Social Equity in Public Administration

Written by: Brandi Blessett, Jennifer Dodge, Beverly Edmond, Holly T. Goerdel, Susan T. Gooden, Andrea M. Headley, Norma M. Riccucci, and Brian N. Williams

Social equity is a perennial Minnowbrook theme. Indeed, there is a rich, historical connection between the Minnowbrook meetings and the development of social equity in public administration (Frederickson 1990; Gooden and Portillo 2011). This connection was developed further by a group of scholars and practitioners who came together at Minnowbrook at 50 to discuss social equity in public administration research, teaching, and practice. Members of this group included Brandi Blessett (University of Cincinnati), Jennifer Dodge (University at Albany), Beverly Edmond (University of Montana), Holly T. Goerdel (University of Kansas), Susan T. Gooden (Virginia Commonwealth University), Andrea M. Headley (The Ohio State University), Norma M. Riccucci (Rutgers University), and Brian N. Williams (University of Virginia).

Over the weekend, our group had a long and rich discussion about social equity and how it is (and is not) manifest in public administration research and practice. Despite decades-long efforts of policies, practices, and programs designed to promote equity in public administration, both the scholarly and professional sides of the field still face many challenges.

On the scholarly side, social equity is often called the third pillar of public administration. However, unlike the other two pillars (efficiency and economy), it has not been well integrated into research or teaching at the course, let alone curricular, levels.

On the professional side, public sector inequities and disparities based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, and gender identity abound in education, health, housing, criminal justice, and myriad other policy areas. These inequities and disparities result in detrimental harms for subjugated and marginalized communities.

Moreover, the practice of creating diverse and inclusive workforces in government and academia has been a challenge. Women and people of color are underrepresented in certain sections of the public sector and academia in part because they are concentrated in others. There also are discrepancies within and across geographic areas, as well as in terms of inclusion, compensation, retention, and promotion to senior positions and levels.

Following these discussions, our group quickly found common ground. We all agreed that as a discipline and practice, we have not adequately anchored social equity to the foundation of public administration, and thus a call to action is warranted. Before we present the call we development, we recap our thinking on the issue.

First, to better anchor social equity to the foundation of public administration, the field of public administration must recognize that research and teaching can have substantial impacts on the public sector workforce and its outcomes. Scholars broadly examine, question, theorize, and ultimately, seek to understand the public sector. Educators’ seek to prepare the future of the public service by equipping them with the educational knowledge and tools needed for the workplace.

Second, the field needs more research on understudied topics such as class inequities, disability, age, and intersectionality, among others. It also needs more required equity courses in public affairs programs, as well as the expansion of equity initiatives at the federal, state, and local level.

Finally, scholars and practitioners must (re)commit to a set of principles that focus on ways to incorporate social equity in research, teaching, and practice in public administration. We articulate these principles in the Minnowbrook at 50 Social Equity Manifesto, which we invite you to read and sign.


Frederickson, H. George. 1990. Public Administration and Social Equity. Public Administration Review, 50(2): 228-237.

Gooden, Susan T. and Shannon Portillo. 2011. Advancing Social Equity in the Minnowbrook Tradition. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21(Supplement 1): i61-i76.