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Adaptive Strategies For Administrators—Part 2

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Ferd H. Mitchell and Cheryl C. Mitchell
May 15, 2015

It is difficult to be a practitioner in public administration today. Constant change makes effective administration more difficult. Financial pressures often limit the options that are available while adding more constraints. Organizations appear unable—or unwilling—to develop better approaches to dealing with such situations.

Administrators in the public sector often find it difficult to improve the decision-making processes that they use. Too often, there is awareness that better methods are needed for making effective decisions, but realistic strategies seem unavailable. There sometimes do not seem to be any practical strategies that can be applied in today’s settings.

In many situations, there is a gap between what is taught about public administration and the everyday needs faced by administrators. What seems to be needed is a better way to tie these two perspectives together.

As suggested in this series of columns, there are near-term approaches to improving organizational actions that are available—now—for all administrators. There are also longer-term strategies that may be pursued for the future.

The near-term adaptive strategies proposed here are based on the development—by individual administrators—of “knowledge bases” that may be maintained on smart phones, tablets and notebook computers. Each knowledge base can provide a series of “check-lists” that may be used daily to assess how an organization is operating and to develop problem-solving plans as issues are spotted.

There is often a general awareness of “what is going on,” but little documentation of organizational activities and status for personal use. Administrators typically make important observations and develop insights regarding their organizations every day—but do not turn this information into useful tools for decision-making.

With a checklist of “ways for observing” an organization on a daily basis, a focus may be provided for these observations and insights. The result can be an enhanced ability by administrators to “get the job done”—and also to demonstrate their skills.

These checklists may be based on a set of measures that are posted on a smartphone or computer platform and used to provide different ways for looking at public organizations. Each day, these measures may be used to track operations from different perspectives and make notes of observations relative to each measure.

When viewed over time, these notes can serve as an “early warning system” of possible problems that require attention. An administrative agenda may be developed and tracked over time. Issues may be spotted and appropriate actions considered.

The efforts by administrators then become more structured and a personal log may be maintained to support improved decision-making.

A good place to start is with a measure that tracks overall organizational performance, which is always a key consideration. One of the difficulties facing administrators today is that various measures of performance are often imposed externally, and may not be the best measures for actual accomplishments. The opportunity then exists to supplement any required measures with additional voluntary measures that show total performance from the point of view of the administrator.

Recognition cannot be earned if information about accomplishments is not shared with those doing evaluations. A custom knowledge base, maintained on a daily basis, is a natural resource for the demonstration of accomplishments. By scanning such a tracking system over time, an administrator may identify issues and describe the responsive actions that have been taken.

The implications of the various actions that have been taken may then be explained. By supporting more performance measures for evaluation, administrators may also demonstrate their grasp of the full organizational activities. The advantages of the custom knowledge base that is being maintained may also be shown to be a self-motivated effort to improve administrative performance.

We have recently finished preparation of a new book on Adaptive Administration—as part of the ASPA series in Public Administration and Public Policy by CRC Press. This book describes a longer-term viewpoint of how the practice of public administration may be enhanced and recognized by the public as an important area of expertise, and also provides more information on transition approaches (such as the strategy described here) that may be applied in the near term and will lead toward the longer-term approaches for the field.

For the rest of this year, these columns will explore more of the adaptive strategies that may be applied—today—by public administrators.

Up next month: Cooperation and Conflict as Organizational Measures.


Authors: Ferd Mitchell and his wife, Cheryl (MPA), are both attorneys and authors. They are partners at Mitchell Law Office in Spokane, Washington and work together on programs and activities related to health care and the elderly for over 30 years. Ferd Mitchell’s degrees include a DPA from the University of Southern California.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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