Public administration and what the public wants

I have often been critical of public policy and public administration schools although I am the product of one (Lafollette School of Public Affairs).  The problem is that most focus on policy and neglect management and execution. Most people working in government are implementing laws and policies, not making them. It is in the execution of policy that much public controversy arises. The executive and management leadership gap is apparent at all levels of government.

A recent article,  Trump, Sanders and the Populist Anti-Policy Surge,  by Pete Peterson, Dean of the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, points to a related issue. He argues that many people feel policy is something done to them rather than with them. He wonders if the public policy schools are in part responsible for this. I think he is on to something. Policy studies tends to be theoretical. A public policy student learns about policy in the context of a culture that believes our problems can be solved by getting some smart, well educated people together and then implementing their recommendations. I know. I have been there. It all started with reading Plato’s Republic in high school. But that thinking tends to insulate one from the real lives of the people affected. Government officials do gather public input. Often they are required to do so in the course of implementing policies. I have been at many public input and comment sessions and they are very predictable. You know who will show up to support or attack a proposal. It is not a substitute for truly understanding the problems and needs of those affected. We need public administrators to be more creative communicating with citizens and engaging them in devising solutions.