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Democracy—Yearning to Breathe Free

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

By Lisa Saye
April 18, 2021

Haiti Beyond (Port-au-Prince, Haiti), 2013. Photo © by Lisa Saye

As always, this article is commercial free. Brevity is central to effective communication and so is clarity. Governments search for ways to deliver clear communication to citizens with each encounter and within the solution to each public issue and concern. These should be the natural tendencies of government and ones that operate from a space of inclusion and collaboration.

Democracy’s bio never ends. From its ancient beginnings to its centuries of implementation across cultures and societies, democracy has survived the test of time, tragedy and change. Its greatest victories are when it has sorted out the malaise of disorder and inequality highlighting, as it does, the right to think, but not the right to destroy.

Public Administration moves in tandem with science. It is the genuine cultural memory of a particular era and recognizes that the first casualties of poor public service are the citizens who rely on it. Public administrators know that inequality and injustice have never been a functional part of effective government. They are also keenly aware that public service derives its greatest strength in working to create a real meritocracy in the dissemination of public goods aided by the fact that rights are universal.

Democracy plays a major role in the ability of public administrators to govern and to manage. As such, democracy cannot be seen as more or less. It must be applied within its core facets of stability, equality, representation and justice. Public service is not an elastic hypothesis that may or may not be needed. In effect, it is the sober and critical action of dedicated public employees who are intent on doing good. It is a continuous dialogue between government and the citizenry representing the truest indicator of government will.

The COVID era leaves behind permanent changes in society’s social infrastructure. Its stalls, twists and unexpected turns reminds us of our capacity to lead. The expected close contact between government and the citizenry has become greatly scheduled and measured in feet and inches. Virtual Apps provide a way to address concerns once easily and quickly handled in person. Citizen input into these apps create data that helps to design responses and create new models of service. The question becomes, how useful and meaningful will this data be in government and agency planning going forward?

Government is supposed to be rational. Its budgets and funding mechanisms must be accounted for. A beneficial discussion around the way to do this is an inconvenient fact of politics, but one that is never exhausted. Public service is an important resource in any budget discussion. In a fair and equal democracy, governments attract, hire and retain employees who understand how to spend a dollar and how to squeeze a nickel. When governments fill positions based on personal or political aspects that often support the worst outcomes, public service becomes blurred and later it can become invisible. Public service cannot be a portrayal of polite theatre. It must instead be highly functional and created out of a desire for order and efficiency. Thus, public service positions should be taken, given and received with the seriousness that highly functional positions require.

Government is not a big slab of concrete, windows and parking decks. In its history it has been a flawed model subsidized by mistakes and missteps. Stable governments reject the flaws that decrease democracy and work to lessen the pains and disruptions caused in the lives of the people it serves. To continue to do so, the tone of government must be harmonized by public servants eager to eliminate the varying degrees of social, political and economic barriers limiting the breath of the citizenry.

I would like to warn public administrators about the crisis of democracy, but I won’t. I won’t do it because democracy seems to always be in some sort of crisis within any era it’s administered. That is the usual posture of something undergoing change so that is understood. Democracy is not the day’s bargain—it’s the peoples’ choice. Our challenge in the current environment is to fill the voids in government that arise in the lives of our most precious resources. Our goal should be to reject pre-packaged content when unfavorable to the historical advance of solid policy implementation. As craftsman, we must protect the soul of government and the dignity of the public. We are called to work toward the lofty goals embedded in the civil service. The world will long remember how well we did.

The copyrighted image, Haiti Beyond, was taken and titled by Lisa Saye in July, 2013.


Author: Lisa Saye teaches Applied Research Methods for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at DePaul University. Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. Dr. Saye earned her Master’s in Human Resource Management at Troy University and her Doctorate in Public Administration at The University of Alabama. She can be reached by email at [email protected]

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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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