Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Public Administration: The Refinery of Democracy

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

By Lisa Saye
September 11, 2023

Democracy is anything but rarified. It is cured through the elective process, within the representative process and through the many balanced measures used to ensure social justice. Public Administration encompasses the breadcrumbs of democracy and each dribble is a way home and a way forward for the citizens we serve. Democracy is refined through the practice of public administration. It has survived over time against a basket of other political ideologies that were more personal than productive. Public Administration has become democracy’s local custodian and this is true wherever you find a real democracy.

What is a real democracy? Well, for one thing, real is as relative as geography to any one person on earth. For Americans, one may look in the Federalist Papers for answers about what constitutes real democracy. At least four of those particular writings reference the Teke Peninsula’s Lycian League in Lycia, Türkiye. The league was composed of 23 cities and is the first known democratic federation governing and administrating as early as the 2nd Century B.C. Notably, Lycia’s concepts of rule by a national civilian government and political representation in proportion to the population resemble the current U.S. federal government and the U.S. House of Representatives, respectively. It is no surprise that founders of any nation look to tried and true best practices of other nations for inspiration. Effective and productive democracies fold best practices into their particular narrative of government. In this sense, democracy becomes the structure while public administration becomes what we carry around with us manifested through free selection of representatives, political and social accountability and equal rights and justice.

It goes without saying that public service is a feature of public administration and that democracy is not perception. Indeed, democracy is not a matter of taste, but rather it is a matter of flexibility and trust. Paved roads, a dependable social safety net, access to education, employment, housing, justice and a clean environment are still parts of the major tapestry of good government. Refining and re-finding these core characteristics are part of the journey of good public management. Wreckage and appetite have no place in public service witnessed by the fact that truly committed public employees have kept public administration from going the route of the passenger pigeon.

Public management is about limiting or correcting loss. It is the stratified operation that observes and anticipates the human condition by managing people, policy and capital. The human condition impacts public management’s reach. In every era that churns out thoughts on democracy, one cannot be shocked to learn about certain common trends that arise within every political generation. Public management historically returns to what managing looks like when public employees care about the welfare of the population.

I think we erred when we talked about a new normal following the Covid-19 pandemic. The term is so common that we couldn’t wait to use it once cities, parks, airports, businesses and governments opened once again to the public. What Covid-19 really ushered in is a new different. Whether it is the slow, but certain return to the office, the new hybrid work options, the insistence on wage and benefit increases by workers or the unmasking of everywhere – the current environment calls for operational creativity that public managers confess has been relentless on-the-job-training. Public management as a one-sided inbox-exercise is a sub-headline. A wide-radius of possibilities for government sustainability under unimaginable circumstances has emerged and those with the ability to remember and to forget will be called on to lead next time. And, there will be a next time because this is how democracies learn and why places like Lycia, Africa, Greece, Bharat or the U.S. can never be the end of the story.  

The amount of history democracy provides for public service to work well is vast and fundamental. We forget that democracy is a fiefdom of debate, discussion and compromise. We’ve begun to think of it as more about L’s and W’s. This is crystal clear when we take inventory of the political coma we have been suffering from, not to mention the spiritual and social sleep we have accepted to be burdened with. Public Administration can process democracy back into the visible and useful public goods that moves governments and changes lives. In a furnace of practice, equality and compassion, we can add our efforts to the collective journey of service. Every step can be the next step in the right direction as we embrace the new different that stands ready to challenge us.

The @ Work-Works image was taken and titled by Lisa Saye.

Author: Dr. Lisa Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. She also served as Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities and as Associate Professor of Public Administration at American University Afghanistan. Dr. Saye can be reached by email at [email protected].

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *