6 Elements of Public Administration


Inter-governmental Relationships

Public sector organizations strive to provide infrastructural stability, ensuring that the needs of the people are properly met at all times. From providing transportation resources to enacting laws that protect citizens’ rights, public administrators use a range of public policy tools, resources, and strategies to create a secure social and economic structure.

The U.S. government has developed into highly complex networks of organizational entities, with each entity typically featuring a unique function. Comprehending how these inter-governmental entities interact and support one another can help a public administration professional recognize the overall scope of duties performed by each entity. Quite often, the actions taken within a single branch of an organized government will ripple outwards, causing some effect on other inter-governmental entities that have an active relationship with that branch. This dynamic is one reason why cultivating successful working relationships across branches and agencies of the government is compulsory, especially given the range of current public issues and political and economic challenges. For example, if one government entity mistakenly overspends on an initiative, another branch may be faced with a deficit when the time comes to allocate government funds to one of their own projects. If left uncorrected, this deficit can lead to tension between parties and branches, as well as halting important initiatives simply because a lack of funds or one party or branch is trying to get back at another. Therefore, reinforcing mutually reliable inter-governmental relationships can help public administrators establish or maintain a balanced, cooperative and effective government.

Organizational Theory

Organizational Theory involves studying organizations to identify the key factors that allow them to maximize their efficiency and then packaging these factors into ideas and strategies that can be reproduced by practicing public administration professionals to impact policy making as well as other tasks. This process involves engaging in theory-based training that explores the many tested methods of public administration and is typically classified into these four groups:

  • Classical Theory
    • This concept implements a highly bureaucratic, scientific approach to the management of an organization and has effectively served as the building block for many of today’s most prominent organizational theories. Many organizations favored this approach during the Industrial Revolution, and it continued being adopted throughout the 20th century. This rigid form of organization administration is commonly associated with the term “micromanagement” and is gradually being phased out of use due to the negative consequences of stripping employees of their autonomy. In the current century, some public administrative organizations still operate under this theory, which is focused intently on monitoring all aspects of the organization’s inputs and outputs.
  • Neo-Classical Theory
    • This theoretical concept, also called the Human Relations Theory, builds on the concepts of Classical Theory for operations, but extends itself to encompass the human element. Rather than focusing on employees as units that produce consistent outputs, the Neo-Classical Theory considers the uniqueness and varying traits of different people and focuses on more creative ways to manage and motivate them. Developing effective approaches to interpersonal interaction and collaboration is also a key focal point here. Overall the Neo-Classical Theory attempts to account for the fact that employees are thoughtful, creative individuals with potential new ideas that can add value to the organization.
  • Contingency Theory
    • This theory emerged in response to the rapid growth and evolution of industries, increasing competition, and the constant change and volatility of the environment that came with it. Perhaps most characteristic of the technology industry, the Contingency Theory focuses on the flexibility of an organization and its ability to respond and adapt to changes quickly. Similar to the Neo-Classical Theory, the effectiveness of the Contingency Theory approach falls on management to properly utilize the human element. Managers must have skills in conflict resolution, the ability to help others understand the fluctuations of the organizational environment, and be able to promote reactive, collective decisions in order for the organization to thrive.
  • Modern Systems Theory
    • This theory is rooted in the idea that all organizations must be constantly prepared to adapt to change. The Modern Systems Theory encourages change by highlighting the need for organizations to capitalize on the recent emergence and development of robust data collection and processing systems. A primary characteristic of this theoretical approach is the shift away from viewing the organization as an entity with separate departments with separate goals and functions. While each organizational division has specific functions and goals, the Modern Systems Theory asserts that each of these elements is closely connected to every part of an organization. Changes in one division can affect the organization as a whole, and those effectively using this approach can monitor and quantify these impacts or changes using data models. Furthermore, through this approach, organizations can maximize collaborative efforts and fine-tune targets across divisions in a way that promotes the overarching, holistic goals.

Public Needs

Public administration entities hold the responsibility of providing communities with access to basic necessities, such as shelter, education, and public utilities, and must operate efficiently in order to fulfill this role successfully and sustain highly functional societies. To achieve these goals, professionals in this industry are tasked with closely interacting with community members on a consistent basis in order to understand their concerns and collaborate on formulating solutions. Additionally, when larger issues or situations occur, such as violence, natural disasters or other threats, leaders of the public administration entities must act on behalf of the community to confront these problems and move toward effective solutions to help preserve public safety and wellbeing. In this case, actions such as developing communication plans for emergency scenarios or constantly evaluating potential threats to public security are extremely important, as preparedness can aid with a timely and coordinated response to meet public needs when unexpected events occur.


Public administrators must have a clear and accurate understanding of governing issues and be able to act in the interest of all parties involved, ranging from the broader public to specific branches of government, in order to help their respective entities properly address pressing social and economic challenges. For example, in a high-crime city, some administrations turn to policy reforms, like aggressive sentencing for lower-level crimes that make a criminal lifestyle less appealing. Other administrators might go with a different, more community-oriented approach, such as focusing on rehabilitation efforts within the prison system to help reduce recidivism rates. Through these skilled governance initiatives, a team of public administrators can effectively implement solutions to problems involving crime, human rights, and public safety in a way that addresses the needs of all those involved.

Public Policies

Drafting acceptable public policies is an important role for a public administration professional, as these policies determine how organizations interact with and serve the community. Additionally, residents of a given community will use their understanding of these policies to generate their individual expectations for the government and to determine how they should interact with government entities. In the process of drafting public policy, public administration professionals must consider the potential impacts of their decisions from a number of angles. Many decisions require public funds that directly affect tax paying citizens, so understanding how these individuals might perceive the decision to revamp public school transportation practices, for example, would be essential when planning and communicating any proposed changes. Other factors should also be considered, including the availability of funding as well as other public priorities that could be affected or put on hold because of a particular policy or decision.

Diverse social perspectives on public policy and the potential ways that various groups might be impacted by policy implementation should also be an area of concern for every public administration professional. These individuals must recognize the potential risk of alienating certain demographics by enacting policies that are unbalanced. To avoid or minimize any negative impacts on the communities they serve, administrators responsible for creating fair public policies should confirm that their ideas are sound by seeking the input of other public administration professionals and members of the public community. By incorporating the thoughts and concerns of the many involved parties, a skillful public administration professional can develop and implement strong public policies that help to enhance their community.

Social Change

All societies are constantly in motion, and therefore, they are continually undergoing an array of unexpected changes. As public administrators are tasked with the critical responsibility of acting as leaders during times of sudden social change or confusion, a key factor for any public official is an understanding of societal changes on all levels; globally, nationally, and locally. This knowledge allows public officials to connect with their communities in ways that help the public to understand how changes will impact them specifically so that they can begin to prepare for said changes. This important element helps public administration professionals build trust and confidence while limiting the spread of fear and anxiety among the range of communities they serve.

Public administration organizations are the interface that the public uses to interact with their government and to understand societal change in the world around them. The public also relies on these organizations to provide public services, keep their communities operating smoothly and ensure that organizations are working efficiently to maintain stable societies. Advanced coursework in a public administration discipline is an excellent way for aspiring professionals in this field to prepare themselves to face the many challenges and responsibilities associated with a demanding career as a public administrator.

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How Flint traded safe drinking water for cost-cutting plan that didn’t work, The Guardian

Intergovernmental Relations, PMG Assets

Organizational Theories, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

The Important Job of a Public Administration, PA Times