Comparative Public Administration by Sesa Gill at LexCliq

What is Comparative Public Administration?

  • “CPA is the comparative study of institutions, process, and behaviors in many contexts. Context (or environment in comparative analysis generally refers to all external influences that affect management, such as societal values, norms, religion, political culture, and economy.”
  • “Public Administration is concerned with means for the achievement of prescribed ends…found in political settings. Concerned primarily with the carrying out of public policy decisions made by the authoritative decision-makers in the political system.”
  1. Branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial)
  2. Bureaucracy
  3. Political Parties
  4. Military
  5. Civil Society
  1. Policy making
  2. Agenda setting
  3. Decision Making
  • In sum CPA cannot be disentangle from politics. Politics is a key intervening variable. Thus, cross comparison of different political structure become essential to advance the knowledge and practice of PA.
  • Are bureaucracies the same among political systems, operating under a capitalist political economy and a democratic system?

History of CPA

  • The emergence of CPA as a field is linked to the process of decolonization and the expansion of nation-states.
  • CPA in its origins attempt to help develop the administrative practice of developing nations.
  • CPA was a “cold war” strategy to contain communism.
  • CPA as a field became almost irrelevant after financial support dried out because it could not establish itself.
  • CPA shifted from the development practice into academic debate.
  • Changes around the world (foreign debt, neoliberalism, etc.) offer a great opportunity for the revival of the field.


  • It guides research on problems and solutions
  • A paradigm governs in the first instance, not a subject matter, but a group of practitioners
  • A paradigm commits the group of practitioners to a disciplinary matrix (methods, language, questions, values, etc.)
  • Paradigms are formed to share examples that result in “tacit knowledge” acquired by doing science
  • It is the common property of a group
  • Institutionalizes the way knowledge is being taught and transferred
  • There will be “paradigm shifts” or “paradigm competition” but never a lack of paradigm `unless the field becomes simply speculative and unscientific. To reject a paradigm without substitution is to reject science itself
  • A theory is accepted by the scientific community when it can be said to explain the phenomenon of a field better than its competitors (more theoretical leverage)
  • Becoming a better instrument for discovery
  • Becoming a better instrument to solve puzzles
  • Represents better what nature or society is really like.
  • CPA, as any other social science, is said to be pre-paradigmatic in the sense that the community of scientists has not committed to a single paradigm. That is, there is a paradigm competition.
  • PA scientific and professional community rely on the structural-functional dichotomy
  • Structures are often associated with institutions (bureaucracies) and functions with activities (interest articulation, interest aggregation, rulemaking, rule application, communication).
  • The fundamental question of structural functionalism is: “What functions are performed by a given institutions and how?” (M. Landau cited by Heady 1991:8)


  • Recently CPA has been more closely linked with IGOs such as the IMF, World Bank, UNDP in the form of technical assistance. Heady call this group international/ organization administration
  • The focus has become institution building to make the state more effective and responsive. The focus has moved from public administration (institutions and functions) to public management (skills, techniques, best practice)
  • The emergence of supranational governments (EU) has opened CPA to new paradigms coming from international relations (neo-realists vs. internationalists)
  • CPA has been closely linked with international development agencies such as USAID.
  • The objective was to “help” developing countries to “catch-up” with the developed world by improving the practice of the public sector.
  • The profession’s faith went hand in hand with the commitment of developed nations to international development.
  • The fact that most developing nations have failed to make the leap into the league of developed nations and, many are failed states, put into question the professional practice of public administrators.



What should the field focus be?

Theorizing to advance PA as a scientific field?

If the field wants to be relevant, it is necessary to bridge the theory-practice gap.

It is necessary to advance about what would subject matter be.


A field that claims to be comparative and which only produces single case studies is doom to failure

More “truly” comparisons should be encouraged.

Students should be expose to comparative research methods (quantitative and qualitative)

Explanatory (model development and testing) as well as evaluative policy research (assessing cause and effect) should be encourage


The fact that the world is moving towards developing supranational governments (EU) and commercial blocks (NAFTA, ASEAN, MERCOSUR, etc.) opens new opportunities.

I concurred with Heady when he points out the exploration of new paradigms from international relations (realist and transnationalism). The convergence of international and comparative approaches is necessary.


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