Introduction to different approaches of studying Public Administration


The approaches to the study of Public Administration can be categorized from normative approach to empirical approach; and from philosophical approach to behavioural approach. Each concentrates on different aspects of studying public administration. Classification of approaches is based upon the objects of study the individual scholar seeks to emphasize. The main approaches are:

  1. Philosophical approach
  2. Legal approach
  3. Historical approach
  4. Scientific approach
  5. Case Method Approach
  6. Institutional & Structural Approach
  7. Behavioural Approach
  8. Consensus Approach

1. Philosophical Approach

It is one of the oldest approaches to study not only the subject of public administration, but other social sciences as well; as it is wide-ranging in its substance. The philosophical approach takes within its purview all aspects of administrative activities. Its goal is to find out and enunciate the principles or ‘ideals’ underlying these activities. This approach is found in John Locke’s ‘Treatise on civil Government’, Plato’s ‘Republic’, and Thomas Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’.

2. Legal Approach

It’s a systematically-formulated approach, and traces its ancestry to the European tradition of rooting public administration in law. Public administration was considered a part of law, concentrating on legally-prescribed structure and organization of public authorities and their limitations. It was restricted to study the legal aspect at a time when the functions of the state were very simple and narrow. Sometimes, it may be studied from juristic angle that was very popular in western philosophers and was advocated especially by Frank J. Goodnow. The administrative law is an important branch of public law and is conceived in quite broad terms so as to include the organization and functions of public authorities and with the problem of their correlation, powers and responsibilities. Public administration is considered a part of administrative law and as such is studied in the legal framework. In Pakistan, too, the administrative study was mainly preoccupied with the legal foundations of administrative authority and its procedures and was narrower in its scope than others because law itself was conceived in broad sociological terms whereas in developing countries, it had a narrow juristic connotation.

3. Historical Approach

Historical method is basically the study of public administration of the past within a particular time span. It includes organizing and interpreting the available information in a chronological order so as to best study the administrative institutions.

4. Scientific Approach

Scientific management in public administration seeks to proceed from particular to general through observation and collection of data, its classification and verification thereupon of the hypotheses. In development of effective technique of organization, it provided a great fillip and is still employed for solution of administrative problems.

5. Case Method Approach

This approach began getting popular in 1930s. It’s a narration of past happenings of public administration keeping in view all aspects relevant to the issue. This approach remained in vogue but could not become dominant because reliving another’s life through case studies can never yield the desired results; however, it exposed certain dimensions of a particular administrative issue. It is still employed in training institutions in Pakistan at various levels to expose the trainees to certain administrative issues that had prevailed at different levels in the past. Essentially historical in nature, the case study method focused to study personal, economic, political or any other influence at the time of decision-making by a practitioner of public administration. Through a number of ways, the trainees are briefed about the events and identifiable factors with the help of documents, files, inquiries, interviews, etc.

6. Institutional & Structural Approach

The followers of this school took policy-administration dichotomy quite seriously. They defined the task of administration as non-political or technical which lay merely in carrying out the will of political authority by neutral means. They directed all their efforts to discover ‘principles’ of public administration.

The early work of this school is characterized by an empirical and pragmatic approach. Their sole aim was to describe a set of facts, and not to build any theories. Although the study has retained its institutional character, yet the policy-administration dichotomy has been qualified after being found too hasty. More attention is now being given to the normative aspects of public administration and administration is being viewed as an element in political theory and the accepted political Values.

7. Behavioural Approach

This approach examines public administration by studying individual and collective human behaviour in diverse social environments and administrative situations. It brings to bear upon administrative problems an inter-disciplinary approach which includes sociology, individual and social psychology and cultural anthropology. This approach focuses on the study of administrative problem and their solutions. Robert A. Dahl was among the pioneers of this approach.

The increased attention to the individual and his relationship to the administrative organization in which scientific management approach tended to consider him rather as a thing or a means, without taking into account the various factors that have direct or indirect influence on the individual and its consequences on overall environment. Now attention is being paid to the individual based on realistic approaches like motivation, decision-making process and the nature of the authority.

Administration is studied as a social system with equal focus on rational relationships of the organization, now informal relationships of men in the organization receive equal attention. Similarly the informal means of communication and administrative leadership are found of equal importance in the process.

8. The Consensus Approach

This efficiency-oriented approach coupled with the anti-patronage movement was strengthened by the view that policymaking and policy-implementing are two different things. Policy-determining was considered a field of politics, and policy-implementation, the field of administration. It is now accepted that administration is involved in policy formulation also. It is now wrong to say that policies can be formulated without the advice or assistance of administrative staff. The whole theory of ‘delegated legislation’ disproved the dichotomy between politics and administration.

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