the administrative system as they may respectively define who is in charge of administrative departments, who controls the administration and the relative participation of administrators in policy formulation and that of political officials in policy implementations.

For instance, in democratic governance, the scope and objectives of public service and values to be applied when delivering services may be different from that in autocratic governance.

Generally, a look at the structure and functions of public administration in different countries will reveal that, though there are manifest similarities in formal organization, yet their informal behavioral patterns posse’s considerable diversities, each being shaped by its societal environmental factors.

And so even in western developed nations which are often grouped into one administrative category, their administrative system have never developed and functioned in a uniform pattern. So is the case in the category of developing nations.

The conclusion from this is that public administration is culture or environment bound. The structures of public administration of one environmental setting cannot be easily transplanted into a different cultural environment or society.

Institutions transplanted as such may even develop in an unpredictable ways and may serve needs different from those satisfied in the place of origin. Despite the fact that Nigeria bureaucracy is modeled and developed by the British on principle of merit, impartiality, political neutrality among others, its nature and functions cannot be understood in terms of these ideal principles but in terms of Nigeria’s cultural, political and economic environment and which made it to function in almost entirely opposite direction.

Contributions of Comparative Study of Public Administration to the General field of Public Administration

  • Cross cultural comparison of public administration system profoundly add to student’s capacity for better analysis and improves their appraisal of world affairs. Certainly their knowledge of other countries administrative system is the best way to achieve a balanced perspective and to reduce myopic view of others.
  • It has helped to eliminate the narrowness of provincialism and regionalism in the general practice and study of public administration.
  • It has broadened the field of public administration integrating it with the entire field of the social sciences by its emphasis on ecology and behaviorism.
  • It has led to greater scientific outlook in theory construction. The comparative method is essential for the development of administrative theory and improvement in its application.
  • It has played important role in making the subject of public administration broader, deeper and useful and liberates public administration from parochialism.
  • It permits one to see wider range of administrative actions, identifying a variety of problems and improves ones understanding of the short comings and limitations of given administrative contexts.
  • Comparative public administration has aided administrative improvements in many countries through reforms, innovations and system adaptation.
  • Administrative knowledge and information generated through the comparative methods serves public administrators needs and expand their horizon of choice and improves their capacity to observe, learn and improve management performance.