A representative bureaucracy is defined as a public service whose members reflect the demographic composition of the population it serves and to which its policies apply. To be truly representative, a public service would include members of significant sectors of the population throughout its workforce, including senior decision-making positions, not just in lower rank jobs.

Pitkin provided the simplest form of definition of representation. According to her, representation is simply to “make present again.” Representation, thus, denotes “the meaning present in some sense of something which is, nevertheless, not present literally or in fact.”

Stevens argues that representation in this sense “occurs when some, but only some, of the members of any group are authorized to undertake actions on behalf of all, actions that are regarded as legitimate and binding.”

Theory of Representative Bureaucracy: From a public administration perspective, a representative bureaucracy has the theoretical potential to improve the quality, responsiveness and inclusiveness of policymaking as well as service-delivery.


Approach work with values: Representative bureaucracy theorists assume that public servants approach their work with values and perspectives gained from their life histories and communities of origin, as well as from formal education and employment.

Make policy decisions: They are expected to make policy decisions informed by understanding and consideration of the interests and values of the groups from which they come. When public service is diverse, there is a greater probability that the policies and services it generates will, in the aggregate, be inclusive and responsive toward the communities served and governed.

Service delivery and heterogeneity: Another reasonable hypothesis about representative bureaucracy is that the knowledge, skills and social networks that members of ethno-cultural or radicalized groups bring to their work as public servants can help them in communicating more effectively with these communities and for more relevant, sensitive and appropriate service-delivery to them than majority group members may provide. This argument reflects the “business case” for diversity in the private sector: a diverse workforce will help a business in the service sector to respond successfully to markets in a diverse society. Knowledge of diverse languages, values and ways of being represent “merit,” helping a public service to communicate with and deliver services to diverse communities, and women’s presence facilitates communication and trust with women receiving services.

Role of government as a model employer: Citizens and taxpayers have a right to expect that they as well as their children can pursue careers in the public service they support, if they so choose and have requisite qualifications. Alienation of citizens from their government, and from participation in elections, can be read as a perception that government does not represent people and is irrelevant to their lives. The case for representative bureaucracy points to the role of government as a model employer.

Government as a leader: Government should be a leader in the implementation of progressive, fair and equitable human resource management practices, and should show the way to the private sector. It is not reasonable to expect private-sector employers to invest in progressive approaches such as employment equity, pay equity and workplace health and safety measures, if the public sector is not leading by example.


Political Representation: Dovi is of the view that “political representation is the activity of making citizens’ voices, opinions and perspectives ‘present’ in the public policy making processes.” To Dovi, therefore, political representation occurs when political actors speak, advocate, symbolize and act on behalf of others in the political arena. In short, it is a kind of political assistance. Pitkin argues that “all government officials, all organs of the state, anyone who performs a function for the group may seem to be its representative; judges represent the state in this way. So do ambassadors.”

Political representation, according to Mansbridge, may take following different forms:

i. Promissory: the promissory is the traditional model of representation, which focuses on the idea that during campaigns, representatives make promises to constituents, which they then keep or fail to keep.

ii. Anticipatory: Anticipatory representation flows directly from the idea of retrospective voting. Representatives focus on what they think their constituents will approve of in the next election, not on what they promised to do in the last election.

iii. Gyroscopic: In gyroscopic representation, the representative looks within, as a basis for action, to conceptions of interest, “common sense,” and principles derived, in part, from the representative’s own background.

iv. Surrogate: Surrogate representation occurs when legislators represent constituents outside their own districts.

Representation in Agency: Krislove says that the “simplest sense of representativeness is that of agency: a representative is one sent to make some specific representations. He has a job to do and is so authorized.” If we accept that representation is making present again, and that in presentation actors speak, advocate, symbolize and act on behalf of others in the political arena, then representative bureaucracy or representation in the bureaucracy will simply be seen as actors speaking, advocating, symbolizing and acting on behalf of others in the bureaucratic, rather than the political, arena.

Functional and Passive Representation: Mosher distinguished two main forms of representation. These are active or functional, and passive or descriptive representations.

i. Active: Active representations as when “individuals are expected to press for the interests and desires of those whom they are presumed to represent, whether they are the whole people or some segment of the people”. In other words, in active representation, the individuals in the bureaucracy will be pushing for the interest of those they serve. As noted by Riccucci and Meyer, “the theory of active representation holds, for example, that women as compared with men working in the bureaucracy are more likely to push for programmes and issues that benefit women in the general population.” Sowa and Selden take the view that “active representation takes the assertion that certain attributes such as race, ethnicity and gender lead to early socialization experiences and, in turn, shape the values and attitudes of administrators – a step further than passive representation.

ii. Passive:“Passive representation is a characteristic while active representation is a process.” The second type of representation is passive representation, which “concerns the origin of individuals and the degree to which, collectively, they mirror the whole society”. Passive representation is “concerned with the bureaucracy having the same demographic origins (gender, race, income, class, religion, etc.) as the population it serves”. Passive representation may be regarded as an aspiration in the sense of making bureaucracy more democratic or alleviating social tensions; but it is just as often regarded as a denial of individual merit-based recruitment and individual citizenship rights. Passive representation may be understood in two ways:

(a) The composition of the bureaucracy mirrors the demographic composition of the general population;

(b) In terms of whether it increases or decreases the representation of women and minorities in the bureaucracy. In passive representation, there is, the idea of symbolism; that is, a symbolic representation of groups considered minorities in the society.


i. Government’s policy-implementation arm

By the bureaucracy, we mean the civil service arm of the executive branch of government, rather than the entire public sector. The civil service is essential because it is the main organization for the development and implementation of government policies. As noted by Long, “[T]he bureaucracy is in policy, and major policy, to stay; in fact, barring the unlikely development of strong majority party legislative leadership, the bureaucracy is likely, day in and day out, to be our main source of policy initiative.” Consequently, the bureaucracy exerts enormous influence on how a society is governed. It can make or break the society through its discretionary power in terms of policy development and implementation.

ii. Important for constitutional functioning

Given the seemingly inevitable growth in the power of the bureaucracy through administrative discretion and administrative law, it is of critical importance that the bureaucracy be both representative and democratic in composition and ethos. Its internal structuring may be as important for constitutional functioning as any theoretical or practicable legislative supremacy. That wonders of modern times, the standing army possessed of a near-monopoly of force yet tamely obedient to the civil power, is a prime example of the efficacy of a balance of social forces as a means to neutralization as a political force. A similar representation of the pluralism of a society in the vitals of the bureaucracy insures its constitutional behaviour and political equilibrium. Selden’s view: Selden has identified four major benefits that the idea brings to a society. First, she notes the importance of passive representation: “Passive representation is important because variations in demographic background are associated with differences in socialization experiences. Individuals’ attitudes and values are shaped by their background and socialization experiences. Consequently, bureaucrats with different value systems should behave differently”.

Lim’s view: Lim holds that even without minority bureaucrats intentionally advocating for the interests of their minority clients, passive representation can produce substantive benefits for clients, through unintentional changes in the behaviour of minority bureaucrats, changes in the behaviour of non-minority bureaucrats, and changes in the behaviour of clients.

Herman’s view: Herman argues that passive representation can produce benefits through better communication between the client and the bureaucrat, and can increase the likelihood that clients will utilize the services that the bureaucracy or the bureaucrat provides. Another benefit of representative bureaucracy is that “a bureaucracy that reflects the diversity of the general population implies a symbolic commitment to equal access to power. When members of distinctive groups become public officials, they become legitimate actors in the political process with the ability to shape public policy.” In other words, representative bureaucracy can lead to the legitimatization of government, which, in the modern sense, is good governance. This is because the legitimacy of the government will not be questioned if the citizens feel that they are well–represented in the bureaucracy. A representative bureaucracy signals that diverse communities have access to the policymaking process, leading to a greater governmental legitimacy.

iii. Strengthening of government

Riccucci’s view: With representative bureaucracy, governance is strengthened to the extent that governing structures are representative of the people.

Meier and Hawe’s view: They note that “a bureaucracy that accurately represents its citizens serves as a strong positive symbol that the governance regime is open and non-discriminatory.”

iv. Influences political agendas

Another benefit is that representative bureaucracy will influence how items are prioritized on the political agenda, as well as leading to effective policy outcomes.

Kranz’s view: He notes that representative bureaucracy will “lead not only to more democratic decision-making but to better decisions because it would expand the number and diversity of the views brought to bear on policymaking.”

Selden’s views: According to Selden, “a bureaucracy that reflects the demographic composition of society will incorporate a greater spectrum of opinions and preferences into the agenda-setting and decision-making processes and, as a result, should be more responsive to those groups.” If this is done, it will lead to an acceptable policy, which will, in turn, make policy implementation easy. Consequently, these groups with socialization processes and shared norms will support practices and initiatives that will lead to more effective policy outcomes. This incorporation of opinions can be easily achieved “since the agency representatives differed in background and outlook, they approached the problem from different angles and with different points of emphasis.”

v. Facilitates responsiveness of bureaucracy

Another widely–held idea is that representative bureaucracy leads to the promotion of better administrative responsibility by increasing the responsiveness of bureaucrats to the public. The search for responsiveness through representativeness implicitly supports administrative responsibility in the subjective sense, and is in keeping with the theory of representative bureaucracy. Scholars cogently argue that administrative responsibility may be enhanced in the bureaucracy in the sense that members of well–represented groups may be prevented from ignoring or minimizing the interests of under-represented groups. They fear a political backlash that could result in conflicts, which may affect the general development of the country. It is also believed that representative bureaucracy can lead to the resolution of ethnic conflicts, especially in societies where ethnicity and race are significant issues. Concisely, representative bureaucracy can lead to political stability in an ethnically-divided society through distributional equity in terms of national development.

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