Definition, Characteristics, Nature, Scope, and Facts of Public Administration

Definition, Characteristics, Nature, Scope, and Facts of Public Administration

What is Administration?

Administration is a universal process and must exist in any organization set up for a defined purpose or objective. Whether we think of the church, the army, a university, an industrial or business concern or a purely social organization, there has to be administration because each one consists of human beings brought together in a hierarchical set-up, making use of tools, equipment, human and material resources, all in the quest to attain the objective for which the organization is established.

Thus administration is seen as a process of management which is practiced by all kinds of organizations from the household to the most complex system of government. This is the reason why administration is a generic term. Let us consider some definitions of administration as conceived by some writers. Administration is the organization and direction of human and material resources to achieve desired ends.

Administration is the organization and direction of persons in order to accomplish a specified end

Administration is determined action taken in pursuit of a conscious purpose. It is the systematic ordering of affairs and the calculated use of resources aimed at making those things happen which one wants to happen – (Marx, 1964). Administration is the organization and use of men and materials to accomplish a purpose.

The two features of administration are

(a) Cooperative efforts

(b) Pursuit of common objectives.

Administration is thus concerned with organization of men and materials to achieve desired ends. Administration consists of ‘doing the work’ or ‘getting the work done by the others’. There are three commonalities for any comprehensive definition of administration; goals, limited resources, and people goals -they give purposiveness of an organization.

Limited resources – economic resources are scarce, so administrators have to allocate resources for efficient utilization to achieve stated goals.

Administration involves cooperative efforts to achieve the objectives of the organization. Administration may be private or public. When it refers to the activities of a household, corporation or company, it is private administration, but when it refers to the activities of the state as being undertaken by the central, provincial or local government, it is called public administration.


Definition of Public Administration

Public administration is the art and science of management as applied to the affairs of state. Woodrow Wilson defined public administration as “detailed systematic execution of public law, every particular application of general law is an act of administration.

Public administration is the fulfillment or enforcement of public policy as declared by the competent authorities. It deals with the problem and powers, the organization and techniques of management involved in carrying out the laws and policies formulated by the policy-making agencies of government. Public administration is law in action. It is the executive side of government.

Public administration is that part of the science of administration which has to do with Government and thus concerns itself primarily with the executive branch where the work of the government is done.

Public administration has come to signify primarily the organization, personnel, practices and procedures essential for effective performance of the civilian functions entrusted to the executive branch of government.

More comprehensive meaning and definition of public administration is as follows:

a. Public Administration is cooperative group effort in a public setting.

b. Covers all three branches – executive, legislative and judicial and their relationships

c. Has an important role in the formulation of public policy and is thus a part of the political process.

d. Is more important than, and also different in significant ways from private administration.

e. As a field of study and practice has been much influenced in recent years by the human relations approach.

f. Is closely associated with numerous private groups and individuals in providing services to the community.

Public administration is decision-making, planning the work to be done, formulating objectives and goals, working with the legislative and citizens organizations to gain public support and funds for government programmes, establishing and revising organizations, directing and supervising employees, providing leadership, communicating and receiving communications, determining the work methods and procedures, appraising performance, exercising controls, and other functions performed by government, the means by which the purposes and goals of government are realized.

All of these definitions identify public administration with:

• The formulation and implementation of public policies.

• The executive branch of government.

• Organizational structures and machinery of administration.

• Administrative processes.

• Bureaucracy and its activities.

• Coordination of group activity or social relationship.

• Interaction between organization and their environment.

Public administration is the contested bureaucratic machinery of the government for implementing its laws and policies in action, e.g. the collection of revenues, maintenance of law and order, running the railways and postal services, are all acts of administration.

However, the objective of public administration is the most efficient utilization of the resources at the disposal of officials and employees (this includes material, equipment, human resources).

In the study of public administration, emphasis is on the notion of efficiency – focus on how to improve the machinery of government for effective and efficient service delivery.


Basic Components of Public Administration

The basic components of public administration include:

1. Public policy

2. Ecology

3. Local government administration

4. Human resources and personnel management


Aim and Objectives of Public Administration

• A closer focus on results in terms of efficiency and effectiveness and service quality.

•The replacement of highly centralized hierarchical organizational structures with decentralized management environments, where decisions on resource allocation and service delivery are taken closer to the point of delivery, and which provide scope for feedback from clients and other interest groups.

• Flexibility to explore alternatives to direct public provision, which might provide more cost-effective policy outcomes. 

• New personnel management policies to provide greater flexibility in the deployment of staff (e.g. through multi-skilling).

• The use of mechanisms to improve performance (such as performance contracting) and the creation of competitive and market environment within and between public sector organizations.

• Incentives to improve performance (or at least removing disincentives) through enabling organizations to retain a portion of savings from improved performance

• The strengthening of strategic capacities at the center to ‘steer” government to respond to external changes and diverse interests quickly, flexibly and at least cost.

• Greater accountability and transparency through requirements to report on results.


Characteristics of Public Administration

The main characteristics or features of public administration include:

1. The primacy of ends, goals or objectives

2. The interlocking relationship between policy and formulation and policy implementation roles

3. The integrative role of organization

4. The interposition of values and ethics

5. The intrusion of economic values

1. The primacy of ends, goals or objectives: The source and origin of administration are the ends which are meant to be served.

2. The interlocking relationship between policy and formulation and policy implementation roles: From the broad goals identified, policies are formulated and then implemented. Although the political class sometimes lays claim to exclusive control of the policy formulation process, administrators have a vital role to play in the areas of policy analysis, fact-gathering, and options identification, all of which will finally lead to formulation of policy.

3. The integrative role of organization: Even when policies are conceived and formulated outside the framework of organizations, the implementation generally takes place in bureaucratic organizations or in ‘programme’ or matrix organizations. It is in such organizations that human and material resources are coordinated and deployed to achieve policy objectives.

4. The interposition of values and ethics: Although administration is a universal concept, its practice tends to be conditioned by values prevailing at any particular time and place.

5. The intrusion of economic values: If public administration was originally concerned in the main with political values and objectives, it now has to accommodate economic values in view of its intervention in economic spheres.

Any comprehensive definition and consideration of public administration will need to highlight the above characteristics.


Nature of Public Administration

There are two main divergent views regarding the nature of public administration. Integral view – according to this view, public administration is a sum total of all the activities undertaken in pursuit of and in fulfillment of public policy. These activities include managerial, technical, as well as manual and clerical. In this manner, the activities of all persons from top to bottom constitute administration although they are of varying significance to the running of administrative machinery was of the view that administration is concerned with the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of government. The ‘what’ is the subject-matter, the technical knowledge of a field which enables the administrator to perform his tasks. The ‘how’ is the technique of management, the principles according to which cooperative programmes are carried to success.

Managerial view –according to this view, the work of only those persons who are engaged in the performance of managerial functions in an organization constitute administration. The job of this group of people is to plan, programme and organize all the activities in an organization so as to achieve the desired ends.

These two views differ from each other in many ways. The integral view includes the activities of all persons engaged in administration whereas the managerial view restricts itself only to the activities of a few persons at the top.

The integral view postulates all types of activities from manual to managerial; from non-technical to technical, but managerial view takes into account only the managerial activities in an organization. Some of these activities include: planning for the organization, budgeting, staffing amongst others.

According to the integral view, administration would differ from one person sphere to another depending upon the subject matter, whereas the managerial view is identified with the managerial techniques common to all fields of administration.


Scope of Public Administration

Several writers in the field of public administration have defined the scope of public administration in varying degree. The scope of public administration will include:

Planning- which means the working out in broad outline the things to be done, the method to be adopted to accomplish the purpose.

Organizing – It is the establishment of the formal structure of authority, through which the work is sub-divided, arranged, defined and coordinated.

Staffing - means the recruitment and training of the personnel and their conditions of work.

Directing – It is the making decision, issuing orders and instructions.

Coordinating – means inter-relating the work of various divisions, sections and other parts of the organization.

Reporting– Means informing the agency to whom the executive is responsible about what is going on.

Budgeting – Means fixed planning, control and accounting.

The POSDCORB activities are common to all organizations. They are the common problems of management which are found in the different agencies regardless of the peculiar nature of the work they do.

Public administration is concerned with ‘the what’ and ‘the how’ of government. The ‘what’ is the subject matter, the technical knowledge of a field, that enables an administrator to perform his/her tasks. The ‘how’ is the technique of management.

The major divisions of the subject matter fall into four groupings:

1. What a government does – determination of objectives, internal administrative policies and plans and the range of governmental business.

2. How a government organizes its staff, and finances its work - that is the structure of government organization.

3. How administration secures cooperation and teamwork – it involves the study of such problems as administrative responsibility, leadership, direction, coordination, delegation, headquarters – field relationship, supervision and public relations.

4. How administration is held accountable - This means study of internal controls, and control of administrative activities by the legislature and the courts.

By consensus, the essential components of administration are planning, organizing, staffing, initiating, delegating, directing, overseeing, coordinating, and evaluating. The various activities forming part of the scope of public administration are indicated by POSDCORB which we have discussed above.

The scope of public administration by dividing it into two parts:

(a) Administrative theory

(b) Applied administration

(a) Administrative theory: This includes the study of structure, organization, functions, and methods of all types of public authority engaged in carrying out the administration at all levels, i.e. national, regional, and local. It is a study of all problems connected with external control of parliament and the cabinet over administration, internal control of administrative machinery, judicial control over administration, administrative tribunals; planning, programming and execution of public actions, recruitment of personnel and problems connected therewith, research, information, public relations. The emphasis here is to find out certain principles of administrative actions which can be usefully applied in practical administration.

(b) Applied administration: It may be difficult to really state what applied administration should include, however Walker made a classification of the main forms of applied administration on the basis of ten principal functions. These include:

Political: It includes a study of executive-legislative relationship, politico-administrative activities of the cabinet minister-official relationships.

• Legislative: It includes delegated legislation, preparatory work done by the officials in drafting of bills for enactment.

• Financial: It includes the whole of financial administration from preparation to the enactment of budget, etc.

• Defensive: It includes a study of military administration.

• Social: All administration in the social field such as housing, food, social security and employment etc.

• Economic: It covers all administrative activities in the economic field, i.e., industries, agriculture, foreign trade, commerce, public enterprises, etc.

• Foreign: It covers foreign administration which includes international co-operation, international agencies for international peace and prosperity, diplomacy, etc.

• Imperial: It includes problems and techniques of imperial domination over other nations, etc.

• Local: It covers administration of local bodies.

Principles of Public Administration

The follow are the principles o Public Administration:

1. Principle of Political Direction

2. Principle of Authority

3. Principle of Public Responsibility

4. Principle of Social Necessity

5. Principle of Efficiency

6. Principle of Organization

7. Principles of Public Relations

1. Principle of Political Direction: Public administration is an agency of government. The subordinate machinery obeys the general directions as issued by the political authority. It is directed by the political laws and statues. The objectives of administrative actions are defined and authorized by the political authority in a state possessing to compel members of the society over which it presides to act in certain ways. Since the ends it pursues are not of its own devising, public administration serves the will of others. That will is formed and expressed by political, not administrative, machinery.

The administrative only receives the orders from the above and has no initiative left in its own hands. The only initiative, which an administrative body possesses, is with regard to those activities or spheres which have not been touched by the superior authority and are left to the administrative bodies in their discretion.

2. Principle of Authority: Public administration is carried by persons who have certain powers or authority. Authority is the power or right of a person commanding other people to do things and in general of getting work done by them. The authority comes to an administrator from the nature of things. It results from the position of superiority occupied by some people over others. The authority which a superior exercises is of three sorts, one legal or statutory, second, which follows from the nature of the position he holds, and the third, from his own personality. The legal authority is one which is given to him by the rules and regulations of administration. But sometimes conditions and circumstances may arise not contemplated in the rules and regulations which may call for command on the one side and obedience on the other. Such command or authority will be said to flow from the nature of the position the superior holds. The third source of authority is the personality of the superior due to his intelligence, knowledge, experience and the moral value of his personality. Authority and his counterpart obedience keep administration in order.

3. Principle of Public Responsibility: The third principle that follows is the principle of public responsibility. Public administration is responsible for all its acts to the political executive who in its turn is responsible to the public through legislature and thus public administration, if not directly; it is indirectly responsible to the people for its acts through political chief. Public administration must be sure of the grounds on which it acts since it can be questioned at anytime. It must be able to explain its activities when required to do so. Adequate records of the grounds and reasons for its actions as well as of the actions themselves must be maintained. That is why that official business is not conducted orally but by correspondence and by written minutes preserved in files. Since public administration is ultimately responsible to the public, this responsibility as a whole will tend to require uniformity in administrative action. Civil servants cannot give special considerations to individuals of a particular group. Their treatments should be uniform throughout. It will always be difficult in public administration to justify giving special consideration and treatments to individuals, which is not extended generally to all individual in like circumstances.

4. Principle of Social Necessity: From the above mentioned principles it should not be inferred that administrative responsibility is merely the responsibility of obeying others- as a squad of new recruits obeys a drill sergeant on the parade ground. Public administration is much more than mere being a faithful servant. It is the inevitable necessity and the absolute indispensability. Social action is impossible without administrative action. In the present age the social machinery cannot run without the aid of public administration, it is the inevitable part of the social link something very essential in the nature of society to set up one set of conditions into another. So great are the complexities of all the requirements of social action that political machinery alone is unable to plan their execution in all details. Much has to be left to the administrative action if political ends are to be achieved. It is, in other words, a necessary part of the government of a country.

5. Principle of Efficiency: No governmental machinery can be successful unless civil service is efficient. Though efficiency is not of special and exclusive application to public administration, since many other humans’ activities also seek to be efficient, nevertheless the guidance of such a principle cannot be omitted from a set of administrative principles because without it the subject would lack a standard by which its performance could be assessed. The principle of efficiency therefore holds an important place in the realm of public administration.

6. Principle of Organization: This principle draws attention to the need for careful organization or structuring of the administrative machinery. Upon this principle depends in large measure the value of the contribution public administration can make to social well-being. Though the organization must be economical, yet it should not be lacking the basic ingredients of a perfect organization. “Co-ordination”, “correlation” and “integration” are blessed words covering a multitude of administrative virtues. Every department of public administration must be correlated with each other. There must not be water-tight separation between the various departments. The government is a unit and must be run as a unit. Important and independent activities should be integrated at one place. Coordination of the work of all the parts of administration is absolutely necessary to make the administrative system work.

7. Principles of Public Relations: Public Administration is a means and not an end in itself. It exists for the welfare of individuals and since it affects their welfare, it is essential that it must understand the needs and desires of the people. The principle of public relations enjoins effective interaction between administration and the public affected by administration and the public affected by administration. It points to the need for an integration of democratic ‘experience’ and ‘will’ with the administrative agencies designed for its expression. It is only when public relations have been rightly established that there can be true democratic system of public administration.


Approaches to the study of Public Administration

 We shall consider the various approaches as follows:

1. Historical Approach: The historical approach is essentially based on the belief that knowledge of history is absolutely essential for an in-depth study of any subject. For a proper understanding of the subject the study of public administration of the past in particular periods is necessary to link up with the present administrative systems. If we take Nigeria for example, in order to understand the evolution, the growth and development of its administration, a historical perspective is essential. This may involve knowing the nature of public administration in the pre-colonial period (Traditional Society), during colonial period and how these developed into the modern public administration.

With the present administrative systems. If we take Nigeria for example, in order to understand the evolution, the growth and development of its administration, a historical perspective is essential. This may involve knowing the nature of public administration in the pre-colonial period (Traditional Society), during colonial period and how these developed into the modern public administration.

2. Legal Approach: The legal approach concentrates on the formal legal structure and organization of public bodies. The approach stresses the formal organization of offices, official duties, and limitations of power and discretionary authority of administrators. Its main sources are constitutions, codes of law, office manuals of rules and regulations and judicial decisions. The legal approach is valuable for the understanding of the legal framework within which administrative system has to operate, but by neglecting the informal forces operating in the organisation (the sociological and psychological variables); it remains to a great extent an incomplete approach to the study of public administration.

3. Institutional Approach: The Institutional approach tries to establish the linkages between the study of public administration and the institutions of government. Its focus is on the study of the structure and functioning of separate institutions and organizations of the state such as the executive, the legislature, the departments, government corporations, boards and commissions. The Institutional approach considers the study of organizations, their principles, goals and structures as primary to the study of administration. But just like the legal approach, the institutional approach has its own limitations. The approach completely neglects the environmental and informal factors on administration.

4. Behavioural Approach: Modern behaviorism developed in the late 1940s and 1950s and concerned itself with the scientific study of human behavior in diverse social environments. It started as a protest against traditional, historical, normative and largely descriptive approaches in the social sciences.

The behavioral approach in administrative studies has the following important features:

Its literature is descriptive, rather than prescriptive, with the studies on motivation being an exception.

• Increased attention is paid to the individual based on more realistic research-concerning motivation, decision-making processes and the nature of authority. Stress is laid on informal relationships and communication patterns among members of an organization.

• It emphasizes operational definition of terms and empirical study based on rigorous methods, such as field study, laboratory experiments or use of other statistical methods.

• It is chiefly, though not exclusively, concerned with quantification, and formal theory construction.

• It is interdisciplinary in character, and makes considerable use of propositions drawn from other social sciences.

In a nutshell, the behaviorists sought to adopt an integrated and interdisciplinary approach. According to the behaviorists all human actions are motivated by social, economic, political, or psychological environment from which they come. The behavioral approach has been criticized for being of limited utility in the analysis of all types of administrative phenomena. The argument is that the complexity and variability of human nature, motivations and behavior preclude the attainment of precision that is so characteristic of the physical sciences. Again, value oriented or normative problems and issues of organization cannot really be explained or interpreted in terms of the behavioral approach.

5. Structural-Functional Approach: The two concepts basic to this approach are structure and function. All social structures exist to perform certain functions. While functions concern the consequences of patterns of action, structures refer to the patterns of actions and the resultant institutions of the systems themselves. The structural-functional framework provides an important mechanism for the analysis of different social processes. In structural functionalism, social structure is viewed as ‘any pattern of behavior which has become a standard feature of a social system’. All social structures perform some ‘functions’. In structural-functional terms, a ‘function’ involves ‘a pattern of interdependence’ between two or more structures, a relationship between variables. It refers to any consequences of a structure in so far as they affect other structures or the total system of which they are a part. We should note that all similar structures do not necessarily perform similar functions. A social structure may perform multiple functions and similarly one function may be performed by more than one structure.

6. Ecological Approach: Various scholars and administrative theorists have often referred to the need to relate public administration to the environment in which it functions. The ecological perspective in the study of public administration was introduced primarily through the writing of John Gaus, who first elaborated this approach in his reflections of public administration 1945. The concept of relating government functions to the environment which included such factors as people, situation, culture, technology amongst others.

These factors must be included in the ‘ecological’ study of public administration. The ecological approach assumes that administrative behavior is peculiarly molded by the values of the administrative culture in which it functions, the administrative culture in being an outgrowth of the interaction of values and traits of the administrative system with the social system as a whole. An administrative system may not act as an independent variable in all circumstances. It acts and reacts under the influence of various subsystems surrounding it. There is a degree of interdependence between all social organizations and their ecological settings (environment). Organizations, structures, procedures and goals are largely created and changed as a result of the interaction between an organization and its environment. Thus, if an organization is to survive it must adapt itself to the changing needs and conditions of its external environment. The merit of ecological approach lies in the value and relevance of studying people in relation to their environment, taking into consideration their peculiar characteristics and problems.

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