The evolution of public administration has many facets. As a discipline, the term public administration emerged in the late 19th and beginning of the 20th century. American President Woodrow Wilson contributed very much to the discipline of Public Administration. Woodrow Wilson also known as the father of public administration. Public Administration as a discipline has passed through several stages of development.


According to Robert T. Golembiewski, the evolution of public administration as an academic discipline developed through five overlapping paradigms.

As observed by Golembiewski, the paradigm for the evolution of public administration may be characterized and understood in terms of its ‘locus’ and ‘focus’ (Golembiewski 1977: 23)

Locus is the institutional or ‘Where’ of the field Focus is the specialized or ‘What’ of the field

The below are the five paradigms as suggested by the Golembiewski –

  • Paradigm 1: The Politics Administration Dichotomy (1900-1926)
  • Paradigm 2: The Principles of Administration (1927-1937)
  • Paradigm 3: Public Administration and Political Science (1950-1970)
  • Paradigm 4: Public Administration as Management (1956-1970)
  • Paradigm 5: Public Administration as Public Administration


Infographic visuals on six stages to evolution of public administration
Infographic visulas on Evolution of Public Administration

The Evolution of Public Administration has mainly gone through six stages which are discussed briefly under the following periods:

First StagePolitics–Administration Dichotomy(1887-1926)
Second StageGolden Era of Principles(1927-1937)
Third StagePeriod of Challenge(1938-1947)
Fourth StagePhase of Identity Crisis(1948-1970)
Fifth StagePublic Administration as Public Administration(1971-1980)
Sixth StageReinventing Public Administration in Market Era(1980 Onward)
Tableau presentation of Evolution of Public Administration


In the first stage of evolution, the public administration as a discipline was born in the USA. The credit for initiating an academic study of public administration goes to American President Woodrow Wilson. He is regarded as father of the public administration as a discipline in his article entitled “The Study of Administration,” published in the Political Science Quarterly in 1887.

Woodrow Wilson emphasized the need for studying public administration as a discipline apart from politics. This is known as the “principle of politics – administration dichotomy,” i.e., a separation of politics and administration.

Since Wilson first noted the dichotomy between politics and administration, the cleavage acquired the name after him – ‘The Wilsonian Dichotomy.’ Wilson argued that politics is concerned with policy-making while the administration is concerned with implementing policy decisions.

Woodrow Wilson writes – “The administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics. Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the task for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices.”


Dwight Waldo writes in his book –

  • Wilson believed that administration is a science.
  • Wilson said“the science of administration is the latest fruit of that study of the science of politics which began some 2200 years ago. It is the birth of our country, almost of our generation. We are having now, what we never had before, a science of administration.”
  • He called for a separate study of public administration. His basic argument was that “it is getting to be harder to run a constitution than it is to frame one.” (Waldo 1953: 67)
  • Hence, there should be a science of administration.
Publication Politics and Administration (1900)

Another notable event of the period was the publication of Goodnow’s Politics and Administration in 1900 which endorsed the Wilsonian theme further by conceptually distinguishing the two functions.

According to Frank J. Goodnow, “politics has to do with the execution of these policies.” (Goodnow 1914:22)

In short, Goodnow posited the politics-administration dichotomy, further developing the Wilsonian theme with more remarkable courage and conviction.

At the beginning of the 20th century, American universities showed much interest in the public service movement. As a result, public administration received the first serious attention from scholars.

LD White’s First Textbook on ‘Public Administration’
Introduction to the Study of Public Administration

In 1926, Leonard D. White wrote, Introduction to the Study of Public Administration, which was recognized as the first textbook on the subject. While advocating a politics-administration dichotomy, this book stressed the human side of the administration, dealing comprehensively with the administration in government.


The second stage of evolution of public administration is marked by the tendency to evolve a value-free science of management. The central belief of this period was that there were certain ‘principles’ of administration, and it was the scholars’ task to discover and apply them to increase the efficiency and economy of public administration.


The second stage began with the publication of Willoughby’s Principles of Public Administration in 1927.

He asserted that “in administration, there are certain fundamental principles of general application analogous to characterizing any science.”

His central thesis is to apply scientific techniques to solve problems of organizing and administering with economy and efficiency.


Henry fayol gave 14 Principles of Management, which should be applied into the Public Administration –

  1. Division of Work: Work should be divided among individuals to ensure specialization and increase efficiency.
  2. Authority and Responsibility: Authority must be accompanied by responsibility.
  3. Discipline: Discipline must be maintained in the organization through appropriate rules and regulations.
  4. Unity of Command: Each employee should receive orders from only one superior.
  5. Unity of Direction: All activities must be directed towards a common goal.
  6. Subordination of Individual Interests to General Interests: The interests of one individual should not dominate the interests of the group.
  7. Remuneration: Employees should be fairly compensated for their work.
  8. Centralization: The degree of centralization should be determined by the needs of the organization.
  9. Scalar Chain: There should be a clear line of authority from the highest to the lowest level in the organization.
  10. Order: There should be a place for everything, and everything should be in its place.
  11. Equity: Employees should be treated fairly and with justice.
  12. Stability of Tenure of Personnel: Personnel should be employed for an adequate length of time to ensure stability.
  13. Initiative: Employees should be encouraged to suggest and carry out improvements.
  14. Esprit de Corps: There should be a sense of unity and team spirit among employees.

Generally, Henry Fayol defined administration in terms of five concepts; Viz., Planning, Organizing Command, Co-ordination, and Control.

Scientific management of the business of administration became a slogan. Administrative practitioners and business schools join hands in a mechanical aspect of management. They claim that public administration is a science. The great depression in America contributed a lot to the development.


Keeping efficiency and economy as two fundamental values that the administration should attain, Gullick and Urwick tried to develop universal principles to achieve organizational goals; they coined the acronymPOSDCORB’ to promote seven principles of administration.

The seven principles of administration (POSDCORB) as suggested by Gulick and Urwick are as following –

  1. P‘ – Planning
  2. ‘O’ – Organization
  3. ‘S’ – Staffing
  4. ‘D’ – Directing
  5. ‘Co’ – Co-ordination
  6. ‘R’ – Reporting
  7. ‘B’ – Budgeting

The List of Leading Publications During the Period from 1927 to 1937

AuthorName of Publication & Year
1. WilloughbyPrinciple of Public Administration
2. Mary Parker FolletCreative Experience
3. Henry FayolIndustrial and General Management
4. Mooney and ReileyPrinciples of Organization
5. Gullick and UrwickPapers on Science of Administration
Major Publications during Goldern Era of Principles (1927-1937)

This period is often considered the golden years of ‘principles’ in the history of public administration. This was also a period when public administration commanded a high degree of respectability and its product was in great demand in government and business.


The central theme during this period was the advocacy of the ‘Human Relationship Behavioural Approach’ to the study of public administration.

The most notable contribution in this period came from the famous Hawthrone experiments carried out by a group of scholars at the Hawthrone Plant of the Western Electric Company. The experiments demonstrated the limitations of the scientific approach and the powerful influence of social and psychological factors on the worker’s output.

This approach to organizational analysis drew attention to the effect of informal organization in the formal set-up of leadership and influence and the impact of conflict and cooperation among groups in the organizational environment.

Second World War again demonstrated more than any other event that general administrative principles derived from scientific analysis had limited applicability in public administration.

In his work – Functions of the Executive in 1953 and Organisation and ManagementChester Barnard also stressed the psychological and behavioural factors in organizational analysis.

In 1954, Peter Drucker published his ‘Practice of Management,’ which emphasized long-range planning and human relations in industry and government.


The mid-1940s theorists challenged Wilson and Gulick. The politics-administration dichotomy remained the centre of criticism. In the 1960s and 1970s, the government came under fire as ineffective, inefficient, and essentially a wasted effort. There was a call by citizens for efficient administration to replace ineffective, wasteful bureaucracy. Public administration must distance itself from politics to answer this call and remain effective.

Concurrently, after the Second World War, the whole concept of public administration expanded to include policy-making and analysis; thus, the study of ‘administrative policy-making and analyses was introduced and enhanced in the government decision-making bodies. Later, the human factor became a predominant concern and emphasis in the study of public administration. This period witnessed the development and inclusion of other social science knowledge, predominantly psychology, anthropology, and sociology, into the study of public administration.

Two significant publications brought in this shift – Simon’s ‘Administrative Behaviour’ and Robert Dahl’s essay entitled, ‘The Science of Public Administration: Three Problems”. Simon’s approach rejected both the classical “principles” of administration and the “politics-administration dichotomy” in administrative thought and practice tried to widen the scope of the subject by relating it to psychology, sociology, economics, and political science. He advocated the behavioural approach to public administration to make it a more scientific discipline. He focused on decision-making as the alternative to the principles approach. He thus rejected the idea of the politics-administration dichotomy and suggested an empirical approach to the study of public administration.

It is appropriate to quote Mohit Bhattacharya here. He writes

that he brought in the perspective of logical positivism in the study of policy-making and the relation of means and ends. Reflecting the perspective and methodology of behaviouralism in psychology and social psychology, Administrative Behaviour pleaded for raising scientific vigour in public administration.

Robert Dahl also criticized principles of administration and observed, “We are a long way from a science of public administration. No science of public administration is possible unless: (a) the place of normative values is made clear; (b) the nature of man in the area of public administration is better understood, his conduct is more predictable, and there is a body of comparative studies from which it may be possible to discover principles and generalities that transcend national boundaries and peculiar historical experiences.”

He believed that administrative behavior cannot be studied in isolation. Instead same has to be studied, keeping into consideration environmental factors. Hence, he suggested cross-cultural studies or comparative studies. In his words, “the comparative aspects of public administration have largely been ignored; and as long as the study of public administration is not comparative, claims for ‘science of public administration’ sound rather hollow. 

Conceivably there might be a science of American public administration and science of British public administration, and French public administration, but can there be a ‘science of public administration in the sense of a body of generalized principles independent of their peculiar national setting?… The study of public administration inevitably must become a much more broadly based discipline, resting not on a narrowly defined knowledge of technique and processes but extending to the varying historical, sociological, economic, and other conditioning factors.”

Fritz Morstein Marx, in his book ‘The Elements of Public Administration (1946),

 Paul H. Appleby’ Policy and Administration’ (1952), Frank Marini ‘Towards a New Public Administration’ (1971) and others have also contributed positively to these endeavors.

In the 1960’s decade, two significant developments took place in the history of public administration. These were:

 1. Rise and Fall of Comparative Public Administration, and

 2. Emergence of the concept of Development Administration.

The assertion of Robert Dahl has played a significant role in developing the concept of comparative public administration. This conceptualization took a concrete shape in 1960 when the Comparative Administrative Group (CAG) was formed. Much of the development of this field depended upon the contributions made by Fred W. Riggs, who chaired the CAG.

The concept of development administration also emerged as a sub-field of public administration in the 1950s and 1960s to carry out programs or projects to serve developmental objectives, mainly to serve the needs of developing nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

However, by the late 1960s, loopholes in the methodology of development administration became evident, and this model was criticized both by the radicals and conservatives.

In 1962 public administration was not included as a sub-field of Political Science in the report of the Committee on Political Science as a discipline of the American Political Science Association.

In 1967, public administration disappeared as an organizing category in the program of the American Political Science Association annual meeting. 

This had been a period of crisis for public administration.

To quote Avasthi and Maheshwari,

This period has been one of the crises for public administration. The brave new world promised by the thinkers of the ‘principles’ era stood shattered, and the future of the discipline appeared to be a little uncertain. Public administration was facing a crisis of identity…. public administration, naturally, was in search of an alternative, and the alternative was available in the form of administrative science.


In the late 1960s, a new movement started developing in American public administration, known as New Public Administration‘. The scholars gathered at Minnowbrook under the patronage of Dwight Waldo to review the relevance of the study and practice of public administration in the current environment.

At this time, two volumes: Frank Marini (ed.) Toward a New Public Administration 1971 & Dwight Waldo (ed.) Public Administration in a Time of Turbulence 1971 were produced to herald a new brand of public administration. The whole campaign of the young scholars focused on highlighting the lacunae of traditional public administration. The young scholars gathered there focused on the need to bring in normative theory, social concern, human values, and other related social concerns in the study of public administration. The movement tried to integrate public administration with the primary concerns of political theory. In fact, this era called to end the politics-administration dichotomy and felt that both politics and administration are experimenting with the same problems from different perspectives.

By 1980 scholars like Ferrel Heady, Charles T. Goodsell, O.P Dwivedi, and others started the revival movement of comparative administration. This led to the widening of the scope of study of the subject.


The 1980s saw a marked shift in the history of public administration. A new environment has started developing in place of old paradigms of public administration. The publication of Reinventing Government in 1992 forced us to reassess and redefine government functions along the lines of ‘entrepreneurial government’.

Thus public administration that was reinvented in the form of New Public Administration in the early second half of the 20th century to achieve objectives of social justice, equality, relevance, and socio-economic progress was once again reassessed and reviewed in 1990 to incorporate features of New Public Management, or we may say to establish ‘Entrepreneurial Government’ by focusing on efficiency, economy, and effectiveness. 

New Public Management (NPM) hinges on public choice theory and managerialism, a market economy, and private sector management.


Now Public Administration is advancing in two parallel ways. The First way continues to follow developments in the private sector. It borrows from its ideas and methodologies that have been formed as a benchmark for improving the managerial and organizational tools in public systems.

The second way tries to preserve and strengthen social, civilian, and human aspects to give particular concern to the welfare notion of the system of administration.

Categorized in: