See linked pages:  Card from Honolulu || The SICA Page 
Conference of the American Society for Public Administration, Seattle, WA, May 9-12, 1998
The sub-field of international and comparative administration stands on the edge between
yesterday and tomorrow. Behind are the youthful years that saw its birth in the 1950s and its
recognition as a sub-discipline with the creation of the Section on International and Comparative
Administration in 1971. In these early years the emphasis was initially on the transfer of American
public administration based on assumptions of universal applicability. Later the focus shifted
toward exploring the distinctiveness of the sub-field. Those involved with international and
comparative administration, practitioners and academics alike, argued that their concerns with
managing international organizations, delivering foreign aid, or building the capacity of
developing-country bureaucracies are a world apart from the preoccupations of mainstream
American public administration. Operating within this world-view, the dominant strands of the
sub-field international administration, comparative administration, and development management
have matured, largely apart from developments in the broader discipline.
A number of recent events, both inside and outside the discipline, have raised questions about
whether this posture within the sub-field remains appropriate. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the
continued rapid growth in East Asia have brought forth countries and posed problems not
well-suited to international administration's traditional focus on bureaucracies in poor,
authoritarian, non-Western states. Similarly, new approaches to development assistance that
include policy reform, governmental down-sizing, privatization, partnerships, decentralization,
and increased bureaucratic accountability through increased democratization extend far beyond
development management's core emphasis on projects, training, and organizational capacity
building. And then there is globalization. Sweeping global trends are forcing public administrators
here in the US to confront such new issues as transnational organizations and cultural differences.
Yet these are matters that have long been of concern to administrators in other parts of the world.
Thus international and comparative administration stands on the edge of a new millennium facing something of a mid-life crisis. Can the sub-field confront the challenges of tomorrow using the methods, models, and mindsets of the past? If not, how should it adapt? What should be its motivating questions? And how, with the growing convergence of administrative concerns across national borders, should it relate to the broader discipline of public administration? These are the questions we wish to explore.
To stimulate this conversation, we present in this paper an initial set of brief musings that originate from various places around the globe. We selected these "postcards" because each of them presents a different perspective about the current questions and future directions for the sub-field. We hope you will find one or more of them sufficiently provocative to prompt your own postcard. Through this exchange of postcards we hope to stimulate a lively, yet thoughtful, discussion--both during the symposium and beyond--of how the sub-field would best respond to the challenges of the new millennium.
Although this workshop sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) is only about half over, I am a bit dazed. This meeting of signatories to
examine how to implement the Convention to Combat Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in
International Business Transactions has driven home for me the extent to which global trends are
creating a convergence of governance problems for countries around the world. Rich and poor
countries alike are increasingly facing a common set of problems. But even more this conference
has also left me more than a little concerned about whether the global community is really
prepared on a number of levels to respond in the concerted manner that problems of this sort
Take this workshop. Bribery and other forms of corruption are not new problems. But for a long time they were seen as domestic problems with each country tackling them in the ways they saw fit. But in this era of ever larger transnational corporations and ever greater commercial trade, a domestic focus on rooting out the bribe-takers is now seen to miss major features of the problem. Transnational corporations and their home countries are also heavily involved.
Corporations are as likely to offer bribes as a part of doing business as public officials are to take
them. Indeed, permissive tax laws or accounting conventions in a corporation's home country
seems to to crack down on foreign firms guilty of bribery if the likely consequence is corporate
flight from that country to a more easy-going locale. Thus like a host of other issues from global
warming to AIDS to immigration, bribery has been argued to be global problem demanding a
concerted global response. This was the motivation for the Convention on Combating Bribery and
for this meeting of signatory countries on how to ensure common interpretation and application of
its provisions. All well and good, but the discussion the last few days has left me wondering if we
are ready to move beyond superficial diplomacy to meaningful discussion of governance and
management issues across countries.
Or take the matter of information technology. Undoubtably there is convergence. Participants
here from Niger to Nepal and from Uruguay to the Ukraine have e-mail addresses. Indeed, at
dinner tonight someone suggested setting up an e-mail discussion list so that this group can
continue to share ideas after the meetings are done. Another raised the possibility of an even
wider discussion list on international corruption issues that would involve academics, lawyers,
business people as well as civil servants. "Just think," this fellow chortled, "if we have such a list I
can send out questions and get back useful suggestions without having to pay high fees to visiting
consultants." A third participant raised the possibility of getting the OECD to establish a web-site
that would contain a range of resources on combating corruption. I found this whole discussion
quite amazing. Less because of the actual proposals and more because of the reach of information
technology and its ready--almost uncritical-- acceptance as a management solution.
Then on the way out of the dining room, I overheard snippets of other conversations. Everywhere evidence of a convergence of public concerns and governance responses. A customs official from the Czech Republic and a vice-minister of finance from Cte d'Ivoire were discussing the impact of the European Monetary Union and the move to a single currency next year. At another table, several participants were exchanging war stories about the difficulties of pursuing privatization programs. But what struck me during the elevator ride to my room--and prompted me to write--was my sense of unease. We see these global trends out there; we see the convergence it creates. We can even talk about what's going on, at least superficially. But we really seem to lack the tools and the language to engage in the kinds of meaningful global dialogue and shared analysis we need if we are to respond effectively to the problems we all face.
Postcard from Seoul, South Korea
This Asian financial crisis could not have come at a more inopportune time. The contraction in
investment and growth throughout the region has been bad enough. But the need to seek
assistance from the IMF and other donors is, in many ways, even more worrisome. Just at the
point we had been making significant progress demonstrating the existence--and the viability--of a
distinct Asian approach to economic and political development, we must turn, hat in hand, to the
The underlying problem is the hegemony, especially the intellectual hegemony, of the West. Whether the focus is economics or public administration, the strong tendency among Americans and Europeans is assume that everything works exactly the same way around the world. But that is not so. In the realm of economics, the West for some time believed that the East Asian Miracle' was the result of adhering to Western orthodoxy: maintain a stable economy, pursue free-trade, and allow the private sector to operate with minimal state interference. However, as numerous analysts have shown--and the World Bank has grudgingly admitted--the hallmark of the Asian approach is more appropriately seen as active state direction of the economy through a variety of means including protection of domestic markets and selective support to favored industries.
The same situation exists within the realm of public administration. The dominant theories and approaches are all Western in origin and orientation, whether you are speaking of the classics--such as Toqueville's analysis of democratic governance or Weber's treatment of bureaucratic organization--or more contemporary concerns for re-engineering, privatization, and post-modern public administration. Unfortunately, when these theoretic lenses are used to examine Asian public management they produce only a distorted image that does not capture the essence of our internal interactions or those with the private sector and with the people as a whole. Worse, those Asians sent to the West for advanced training in public administration return imbued with the West's dominant theories. Thus those to whom we might turn to help explain and defend our administrative approaches lack the conceptual language to do so.
As we face the conditions attached to financial assistance from the IMF and the other donors, we are left in a very vulnerable situation. If we are unable to defend our Asian administrative approach, we risk being overwhelmed with Western orthodoxy. What we sorely need in Asia is the emergence of theories and concepts better adapted to expressing what is distinctive about our governance arrangements. What we also need is for Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, to inject more international or comparative perspectives into their public administration curriculum. Perhaps exposure to a broader range of administrative practices will force the West to recognize its uniqueness and reduce its intellectual hegemony.
Postcard from Bamako, Mali
Thirty years of authoritarian rule in Mali ended in 1992 with the accession to power of the country's first democratically elected leader, Alpha Oumar Konare. Like leaders of many other countries engaged in political and economic transitions, President Konare and senior government officials need to take actions on two fronts simultaneously. They must establish efficient public administration in the face of a sclerotic public service, few rewards for performance or creativity, limited resources, and an ongoing structural adjustment program. At the same time they must both broaden and regularize popular participation in public decision-making and establish systems and procedures for accountability and transparency.
As is also true in many other emerging democracies around the world, Malian citizens have high expectations of democratizing government, but have little direct experience with a state that is not autocratic, over-centralized, and remote. Nor do they grasp the democratic concepts embodied in the new constitution, such as the separation of powers among the executive branch, the legislature, and the judiciary.
Civil society has blossomed in post-1992 Mali, with a proliferation of associations, indigenous NGOs, and groupings at the local and national levels. Reveling in their new-found ability to express their views, these civil society groups constitute a vociferous source of demand for faster change, better services, more economic opportunities, greater autonomy, and increased responsiveness. Public officials are struggling to cope, feeling their way as they seek to chart a new path toward democratic governance. The government has experimented with new approaches to policy formation, often convening "reflection days" that assemble individual citizens, community groups, public officials, and politicians for discussion and debate. The president has committed to an ambitious decentralization program designed to increase government responsiveness, allocate new powers and responsibilities to local levels, and empower citizens. Mali's public administration carries a heavy legacy from the past and reforming the old ways is a slow process. In many sectors, there is a mismatch between public agencies' structures, operating procedures, and staff capacities, and the new governance policy mandates.
In Mali, as in many other countries around the globe, democratization is posing new challenges for the public sector. Distant, autocratic administration is inconsistent with democratic governance. But liberalizing the political process and promoting popular legitimacy does not guarantee either reasonable demands from citizens or accountability from bureaucrats. A new balance must emerge because a democracy without operational administrative capacity is an empty shell.
Postcard from New York City, New York
The globalization of economic activity has perforated the jurisdictional boundaries along which public administration has been organized. National, state, and local governments have seen their traditional functions, powers, and authority leak away as the new international economic order has become established as the dominant factor in the public as well as the private sector. The features of this new economic order are well known: the dominance and independence of transnational corporate investment, interconnected markets, and emphasis on export trade and competitive advantage, unfettered international financial flows, and rapid communication. New contours have superseded the old boundaries. At the supranational level, trading arrangements, such as GATT, WTO, NAFTA, etc., configure economic relationships among nations. At the local level, economic empowerment zones, regional development authorities, direct overseas links, and so on shape new forms of public-private interaction. What Coolidge said of the US in the 1920's, that "the business of America is business," is true of the world in the 1980's and 90's. Successful public administration creates a climate that supports business investment and export growth. The lessons for comparative public administration are clear. Consider this comparison between the East Asian tigers, with efficient, modernizing civil services and investment-friendly policies, and Sub-Saharan Africa, with its weak states and poor policy frameworks.
[Insert Table about here]
Socio-economic betterment depends upon successful integration into the new world economic order. Governments at all levels and in all countries can learn from watching where investment, trade, and growth flourish. For public administration, less is definitely more.
Postcard from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or Earth Summit, held in Rio in 1992 was an important milestone in the emergence of civil society as a partner in environmental governance. This does not include just the international NGO community. In countries like Brazil indigenous civil society groups are playing an increasing role not simply in environmental management, but in service delivery, and in policy advocacy and lobbying across a range of sectors. Managing the public sphere of activities, the traditional mandate of government agencies at the national, state, and local levels, no longer belongs solely to the public sector. The twenty-first century will be decisive for humankind; environmental degradation, the gap between rich and poor, population growth, social and ethnic tensions, and regional political conflicts all pose serious challenges. Solving these problems demands shared and complementary action by governments and public agencies, private enterprise, civil society groups and NGOs, and individuals.
Partnerships are an indispensable key to managing the public sphere--i.e., governance, broadly defined--and to devising solutions that can ensure the development, well-being, security, and sustainability of the populations of the world. Partnerships among governments are necessary, but far from sufficient. Partnerships are also needed that combine civil society actors--professional, educational, scientific, and business associations; community and grassroots movements; advocacy groups--with each other, with government, and with the private sector at multiple levels. The seeds planted at the Earth Summit are beginning to bear fruit. New governance arrangements are emerging that redefine the roles of all the partners and that call for both new and old management skills.
Public administration needs to move beyond the simplistic nostrums of the New Public Management imposed by the North, which ape the tools of business, pander to the needs of international capital, and reduce citizens to customers. Solving the governance problems of the future cannot be done with one-size-fits-all approaches. Civil society and the Southern NGO community represent rich resources to draw upon for a public administration that is efficient, effective, sustainable, and empowering.
Postcard from Washington, DC
"International and comparative administration," at least as it is commonly understood, is an anachronism. Excuse me for being so blunt, but at my age I'm allowed to call'em as I see'em. I cut my teething during the CAG years and witnessed the evolution from development administration to development management to managing policy change. In those early years, when the distinctions between the First, Second, and Third Worlds were more stark and when the administrative problems confronting each grouping were more disparate, identifying a specialized sub-field of comparative and international administration made sense. Then, for example, the principal concerns of the developing world--one-party rule, threats of coups and insurgency, casting off colonialism, and managing economic development projects--were of a markedly different order than those at the center of attention in the West. But in the intervening years changes around the globe and the evolution of development practice have both worked to undermine the coherence of the sub-field.
The effects of global trends are obvious. The combined forces of globalized trade and investment, cultural homogenization, economic liberalization, and democratization have largely dissolved the boundaries between the three "worlds" and have standardized the administrative environment around the world. And as the objects of comparative administration have become less exotic, so has the practice. Over the years, the emphasis on development projects--both discrete and integrated--has given way first to a focus on managing ongoing programs and then to reforming the policy space in which bureaucracies operate and programs are implemented. Yet this current interest in the interplay between politics, policy, and administration has been the way students of public administration have been proceeding in North America and Western Europe for decades. If it is not the objects or the means that makes comparative administration distinct, then what's left. Surely not the process-oriented tools (stakeholder analysis, backward-mapping) that are often employed. These tools are really quite generic and are as applicable in Miami as they would be in Maputo or Moscow. And finally, whatever may have been distinctive about international administration--taken to mean the management of supra-national bodies such as United Nations agencies--has vanished. The management task in international bureaucracies is not fundamentally different from those found in large, national bureaucracies. In short, the traditional concerns of comparative and international administration are largely irrelevant in this new environment. Finding that the world and the broader discipline have largely passed it by, it is little wonder that the sub-field is having a mid-life crisis of identity.
This is not to say that there is no need for comparative studies of administration and governance. On the contrary, such analysis is needed now more than ever in our more globalized world. And indeed such analysis is being done, just not within the parameters of the traditional perspectives. These next-generation studies tend to be organized around questions and problems and to draw on data or cases from all over the globe for insights. This more broadly comparative, conceptually richer, and analytically more rigorous approach is the future. The traditionalists have contributions to make to the next-generation of studies, but only if they re-tool and re-focus.
Caiden, Gerald E. and Bun Woong Kim, eds. 1991. A Dragon's Progress: Development Administration in Korea. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press.
Heady, Ferrel. 1996. Public Administration: A Comparative Perspective, 5th ed. New York: Marcel Dekker.
Heady, Ferrel. 1998. "Comparative and International Public Administration: Building Intellectual Bridges," Public Administration Review 58: 32-39.
Korten, David C. 1997. "The Responsibility of Business to the Whole," The Text .
Riggs, Fred W. 1998. "Public Administration in America: Why Our Uniqueness Is Exceptional and Important," Public Administration Review 58: 22-31. See the full DRAFT.
Welch, Eric and Wilson Wong. 1998. "Public Administration in a Global Context: Bridging the Gaps of Theory and Practice Between Western and Non-Western Nations," Public Administration Review 58: 40-49.
S. Tjip Walker Department of Political Science
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
e-mail: Tjip Walker
phone: 704-547-4527 / fax: 704-547-3497
See linked page:  Card from Honolulu || The SICA Page