Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice: The Utilization of Case Study Research For a Perilous Issue In Public Administration
Rodney E. Stanley, Ph.D.
Institute of Government
Tennessee State University
Bridging the gap between theory and practice is a, if not the, fundamental question facing academicians and professional administrators concerned with advancing the field of public administration. One increasing popular tool utilized by both the practicing administrator and the academic scholar in public administration is the case study. Case study research is categorized into two separate fields of inquiry and knowledge development. They are the research case study and the role simulation case study. The investigative focused case study is concerned with discovering and explaining ground breaking research that is emerging in public administration, while the role simulation case study exposes the public administrative student to real life examples and dilemmas that practicing administrators face on a routine basis. The following book reviews analyze three current texts that are concerned with both types of case study research for public administration.
Banovetz, James M (ed). 1996. Managing Local Government Finance: Case Studies In Decision Making. Washington, D.C.: ICMA. Pgs. 78.
Professor Banovetz’s book “Managing Local Government Finance: Case Studies In Decision Making” is a fairly recent publication concerned with role simulation case studies. The book explores current issues that specifically deal with finance and budgeting dilemmas facing local governments. Through a series of six distinct cases Banovetz addresses a number of relevant issues to the current practice of public administration such as taxation, economic development, budget implementation, debt management, and budget preparation. As the editor of this text, Banovetz has carefully selected the contributors to this book from a distinct list of professionals in the field of public administration. For example, the contributors have practical experience as town and city managers, finance directors, and several currently hold academic positions at prestigious universities in America.
Although the text is primarily focused on local government management and the dilemmas created by financial restraints, the menagerie of topics discussed in these six chapters demonstrate first had the spillover effects and externalities associated with managing in the public sector. For instance, in reference to local government impacts, two cases deal with county level governance, two with small cities, two with medium cities and one with large city administration. The context of government issues found in the chapters include, but are not limited to, politics, administration and politics, public policymaking, and government’s role in the economy.
In addition to the implications of these case studies on various levels of governance are the issues associated with public budgeting and finance. Some of these issues found in the text include, four dealing with tax policy, five cases dealing with public revenues and economic forecasting, three cases focused on economic development, three cases are concerned with cost/benefit analysis, two cases are concerned with budget formulation, two with program evaluation, two with capital budgeting, and at least one of the cases deal with budget implementation, debt management, and capital finance.
One unique feature presented by this case study text is its unique emphasis on local government administration. Banovetz’s points out that unlike federal and state government administration, local government leaders are making decisions “with the people” and not “away from the people” (p. VI) Banovetz’s correctly posits that to the people, state and federal public administrators are merely “television images and distinct names placed “away in the capital (p. VI). By making this suggestion, Banovetz concludes by stating that local government administration is practiced by your “neighbor, church associate, or someone you know in the community” (p. VII). One prominent theme present in all six of the case studies is the importance local government politics in budgeting and financial management dilemmas. This undeniable political reality of each case study establishes the credence in this text for training the modern public administrator.
Banovetz provides the instructor with a supplemental text that discusses the real life situation and results from the administrative decisions made in each case. This allows the instructor to compare student analyses of each case with the actual case itself. Each case challenges the reader by placing them in the context of a real world situation facing public administration and asked the reader what would they do to solve the problem at hand. The book receives great reviews from students about its applied nature and application and the critical thinking fostered each case study found in the text. Hence, for the practicing public administrator or the academic scholar wanting to expose students to the applied side of public administration “Managing Local Government Finance: Case Studies In Decision Making” is highly recommended. This positive recommendation is premised on the reviewer’s analysis of the text, as well as positive feedback from students utilizing this text in an accredited MPA program.
Watson, Robert P. 2002. Public Administration: Cases In Managerial Role Playing. New York: Longman Press. Pgs. 179.
Robert Watson incorporates a multitude of diverse scholars with in the fields of public policy, public administration, political science, public finance, health care, criminal justice, sociology and a host of other disciplines in an effort to provide students with the opportunity to “walk in the shoes of public administrators” (p. IX). Watson adds a dimension to this text that is new to books concerned with practical applications of public administration: nonprofit administration. The author fails to see a dichotomy between the dilemmas of public administration and nonprofit management, allowing this text to address an emerging concern in the case study literature. In addition to this distinct characteristic, the cases chosen by Watson for this text involve interrelated political uncertainty, ethical dilemmas, along with legal and administrative core factors currently facing the field of public administration. The core factors pertinent to this text include cases that deal with current trends in human resources management, public budgeting and finance, organizational behavior and public sector management, and program planning and evaluation. The overriding purpose of this text, according to Watson, is to encourage students to analyze the sources of the problems facing modern public administration, offer possible courses of action in solving each case study, while simultaneously exposing each students to the possible consequences of their decisions.
By providing the reader with a brief history of the development of public administration, this book will serve well as a supplemental text for any introductory course in public administration. Secondly, due to the multitude of diverse cases dealing with the core issues of public administration that were previously discussed, the instructor can surely find one case that pertains to each chapter in an introductory text to public administration. Additionally, for MPA programs that have incorporated a capstone course as a requirement for graduation, this text will serve the needs of the instructor wanting to test the student’s ability to apply theory with practice in public administration. Assuming that the capstone course is the remaining required course for the MPA student, the general nature of the book’s structure lends itself well for this academic endeavor. Again, by the numerous administrative concerns of this text in the areas of budgeting, public management, policy and program analysis, politics and administration, the instructor can test the students ability to use critical thinking in solving real world administrative dilemmas.
Another important contribution of the text is the emphasis placed on the distinction of public management versus private management. Before the analysis of any case study begins the reader is quickly reminded, or informed of the differences between managing in the public sector versus the private sector. This concept is important for the reader because those students with a limited background in public administration are warned that many private sector management techniques are inappropriate for public management. Since many MPA programs in America are training more and more students with business backgrounds, this aspect of the book serves as a wonderful reminder that public management and private management are unalike in many important ways!
The concluding section of each case provides the reader and instructor with a role playing assignment for bridging that important gap of theory and administration. The student is simply asked to place them self in the role of the primary administrator in each case, and then solve the dilemma at hand. This fosters critical thinking on the part of the individual for applying the theoretical aspects of public administration to the practice at hand. For group participation, a series of discussion questions are provided so the instructor can stimulate conversation in a class setting about each case.
On page three of the text, a Sample Case Analysis Brief is offered as an outline for the student to utilize in the evaluation of each case. Since most pre-service and in-service MPA students have experienced little case study training before they enter a public administration program, these analyses guidelines serve as popular tools for directing the student in the correct path of case study evaluation. The steps outlined in this analysis guide are as follows; 1) Facts; 2) Issues; 3) Actors; 4) Analysis; 5) Group Analysis; 6) Courses of Action; 7) Decision. This seven-step process of case analysis prepares the student with a formal, yet general approach to case study analyses that will assist them throughout their MPA experience.
“Public Administration: Cases In Managerial Role Playing” is an excellent text and is highly recommended for anyone wanting to bring the practical applications of public administration to the classroom. This text is well written and pulls knowledge from many of the leading practitioners and scholars in the field of public administration. Not only is this text recommended for the class from an analysis point of view, but from a practical as well. This text is used in our introductory class in public administration and students comment positively on the practical applications and the challenging critical thinking fostered by this book.
Khan, Aman; Hildreth, Bartley W. (ed). 2003. Case Studies In Public Budgeting and Financial Management. Second Edition. New York: Marcel Dekker Publishing. Pgs. 800.