Saturday, August 10, 2013

Second Minnowbrook Conference, 1988

The Second Minnowbrook conference was held on September 4, 1988, after exactly twenty years of the first conference. This conference was attended by sixty eight scholars including the practitioners of public administration and academicians from the other disciplines such as history, economics, political science and psychology etc. This conference was held at a time when the changing role of the state was recognized, more emphasis was being given on the new phenomena such as privatization, contracting out and the role of non-state actors like community based organizations, voluntary organizations etc. in the process of governance. Hence the philosophy of privatization and concern for the private interest was paramount in 1980s. This is in contrast to the environment prevailing in 1960s when first Minnowbrook conference was held, then, the issues such as protection of public purpose, urban riots, social unrest, Vietnam war were dominant. For these issues government and its institutions were held responsible and denigrated in 1960s.

The Second Minnowbrook conference

Since the first Minnowbrook conference, there were lot of changes in the context of American public administration in terms of the change of nature of state, emphasis on privatisation, contracting out and lesser government. Poverty and unemployment increased especially in the urban areas in America. In 1960s, public administration was a part of political science but by the end of 1980s, it had carved a separate space for itself with increasing multidisciplinary character and increasing number of US universities offering programmes in public administration.

One of the unique features of the second Minnowbrook conference was that it was attended by the scholars from a wide variety of areas such as policy sciences, economics and urban studies etc. The themes which were discussed in Minnowbrook I were also discussed along with some new themes to ensure the intellectual continuity. It was recognized the public administration had to build its capacity to meet the future challenges and government has to be seen as a tool for strengthening the society. The need to fill the gap between the scholars i.e. the theory and the practitioners i.e. the practice of public administration was realized. The schools of public administration were called upon augment the theoretical capacities of the practitioners of public administration by providing a number of educational and training programmes.

 

Major Themes at the Minnowbrook II Conference


Six new themes pertaining to the present & future visions of public administration, in addition to the five discussed at Minnowbrook I, emerged out of the deliberations of Minnowbrook II conference. They are discussed below:


  1. It was realized that now it looked far more possible to achieve social equity. It was not so in Minnowbrook I though this theme had dominated it



 

  • Public Administration was seen as central instrument for realizing the democratic values such as ethics, accountability and leadership etc.


 

 

  • It was recognized that still there was a debate between the normative and behaviorist approaches to public administration.


 

 

  • Diversity in society was recognized as a value by the participants of the conference. This diversity related to generalists vs specialists; racial & ethnic diversity; gender diversity. However there was not much emphasis on the conflict resolution strategies, arbitration skills and other necessary skills necessary to manage this diversity.


 

 

  • It was realized that the external and internal environment in which public administration functions is so complex that it is not possible & also advisable to delineate the long term vision of public administration. Even the themes that emerged out of this conference were recognized as only short term goals as in the long term some other priorities may emerge depending upon the then situations. Minnowbrook II set its vision on the near future without being radical in carving a long term vision.


 

 

  • It seemed that public administration was not taking feedback from inter-disciplinary approach. Though the scholars expressed the utility of concepts given by other disciplines also for the study of public administration yet they seemed to be afflicted with "professional ethno-centricism" or parochialism. They did not want to lose the disciplinary identity for the sake of multidisciplinary approach.


 

 

  • The public personnel systems were sought to be reformed so that it could help in developing the talents of employees to their full potential and could bring out high productivity.


 

 

  • Though some of the themes of conference contained technological issues such as artificial intelligence, design science and expert systems etc. still a general unwillingness among the scholars to address the technological issues was witnessed.


 

 

  • Further there was an unwillingness to discuss and decide about the specific activities which should be done by the governments. Though politics-administration dichotomy was discarded by Minnowbrook I, still it was found to be "alive".


 

 

  • The tensions between capitalism and democracy were acknowledged but still there was a consensus that public administration could learn from the best parts of both the government and private sectors in terms of the management techniques. Though privatization was accepted 'tacitly' still there was a strong view against business as an enterprise.


 

 

 

The changing nature of American public administration, the diverse nature of problems with which administration is confronted e.g. problem of AIDS, nuclear wastes and budget & trade deficits etc. were some of the factors which influenced the thinking of the scholars who attended this conference. This also shows that the external environment of public administration had become far more complex than what it used to be. The scholars of Minnowbrook II were of the view that a theory of public administration could be developed in which the administrator would be concerned about "facilitation, dialogue and negotiation"; the societal & political context of administration and inter-personal skills & techniques would be highlighted.

 

The administrators were required to have democratic orientation. The obligation to advance the democratic ethos was recognized as an ethical requirement of public service. Openness, public participation in administration, pro-activeness on the part of administrators and the use of democratic methods were emphasised to further the cause of democracy.

 

Minnowbrook II tried to study public administration in the changing scenario of changed philosophy of governance. It tried to balance the public and private sectors. Though Minnowbrook II had in focus the near term challenges with which public administration is confronted & not showing some 'radical' inclinations still there was an emphasis on not losing the disciplinary character of the subject & its identity.


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