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ASPA on the Move: History in the Making

This article ran
in the November/December 2010 print issue of PA TIMES. Contact Editor
Christine Jewett McCrehin ([email protected]) for more information on
how to receive the print issue.

Meredith Newman

I have asked a number of our ASPA leaders to share their reflections on a recent seminar that was hosted by the Chinese Academy of Governance (CAG) in Beijing. The theme of the conference was twofold: “Governmental Response to the Global Financial Crisis;” and “Encouraging Excellence in Public Administration Education and Training.” Our ASPA delegation was joined by the leadership of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences (IIAS), the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration (IASIA), the Network of Institutes and Schools of Public Administration of Central and Eastern Europe (NISPAcee) and CAG. The column begins with my (abbreviated) introductory remarks at the Academy, and follows with comments from members of our ASPA delegation. The purpose in focusing my column on this event is to illustrate a tangible outcome of our emphasis this year of “ASPA on the move–internationally,” and to highlight the “value-added” for our members.

Newman: On behalf of the ASPA officers, executive director, and the more than 8,000 members in over 70 countries, I am honored to participate in this historic joint seminar here in Beijing. This is an historic occasion for a number of reasons. Beyond the context, it is the first time that the leadership of many of the most prominent associations and institutions focused on public administration, governance, public service delivery, and public administration education and training are gathered together.

From the perspective of ASPA, it is historic in terms of the two MOUs ASPA will enter into with CAG and which will be signed here. It is historic also as we come together in Beijing not only as representatives of our respective associations but also, perhaps even especially, because this event provides another opportunity to renew and strengthen the relationships between us. These relationships are both personal and professional. Indeed, there may be less than six degrees of separation between us and our work. As an example, Pan Suk Kim is president of IIAS and co-chair of ASPA’s Action Team on International Outreach (and an FIU MPA alum!). This is all to say that because of these relationships, we can achieve much, including our agenda here this week–to engage in a rich dialogue on the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

It’s clear that the GFC is not experienced in the same way around the world. Australia is relatively robust (with a female Prime Minister for the first time!). China, Brazil and India are having their own economic successes. But it is also the case that the gap between the haves and have nots is widening, and at an unprecedented and accelerated pace. The UN MDGs, including social justice, gender equality and poverty reduction, remain elusive. The role of government is more important than ever, at a time when our citizens regard their governments with suspicion and distrust. The mid-term elections in the US last week are the latest example of widespread dissatisfaction and a sense of unmet expectations.

The relationships that we strengthen here, and our deeper understanding of government’s response to the GFC, and the centrality of education and training to a professionalized public service, have the potential to “make a difference” in our collective efforts. CAG, IIAS, IASIA, NISPAcee and ASPA and our members are well-placed to contribute to addressing the challenges that we face. We have a full agenda. Let’s get to work!

Antoinette Samuel: Building upon ASPA’s legacy: The participation of our ASPA delegation in the CAG Seminar is a true hallmark of our 2010 international outreach. As I think of our experience, I cannot help but think of Donald C. Stone. ASPA’s participation in this seminar exemplified, and was built upon, the legacy of Don Stone. Stone was a public administration pioneer and ASPA founder. For most of his remarkable career there was a dedication to the international development of public administration and its role in government reform, worldwide. Don’s role in reviving IIAS, his role in the development of IASIA, and his leadership of IASIA for so many years made this historical meeting personally and professionally significant. Specifically, our collaboration with IIAS and IASIA in the development of the Seminar was built upon a relationship instituted by Don Stone; and, our partnership with CAG embodied his own work in Asia and his belief in host country ownership of government reform.

In addition, an important aspect of our participation in the Seminar was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Chinese Academy of Governance and the Chinese Society of Administrative Reform (CSOAR). These two agreements mark a new level of mutual collaboration and cooperation in the practice, study and research of public administration between China and the United States. ASPA’s intent is to expand opportunities for our members, both academic and practitioners, to pursue their interest, share knowledge and expertise, and exchange smart practices in the pursuit of good governance.

As Dwight Ink noted, “Don Stone never gave up his passion for pressing forward with the cause of government reform…the enduring footprint of Don Stone leading to better government will be seen in many countries for years to come.” I firmly believe ASPA delegates to the Seminar added their footstep to this international endeavor towards good government!

Jennifer Alexander: Apart from the immediate topic of the conference, I wanted to discern what common ground the public administration scholars and practitioners in attendance might identify. Would our political affiliations be the source of insoluble differences in our perceptions of administrative roles and responsibilities? If we move to the abstract, the answer is no. Human beings have expressed an ageless and universal desire for a just and fair state to secure their wellbeing and happiness. We find it expressed in the words of Aeschylus and written in Chinese characters above the throne of the emperor in the Forbidden City: honesty, justice, harmony and kindness. In the immediate context, we find the interpretation of government responsibilities surprisingly similar. Governments are challenged by the GFC and seek resolutions that support their nation’s advantage. We are all stymied by slowed, if not stagnant economic growth, low economic productivity, rising unemployment and the specter of global warming. Also shared were the challenges presented by structural inequalities that have emerged in response to dramatic income differences. The Chinese are finding that the market economy has generated unequal access to schooling, housing and employment opportunities; a dynamic familiar to the United States.

But what of the challenges of the public administrator? A Chinese administrator who was organizing a conference on social policy sought our advice. “How can we adequately meet expanding welfare needs as the economy grows? How may we find better ways to provide for disadvantaged groups? As the Chinese government faces the challenges of a society that is dramatically changing with the forces of globalization and a market economy, how might we develop a more harmonious society?” And how do we improve the relationships between our public administrators and citizens, she asked?

The Chinese repeatedly stated the need for administrators to serve “wholeheartedly.” Effective administration both in China and the West requires something more than business-like skills; it requires a disposition of service to citizens forged from an understanding of history, our culture and political roles. Citizens are seeking responsive and accessible government that extends beyond distributive justice to address social inequities. They want accountability and transparency, and fair treatment at the hands of the state.

We have become painfully cognizant of how we are inextricably plugged into the global economy, a fragile environment, and the tragic choices of governments where we are not sovereign. It may well be the time for public administration to develop an international identity in response. Certainly, there is much to be gained from ongoing dialogue focused on the applied and immediate challenges.

Thomas Walkington: It is not often that one has the privilege of participating in an historic event. Such was the case at the recent international seminar hosted by CAG. It was a privilege to be an ASPA delegate to this event. It was a true reflection of collaboration in a global environment to improve collaboration among key international organizations focused on public administration and p.a. education and training. ASPA is clearly on the move, enhancing the profession of public administration in the United States and internationally.

Listening and interacting with delegates focused on enhancing the quality of public administration was intellectually stimulating and motivating. One highlight of the Seminar was the importance of leadership. I am reminded of a statement by Harland Cleveland, past president of ASPA and founding Dean of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs the University of Minnesota: “If you are serious about being a leader you should arrange to fall in love, early and often, with chaos and complexity.” The conference gave new meaning to the saying “think globally and act locally.”

Finally, one could not help but be impressed by the level of China’s commitment to improving public administration demonstrated by the system of p.a. training institutes across the country and CAG at the national level. ASPA’s signing of the MOUs with CAG will provide for future exchange of ideas and practices among scholars and practitioners alike and build bridges for future collaboration.

Jim Nordin: I was most impressed by three “nesses:” openness, graciousness and friendliness. I was extremely impressed with how seriously the Chinese take public service training. CAG trains thousands of civil servants each year. Public servants receive as much as three months training each year. The training includes the Chinese version of the “spirit of public service,” and also includes leadership, management and technical skills. The entire week was orchestrated flawlessly. It was a marvel of coordinated effort. Finally, I have not had the experience of being part of an historic event before. Being able to be present at the signing of the two MOUs was really very moving. During the Seminar, one of the speakers stated that NGOs can frequently accomplish things that governments cannot. The agreements we signed are examples of that. Our memoranda were signed in true friendship and mutual respect. It was an honor and a thrill to be part of that.

Tom Liou: The Seminar provided an excellent opportunity for leaders and experts to discuss the challenges of the GFC. As Vice-President of ASPA, I gave a presentation on Global Crisis and New Governance Challenges. Facing economic, environmental and public health related crises, governments today need to play different roles to promote economic growth. New governance challenges include changes of the global and information environment, and regulatory policy and management. It is important for us to emphasize innovative education, research and collaboration among domestic and international public administration associations and organizations. I am very pleased to learn that many of my arguments and concerns have also been emphasized by presenters from CAG and other associations. The signing of the MOU was a strategic move for our organizations to develop more collaborative activities for their members.

Maria P. Aristigueta: During the weeklong seminar at CAG, we heard from scholars and practitioners from around the world address the governmental response to the GFC. The sessions ended with a final discussion on promoting collaboration among associations of public administration through the world; not far from the theme of the next ASPA conference, Public Administration without Borders. As we encounter our new realities, we must recognize that the world’s interconnectedness affects our delivery of services and that there is much to be gained from collaborating with others in our field. I would like to encourage you to come to Baltimore with an open mind to hear research and practice from colleagues in Australia, China, Poland, the Netherlands, Estonia, Turkey, Morocco, South Korea, South Africa, India, Italy and many other countries (including our own country), to address some of our most pressing issues and provide public services during difficult economic times. I look forward to seeing all of you in Baltimore!

Steve Condrey: A Change is coming. It had been 12 years since I last visited Beijing. While tremendous infrastructure changes have reshaped the Beijing landscape in preparation for the Olympics and China’s embrace of entrepreneurship, another, more important change appears to be taking shape. This change is not infrastructure-based but people-based. My impression is that Chinese society is much more open than it was a decade ago. This openness is fueled by a growing middle class and a hard-working and extremely intelligent younger generation that is increasingly aware of the larger world around them.

What does all of this mean for public service? What does this new outward-looking China mean to ASPA? I believe it means several things for the practitioners, students and academics that call ASPA their intellectual home. CAG is eager to become more involved in the work that ASPA does. We expect that CAG and CSOAR leaders will be present at our annual conference in Baltimore. While the relationship between ASPA and CSOAR is just beginning, I can envision an exchange between the two organizations at the student, practitioner and academic level. More importantly, we are becoming acquainted with each other and the intangible benefits of such interactions cannot be underestimated.

A change is coming. One can only hope that it is change that recognizes the important role that public servants and public service can bring to the broader society in embrace of democratic values and institutions. ASPA’s members should take pride that we are at the forefront of this global phenomenon.

Newman: This historic event in Beijing contributes in a very significant way to positioning our Association at the highest levels of engagement and discourse on addressing the local and global challenges that confront us. This effort will continue with the signing of an MOU with NISPAcee during our conference in Baltimore. ASPA is on the move!

ASPA member Meredith Newman is the Society’s president and a professor and director of the department of public administration at Florida International University. Email: [email protected]

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