Integrative Public Administration

Written by: Julia L. Carboni

Our group – the largest at the conference – included Dustin Brown (U.S. Office of Management and Budget & Volcker Alliance), Julia Carboni (Syracuse University), Todd Dickey (Syracuse University), Kirk Emerson (University of Arizona), Stephanie Moulton (The Ohio State University), Sean O’Keefe (Syracuse University), Rosemary O’Leary (University of Kansas), Suzanne Piotrowski (Rutgers University), Tom Ross (Volcker Alliance), and Jodi Sandfort (University of Minnesota). We all came together in response to the rather provocative comment, “Let’s blow up the field!”

We recognized that fifty years after Minnowbrook I, there is still disconnect between public administration scholarship, practice, and education. As an academic community associated with the discipline of public administration, our research agenda is becoming increasingly distant from the challenges identified by practitioners in the community. Matters of social, economic, and management policy that are reflections of public values are often disconnected from academic research agendas. Moreover, we are failing to incorporate knowledge and information from other fields into our research and recommendations for practice.

Rather than take an incremental approach, this group debated about how to completely reset the public affairs agenda to one that is more relevant to the challenges of the day. Instead of “muddling through” (Lindblom 1959), we landed on “blowing up the field” as a metaphor for expanding and integrating across boundaries to make public administration more relevant. The academic community needs to frame research agendas in ways that more closely align with the problems, issues, and opportunities identified by public service practitioners, professional communities, and the public at large, and in ways that better reflect the delivery of public services and formation, implementation, and evaluation of public policy.

Within public administration and other related academic fields, such as political science, economics, and sociology, research questions are more often inspired by theory than by events on the ground. Indeed, research outcomes reflect the discipline and rigor that the academic community can bring to bear on the treatment of such questions. Practitioner-inspired research questions more often emerge from public policy research centers, think tanks, and policy advocacy groups. To the extent faculty are engaged with such research venues, the relationship to practical, current issues is more closely aligned. Similarly, the nexus between public practitioners and the academic communities is most often in the realm of professional development and student education. Thus, we also included discussion about preparing students with skills and tools to address contemporary public policy challenges.

In integrative public administration, there is room for those who heed Waldo’s call for practical and normative relevance and for those who heed Simon’s call for a separation between research and practice. We call on scholars to address complex puzzles related to public values and the administrative state and make connections among the three pillars of the professorship by integrating research, practice, and teaching. These pillars should be built on a foundation of pragmatist principles focused on understanding and solving problems in the spirit of inquiry that acknowledges none of these pursuits - even research- is value free (Ansell 2007, 2011). Furthermore, as a field that draws upon many disciplines, we see PA as integrative in the sense that it pulls knowledge from disciplines and applies it to practical problems and vice versa to integrate theory and practice in a wide-ranging fashion. This integrative approach puts scholars at the nexus of scholarship and practice and is rooted in the idea that we need a strategic approach to improving the social contract, governance, and policy implementation. By shifting from a siloed multidisciplinary field to an integrative field, we will improve the relevance of scholarly work to the wider social science community and the practice community without sacrificing our scholarly rigor.


Ansell, Christopher K. 2007. Pragmatist Philosophy and Interactive Research. In G. Gjelstrup and E. Sorenson (eds.), Public Administration in Transition: Theory – Practice, Methodology. Copenhagen, DK: DJOF Publishing.

Ansell, Christopher K. 2011. Pragmatist Democracy: Evolutionary Learning as Public Philosophy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Lindblom, Charles E. 1959. The Science of “Muddling Through.” Public Administration Review, 19(2): 79-88.