Richard Box’s review article in the July edition of A&S weaves together three threads of the “human element” in public administration. The management perspective in administration often leaves the machinations of public administration on the ground in, well, a very mechanical state; pull the lever here to add more resources, push the button there to change some of the institutional settings, and voila, effective administration. This ignores the very real effects that the idiosyncrasies of administrators on the ground can have on the effectiveness of administration.
In many ways, the question of the human element is at the core of the practice/theory divide that is so often discussed, especially in a field with so many practice-grounded implications. Administrators need to know how to work with individuals in addition to managing organizational-level details. One way into this problem for public administration researchers is to categorize, to try to figure out what types of people respond to a specific context (as Maria D’Agostino has done in looking at women in the federal workforce, and Ellen Rubin and Elizabeth Perez Chiques have done in examining employee-manager differences) or to examine the effects of specific contexts on the people who inhabit those contexts (as Jacob Fowles and Joshua Cowen have done with unions and Lars Tummers, Viktor Bekkers, Sandra van Thiel, and Bram Steijn have done in looking at alienation). Public Administration researchers may also examine the more socio-psychological aspects of organizations to see the interaction between manager and employee (as Chan Su Jung and Soo-Young Lee have done). Here, both the network perspective and the human resource and management perspectives would seem to be impactful.
Public administration has long been an inter-disciplinary pursuit, and each of these perspectives provides great value to the question of practical import. Where else might we turn to examine this issue? What other perspectives might we draw in to this growing edge of person-centered administration research?