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Adaptive Strategies for Administrators—Part 3

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
June 19, 2015

managers 2In this series of columns, we are examining possible ways that public administrators can become more effective in sizing up the problems that face their organizations and taking steps to deal with these problems.

The rapid changes taking place in the public sector make understanding problems a more complex task and the need for new strategies to resolve more urgent. Financial pressures seem to be increasing constantly, making it more difficult to “do what needs to be done” with the available resources.

There is often a gap between the principles and theories of public administration and the application of these insights to real-world situations. Improvements in “how-to-do-it” methods can help reduce the struggles to apply general concepts to specific situations.

In Part 1 of this series, we suggested daily tracking of operations, in terms of identifying key measures and developing individualized “knowledge bases” for administrators. As a result, potential issues can be can be identified from these daily records.

Various techniques can be used to identify important organizational issues based on these daily records. Appropriate actions also may be planned based on those issues and records.

There is value in preparing daily records that are customized for personal use and targeted to defining issues and looking for appropriate actions. Various methods may be used to link issues to effective problem-solving strategies.

These daily records may be kept on a smartphone, tablet or desk-top computer as part of ongoing administrative efforts. Initial lists of key measures may be adjusted to fit the situation, based on experience.

In Part 2, we suggested that indicators of organizational performance are a good place to start with record-keeping. Both required and personalized ways of measuring performance may be included. Several possible performance measures were listed, including the quality and numbers of services provided; actual and budgeted expenditures (usually required); internal and external changes taking place that affect the organization and the various adaptations to change that are made.

The idea is to measure performance in both required and personalized ways that allow an administrator to better present his or her job activities and accomplishments and to demonstrate the effectiveness of the efforts.

Another way to describe organizational operations is cooperation and conflict being experienced by the organization. Cooperation may often be used as an indicator of how well individuals and organizations are working together to enhance services and increase productivity. Conflict may sometimes be used as an indicator of the dysfunctional use of resources, but may also lead to more creative results where constructive conflict leads to improved operations.

Efforts to improve operations in response to change may sometimes be accompanied by cooperation, redirecting efforts. However, such efforts to improve operations can also lead to conflict, as new ways for viewing problems and solutions encounter established “ways for doing things.” Thus, cooperation and conflict as organizational measures can help describe the changes that are being faced and how administrative challenges are met.

Internal conflict may be damaging to an organization unless corrective efforts can limit the impact. External conflict may be damaging to relationships with the public and other organizations, or may indicate how improvements in services are pressuring adaptations that will lead to better results.

Internal and external cooperation and conflict are thus measures that can be very descriptive of an organization’s activities. By treating these measures as tracking indicators, daily records can be strengthened for spotting issues and developing possible strategies to improve administrative outcomes. By using these measures, administrators can better track the day-to-day changes in their organizations, identify issues and develop timely strategies.

There is a strength that comes with such daily tracking: to gain a better perspective of the activities taking place over a period of time. The ability to track the evolution of these measures can provide new insights, allow improvements in decision-making and lead to better outcomes.

Much more may be learned about an organization and its operations by developing profiles over time. Daily records that include information about performance accomplishments and cooperation and conflict can reveal useful insights for all administrators.

We have recently finished preparation of a new book on Adaptive Administration, which is going to be published soon—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. The book also provides more information on near-term transition approaches, such as the strategies described here. These columns will explore more of the adaptive strategies that may be applied—today—by public administrators.

Up next month: Organizational rigidity and flexibility as key 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’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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