Comparative Public Administration (CPA), in the sense of comparisons among patterns of public administration in different Nation-States, evolved in 1960 from the Comparative Administration Group of the American Society for Public Administration. However, as an ideology, the emphasis for the need for comparative method in studying public administration is given long back by the foremost thinker of CPA, Woodrow Wilson in 1887. He elaborated, “We can never learn either our own virtues by comparing ourselves with ourselves. It is best on the whole to get entirely away from our own atmosphere and to be most careful in examining such systems as those of France or Germany.” He was the first comparatist who compared American government system to the cabinet system in United Kingdom to demonstrate that the U.S.A lacked unified authority in several fields of administration.

Following Wilson, the requirement of comparison became apparent when an American scholar, Robert Dahl argued that, for public administration to be considered a science, it would be necessary for a set of propositions, assumptions, or generalized principles be made about administrative behaviour, that transcend national boundaries. Robert A Dahl outlined its usefulness in his essay, The Science of Public Administration (1947). He said “no science of public administration is possible unless… 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”. Dahl emphasized the significance of comparison to construct a ‘science of public administration’. He said, “the comparative aspects of public administration have largely been ignored; and as long as the study of public administration is not comparative, claims for a ‘science of public administration’ sound rather hollow.

The study of Comparative Public Administration contributes to a greater understanding of the individual characteristics of administrative systems functioning in different nations and cultures. Besides, comparative studies also help in explaining factors responsible for cross-national and cross-cultural similarities as well as difference in the administrative systems.

The CAG (Comparative Administrative Group) defined Comparative Public Administration as “the theory of Public Administration as applied to diverse cultures and national settings and the body of factual data, by which it can be expanded and tested.” The theoretical thrust of the Comparative Public Administration movement is evident in what Fred Riggs has observed as the desirable character of ‘truly’ comparative studies. Riggs has stated that the term ‘Comparative’ should be restricted, strictly speaking, to empirical, nomothetic, and ecological studies. He highlighted three trends in the comparative study of Public Administration: (a) from normative towards more empirical approaches; (b) shift from Ideographic (individualistic) toward Nomothetic (universal), and (c) shift from a pre-dominantly non-ecological to an ecological basis for the study of Public Administration.


The main objective of comparative public administration movement, as Caldwell observed, has been “to hasten the emergence of knowledge concerning administrative behaviour––in brief, to contribute to a genuine and generic discipline of public administration.” The other being to analyse propositions about administration of different nations and to build a theory in public administration for development.

Comparison of administrative systems has had a long tradition. But a focus on this aspect of administrative studies is about fifty years old. Only after the Second World War and with the emergence of third world nations in Asia and Africa, a vigorous interest in comparative studies of Public Administration has evolved. Comparative Public Administration, in simple terms refers to a comparative study of government administrative systems functioning in different countries, belonging to different cultural and geographical setting and different periods.

The Post World War II period has witnessed the emergence of a major interest in the comparative study of political systems. The Comparative Politics Movement and the Comparative Public Administration Movement share many common stimuli. Both have experienced strong dissatisfaction with the traditional approaches; they share the dominating concern with conceptual frameworks and both are inter-disciplinary in orientation. They have focused predominantly on the developing nations. In fact, the developments in comparative politics in the post-world war II period have influenced the emerging developments in Comparative Public Administration. New theoretical search by political scientists like Almond, Binder, Coleman, La Palombara, Pye and Weidner has made Public Administration as a sub-field of political system. Political aspects of administration was given a new thrust in La Palombara’s ‘Bureaucracy and Political Development’. In fact, this era called to an end the politics–administration dichotomy and felt that both political science and administration are experimenting with the same problems from different perspectives.

The most important characteristics of the post-World War comparative administration have been the following:

  1. 1.A search for the framework or paradigm for comparative analysis of administration on a global basis,
  2. 2.An interest of the researchers in the administrative problems of newly independent countries
  3. 3.Thrust in the transfer of administrative technologies from more developed to less developing countries, and
  4. 4.A continuing effort to devise more productive methods for comparative analysis in the future.

Since emergence of CAG in 1960, the school of comparative public administration has attempted to be ‘theory building’ in contrast to ‘practitioner-oriented’ bias of “parochial American public administration”. In the study of comparative administration, the emphasis is upon comparison of administrative systems. The School of Comparative Public Administration addresses five motivating concerns:

  1. 1.The search for theory.
  2. 2.The urge for practical application,
  3. 3.The incidental contribution of the broader field of comparative politics,
  4. 4.The interest of the researchers trained in the tradition of administrative law, and
  5. 5.The comparative analysis of ongoing problems of public administration.

Initially, the CAG has focused development administration as a Third World problem. But, today it also includes understanding of a Country’s Public Administration in its global context. The area for comparative research is wide enough to accommodate the problems of developed and underdeveloped countries. The major areas of research are bureaucracy, public policies, motivation, finance, developmental aspects of administration, administrative set up, etc. the validity of comparative study in these broad fields of Public Administration depends much on empirical support.

Comparative Public Administration deals with administrative organizations or systems pertaining to different cultures and settings whose similar or dissimilar features or characteristics are studied and compared in order to find out “causes” or “reasons” for efficient or effective performance or behavior of administrators, civil servants or bureaucrats. The ecological perspective is the main concern of comparative administration scholars. The economic, social and political aspects explain the way administrative systems operate.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the field of comparative public administration has been redefined by new research demands in response to major global transformations of political systems. From a field drawing largely on academic political science and trends in the US foreign aid policies, CPA has been pulled in several directions by new management and policy needs. Comparative public administration is still the study of similarities and differences in organization, management and policy issues for the purpose of creating an institutionalized knowledge base to aid in making better decisions. But it seems that academic scholars have lost much interest in comparative studies of administration largely on account of fewer funds. Moreover, host governments have become increasingly critical of the administration of their own domestic programmes. However, using comparative administration lessons help government to improve domestic policy making and implementation.

Only during the last 50 years has comparative public administration finally become a subfield within public administration and political science that has demonstrated its vitality, and has gained recognition and acceptance. After a remarkable burst of activity during the 1960s and early 1970s, the level of enthusiasm declined, but comparativism has clearly become established as an integral aspect of public administration and an academic discipline.

Ferrel Heady has distinguished among four important foci of research in Comparative Public Administration. These foci are: (a) modified traditional; (b) development oriented; (c) general system model building; and (d) middle-range theory formulation. Writings in modified traditional approach show continuity with the earlier literature of somewhat parochial character. It includes basically descriptive comparison of administration in Western Countries with particular reference to the administrative organizations and civil service systems. The development orientation is concerned essentially with the problems of Public Administration in the context of rapid socio-economic and political change. Its emphasis is on the capabilities of administrative systems to direct socio-economic change in a society. The general system model building is concerned with the study of administrative systems in the overall contexts of their social environment. Thus its focus is generally on the whole society. However, the middle range theory is more specific in its subject of focus, and it concentrates on certain particular components or characteristics of an administrative system.


One factor of socio-historical importance for its impact on administrative system of India and other developing countries is that most of the entrants to the higher bureaucracy belonged to the English educated, professional middle class; there were very few entrants from other sections of the society especially immediately after independence. In India, most members of the higher bureaucracy have been drawn from families of higher civil and military officers, lawyers, doctors, university teachers and business executives. The parents of about 94% of the direct recruits to IAS up to 1956 belonged to this class. Recruitment to the higher bureaucracy was highly biased in favor of professional middle class, since it constituted less than 10% of the population but more than 90% of recruits were drawn from it. The entrants into the higher bureaucracy are drawn from among those educated at exclusive schools and colleges which charge high fees and hence are generally joined only by children from the upper and richer sections of the society. The medium of instruction in these institutions is usually English only. Of those recruited to the IAS between 1974 and 1979, more than 60% had been educated in such schools independence, proportion of recruits educated at exclusive schools had gone up.

The impact of such a socio-historical background was that there are great differences between the values, norms, feelings, beliefs and information of the higher bureaucracy, the lower bureaucracy and people. Early education of those who joined exclusive schools is in many ways different from that of vast majority, resulting in very important & substantial differences in attitudes. The combined influence of upper middle class homes and exclusive schools tend to inculcate among their children, values such as those of consumerism, gigantism and the hoarding of material goods, and attitudes such as those of lack of empathy for the poor, considering oneself to education at exclusive colleges and schools tend to keep them aloof from those belonging to the lower strata. They rarely even get an opportunity to live in villages where the vast majority of the people live. Hence their information and understanding of the conditions of living problems and needs of vast sections of the peoples are little. These differences of values, beliefs and information make for lack of communication between the higher bureaucracy, lower bureaucracy and the people.

Another factor of socio-historical importance is that the higher bureaucracy in developing countries has been recruited predominantly from the urban areas. In India, in 1981, recruits to the IAS, 72% had an urban background. Further, there may at best be a slight tendency for more rural residents to get into the higher bureaucracy. This particular factor has its impact on administrative system as one of the important functions of the bureaucracy in developing in developing countries is to deal with poverty, its causes and consequences. If the upper section of the bureaucracy, which plays an important role in policy formulation as well as implementation, has little understanding of the nature of poverty in the country, ineffectiveness is bound to result. If the common people are afraid of administrators and can hardly speak a language understood by them, administrators understanding of people’s problems remains wanting, and hence policies for dealing with these remain unsatisfactory. Thus lack of communication leads to lack of effectiveness. Lack of effectiveness also results from lack of participation by the people. Due to social distance between the administrators and the people, and differences in their values & beliefs, administrators are unable to enthuse people & seek their cooperation & participation.

Further, the socio-historical background has its role to play as the higher bureaucracy is recruited predominately from the so called higher castes. People of low caste are also generally poor and cannot afford higher education for their children. To compensate for the age old discrimination against those having a low social status, the Constitution of India provides for “protective discrimination” in the shape of reservation of jobs for scheduled cases & tribes in Public Administration. For long, however, these Quotas were not filled, since candidates of scheduled castes and tribes could often not get qualifying marks in the competitive examination. Thus while in 1967 only 11% of the recruits to the IAS belonged to scheduled castes, in 1981, 15% belonged to them. Similarly, the percentage of schedules tribes’ recruits had risen from 4 to 7. These percentages were, however, still lower than their proportion in the population. In other words, persons of low social status were still under-represented in the higher bureaucracy. According to the study of Subblah Chaudhary in Andhra Pradesh bureaucracy, while a majority of the officers have an urban professional middle class background, a majority of the clerks have a rural, farming background. It has also been found that while about 76% of officers came from upper & upper middle classes, 75% of the clerks came from the lower and lower middle classes. Thus while the highest proportion of forward castes was among officers, the highest proportion of scheduled castes and tribes was to be found among clerks. This indicates a clear relationship between caste status and bureaucratic status.

Similar is the case for religious under-representation. While all the important religious of India are represented in the higher bureaucracy, some of them have fewer members than their proportion in the population. Thus among the IAS recruits in 1981, about, about 88% were Hindus. Only 1% were Muslims, 4% were Christians and 5% were Sikhs. The representation of Muslim has varied between 1 and 6% since 1957 and has been much lower of than their proportion in the population. Because of their socio-economic background, a large number cannot avail of this opportunity. The vast majority of our people live in villages where they have little opportunity to pursue the kind of education which would make for success at the competitive examination. The impact of this socio-historical factor is that the poor and those living in villages, and those belonging to disadvantages castes and religions have the feeling that they are unjustly being denied entry into these services.

Another important factor is that the women in developing countries have always remained a disadvantaged section of the society. There have been many social reform movement all over the wolf mining to improve their status. The impact of this socio-historical background has been that the representation of women in the higher bureaucracy has increased consistently. In India, among IAS recruits for year 1957 & 1981, their percentage was about 3 and 12 respectively. Since women constitute about half of the population, they may be said to be still grossly under-represented. As far as developed countries are concerned, the socio-historical factors are quite different as compared to the developing countries. In developed countries, the political scenario being different compared to the ones under colonial supremacy, different social revolutions at different points of time have affected the administrative systems.


Comparative public administration has two major differences with traditional public administration. Firstly, public administration is generally ethnocentric (culture-bound), whereas comparative public administration is cross-cultural in orientation and thrust. Prior to the abandonment of the principles paradigm, it was assumed that cultural factors did not make any difference in administrative settings.

The second difference between both is that, while traditional public administration has attempted to build theory and to seek knowledge, the latter has purely scholarly thrust as opposed to a professional one.


Fred W. Riggs, the foremost scholar of comparative public administration, observed that there were three trends, which were evident in the comparative study of public administration. These were: normative to empirical, ideographic to nomothetic and non-ecological to ecological.


Traditional studies on comparative politics or administration emphasized ‘good administration’. Efficiency and economy were considered to be the primary goals of all administrative systems. These studies focused on discovering facts about political structures and behaviours of administrative systems rather than in describing as to what was good for each system. Two trends which were noticeable have influenced the character of some administrative studies in the 1960s. The first, the concept of ‘development administration’, which focused on the goal-orientation of administrative systems, is a normative concept. Comparative public administration seems to have emerged from the study of public administration in the 1960s as a synthesis between the normative and the empirical elements of analysis.

The second trend was the emergence of the label ‘New Public Administration’, which emphasized the idealistic goal to be achieved by an administrative system and, thus, attempted to bridge the gap between the ‘is’ and ‘should’ aspects of public administration.


Riggs used the words ‘ideographic’ and ‘nomothetic’ in specific contexts. The ideographic approach attempts to focus on unique cases; for example, study on a single country or a single agency (agricultural administration unit). On the other hand, the nomothetic approach seeks to develop generalizations and concepts which are based on analysis of regularities of administrative behavior.

Traditional studies tended to focus on the structure of individual political institutions or single countries. No serious attempt was made to compare various nations or systems. These studies did no help in the process of theory building or in developing generalizations. Nomothetic studies, on the other hand, tried to analyse different administrative systems in comparative context in a way that will help in developing hypotheses and theories. The objective of such studies is to examine similarities and differences of different administrative systems of nations and then draw certain generalizations. Very few studies are available on comparative administration systems of different nations.


Traditional studies, as already pointed out, were not only descriptive in nature but also non-ecological in approach. In these studies, no serious attempt was made to relate administrative systems with the environment in which they functioned. However, in the 1960s, Fred W. Riggs and few others stressed on the ecological approach for comparing administrative systems. This approach examines the interactions between an administrative system and its external environment. However, the analysis relating to the influences of the administrative system on the environment is still inadequate.

R.B. Jain concluded that “by looking at the problems from a comparative perspective, public administration will be widening its horizon of interest and thereby would be in a much better position to offer relevant and practical solutions to the problems being faced by the mankind”. Thus, the study of comparative public administration is very important. Time is now ripe to strengthen relations among institutions (designed for the improvement of public administration in practically all countries of the world), both national and international, in order to forge new modalities for concerted action to improve public administration for development. For this purpose, it will be quite useful to establish a network of these institutions to enable flow of information and provide opportunities for collaboration on projects.


The significance of the study of Comparative Public Administration is well accepted today. It has now established itself as one important branch (sub-discipline) of Public Administration. The subject of Comparative Public Administration virtually constitutes a study in the direction of the ‘expanding horizon of Public Administration’. Jun opined that comparative perspective is needed for improving public policies and for theory building in a field of Public Administration. Comparative method has been used in studying the contemporary system of government and administration. The chief aim of earlier approach was to prescribe ‘ideas’ or at least a better pattern of administrative structure and action. This approach is implicit in the so-called ‘principle’ of Public Administration which reached its height in the ‘scientific management movement’ with its stress on the ‘one best way’. Now there is a shift from presenting a mirror of our ideal system before other countries or to one’s own country to descriptive and analytical information for its own sake. Thus, the normative study of comparative administration merged gradually into the empirical and explanatory writings on different administrative systems. The recent trend is towards a nomothetic approach, which showed interest in concentrate situations, case studies and particular facts. Comparative Public Administration emphasizes on theory or testable propositions which assert regularities of behavior and correlations between variables. It involves a greater interest in the environmental factors as they interact with Public Administration.

It is argued that through Comparative Public Administration hypotheses, generalizations, models and theories can be constructed which can collectively help in the scientific study of Public Administration. The study of Comparative Public Administration also contributes to a greater understanding of the individual characteristics of administrative systems functioning in different nations and cultures. Besides, comparative studies also help in explaining factors responsible for cross-national and cross-cultural similarities as well as distinctions in the administrative systems.

It is an approach to revitalize the declining pace of Public Administration’s theory making capacity. It offers to study the administrative processes and organizations in order to explain the common problems and to find remedies to solve those problems. It attempts to identify the characteristics of various administrations in terms of certain established analytical categories in the light of which identification of administrative phenomena becomes probable for as many administrative systems as possible. Policy recommendation is one of the important outcomes of Comparative Public Administration. Waldo points out the following significance out of Comparative Public Administration study: (a) to discover, define and differentiate the stuff that is to be compared, whenever in the world it may be; and (b) to develop criteria of differentiation that is useful in ordering and analyzing the ‘stuff’ once it has been identified.

The significance of Comparative Public Administration lies in its academic utility in terms of scientific and systematic study of Public Administration and in improving the knowledge about other administrative systems so that appropriate administrative reforms and changes can be brought about in different nations. The comparative study in Public Administration has played an important role in making the subject broader, useful and inter-disciplinary. It has brought politics and administration closer to each-other. It has brought greater scientific outlook in theory building. It has added increased significance to the study of administration of the developing countries. It is certainly on account of the adoption of this inter-disciplinary study by the writers on Comparative Public Administration that the subject of Public Administration is said to have ‘undergone a revolution of sorts.

The study of comparative public administration is not merely an intellectual exercise of the scholars, nor is it limited to mere comparative studies. Its conclusions have important bearing on the whole range of public administration. The basic contribution of the comparative study is that it has helped eliminate the narrowness of ‘provincialism’ and ‘regionalism’. The increasing trend of comparative study in public administration has played an important role in making this subject broader, deeper and useful. Comparative study has brought politics and public administration closer to each other. The comparative methodology has broadened the field of social science research which was earlier confined to cultural limitations. Comparative revolution has brought greater scientific outlook in theory construction. Finally, it has encouraged the process of broadening the field of social analysis.


The comparative administration adopted the approach especially following Riggs, via grand theory on the model of system sociology. For example, Riggs’s approach emphasizes the development of elaborate models that “might eventually help us understand more about administrative behavior”. The basic fault in it, according to Golembiewski, is that “eventually is likely to be a very long time indeed.

The development of comparative administration is lacking in terms of empirical theory. There is inadequate methodological base, lack of experience and traditions for empirical research. Moreover, comparative administration efforts are often a scientific, if not anti-scientific.

Lastly, comparative administration did not develop a viable applied aspect. That means that it did not develop goal-based empirical theories. The need for practical application was central in comparative administration’s early formative period, but it soon became a very weak urge. Golembiewski remarks that “comparative administration is inadequately developed as a social science, and only fitfully applies its methodology… is seen as ‘academic analysis’ and as more beholden to the ‘knowledge for its own sake’ bias of university settings.”


The most important characteristic features of the Comparative Public Administration are:

  1. 1.The Comparative Public Administration is in its ‘youth’. It is a relatively new field or study in the sense that it only emerged after the Second World War. In the words of Raphaeli, “Comparative Public Administration is a newcomer to the community of academic instruction and research”. He has traced its origin to the 1952 conference on Administration held at Princeton University. It was during this conference that a sub-committee under the committee on Public Administration, entitled “Comparative Public Administration” was established “to develop a criteria of relevance and a design for field studies in foreign countries.”
  2. 2.The Comparative Public Administration is to use Thomas S. Kuhan’s term, in a ‘preparadigmaticstage, which is characterized by a diversity of approaches and the absence of a dominant model or paradigm. In fact, there exists a plethora of competing approaches in the field. These approaches have been classified by Fred W. Riggs in 1962 as normative, empirical, nomothetic, ideographic, non-ecological and ecological approaches.
  3. 3.Comparative Public Administration, according to Riggs, is characterized by the following three trends: (a) a shift from normative to empirical approaches; (b) within the empirical category, there has been a change in emphasis from ideographic to nomothetic studies; and (c) a shift in focus from non-ecological to ecological approaches. In 1962, when Riggs first described these trends, he noted that the first trend was fairly clear, but not the second and third trends which were only beginning to develop. The second and third trends have since then become more dominant in Comparative Public Administration as can be seen in the emphasis given to nomothetic and ecological approaches in the field. However, this does not mean that normative concerns are not important in Comparative Public Administration any more. Indeed, it can be argued that there has been a resurgence of normative concerns in Public Administration in general and Comparative Public Administration in particular especially with the emergence of the “New Public Administration” movement which arose from the post-behavioural revolution in Political Science.
  4. 4.The field of Comparative Public Administration has been dominated until recently by American scholars on Public Administration in general and members of the CAG in particular. The CAG made a tremendous contribution to the study of Public Administration in general and Comparative Public Administration in particular through the sponsorship of research seminars and conferences and its prodigious output of publications, which included a newsletter, seminar reports, teaching materials, occasional papers and various volumes in the CAG series published by Duke University Press.
  5. 5.Comparative Public Administration emphasise on two primary ‘motivational concerns’; theory building and development administration. This concern for theory has been recognized by most scholars in the field, especially by Heady, Heaphey and Raphaeli for example. Theory building efforts in Comparative Public Administration have so far concentrated on two types of theories: general and middle-range theories. Examples of general theories are Fred W. Rigg’s macro models of Agraria and Industria and his theory of Prismatic Society. The best example of a middle-range theory in Comparative Public Administration is Max Weber’s ideal type bureaucracy, which has been critically reviewed by Alfred Diamant, and tested in Egypt by Morroe Berger and in Turkey by Robert Presthus. In recent years, there has been a shift in emphasis from general theories to middle-range theories in Comparative Public Administration.


Behaviouralism has contributed substantially to the stimulation of comparative public administration. Often it is described as Behavioural Revolution. It started in 1930s and 1940s along with the Human Relations Movement but became the dominant approach after World War II. It was developed by Chester Barnard and Herbert Simon. Behaviouralism is essentially concerned with the scientific study of human behavior in various settings. In administrative studies the behavioural approach has certain salient features. They are:

  1. (1)Its literature is descriptive and analytical rather than prescriptive, with the studies on motivation being an exception;
  2. (2)It emphasizes operational definitions of terms and empirical study based on rigorous methods such as field observation, controlled field experiments, and laboratory studies or organization-like groups;
  3. (3)Largely it is concerned with quantification, mathematization, and formal theory construction.

The behavioural approach is the ‘socio-psychological’ approach and its most important champion is Herbert A. Simon. The socio-psychological approach believes that:

  1. (1)Public administration should be concerned with the study of human behaviour in organization and the operations of the various organisations;
  2. (2)The human behaviour in organization and the operations can be studied and investigated objectively; and
  3. (3)After studying the actual working of organization, generalized statements about organization and administration can be obtained. In his book “Administrative Behaviour: A study of Decision-Making Process in Administrative Organisation” Simon observes “Before a science can develop principles, it must possess concepts” …. Decision-making is the most important activity of administration. Human beings who work in organisations have aspirations and desires. Their behaviour is conditioned by their psychology, motives and social environment. The administrative science should study these ‘facts’ of behaviour without getting involved in the question of ‘values’. Organization is a group of people having: the behaviour of these people is subject to ‘influence’ and a student of administration should study these behaviours wherein he will have to employ the methods of sociology and psychology.

The focus of behavioural approach is on human behaviour including psychology, sociology and anthropology. It claims to explain administrative processes that are common to many forms of organization. Its emphasis is on the ‘universal’ as opposed to the ‘provincial’ approach of the institutionalists, it has motivated greater scientific research and systematic theory construction. “Testing of hypotheses in cross-cultural contexts has made the study of comparative public administration a necessity. In order to study the differing ecologies of a variety of administrative systems, comparative public administration has borrowed concepts, tools and findings from various social sciences, and thus has developed an interdisciplinary orientation. Behaviouralism itself has acted as an umbrella under which comparative public administration has found several modes of interaction, not only with public administration per se but also with other disciplines.


Besides the literature on comparative politics, the study of comparative public administration is influenced by the general literature on organization theory and management theory. One of the recent developments in this field has been the contingency approach to organization theory. “This approach tends to match the characteristics of environment of the organization and the mode of production within the organization to the most appropriate structures. Such a theory would therefore argue that organisations performing different functions and operating in different environments should be designed differently.” The contingency approach to organisations should have a great deal of applicability in comparative administrations. Considerable variation in organizational structure and performance may be explained by factors which are basic to the contingency approach.

Secondly, there have been important developments in the study of public organizations themselves that can aid in improving the understanding of comparative public administration. The most important of these are the increasing emphasis on the study of implementation and the associated interest in the multi-organisational nature of most administrations. Guy Peters observes, the implementation approach has placed increased emphasis on the changes that a piece of legislation may undergo as it is translated from a document to a working programme. Such a perspective combines an understanding of formal administrative practices with an understanding of the political realities of administration in the public sector.

According to Waldo, comparative public administration (CPA) both resembles and differs from modern organisation theory. Waldo wrote: to compare is to examine similarities and differences simultaneously; the effort is bent forward to two main ends: (i) to discover, define and differentiate the stuff (politics or administration) to be compared, wherever in the world it may be; and (ii) to develop criteria of differentiation that are useful in ordering and analyzing the ‘stuff’ once it has been identified.

He adds that, CPA shares with modern organization theory a concern for methodological problems; a reliance on models such as the systems framework and structural functionalism; an interdisciplinary orientation a search for universal concepts, formulas, and theories; and an emphasis on empirical description. CPA differs from modern organization theory, however, in its explicit comparative perspective, its focus on cultural diversity, and its fascination with Weberian bureaucracies.

Though it was at one time widely believed that CPA was the area of greatest promise in contemporary public administration, Waldo feels that promise has yet to be fulfilled. CPA tells us about the relationship between administration and social ends, the critical dependence of civilization on effective governmental administration and the difficulties in transferring the Western model of administration to other cultures. But the basic problem of the CPA movement was the distance between the theoretical models employed and the evidence of field research. And even with its strong theoretical bent, Waldo asserts that the movement failed to produce anything in the way of rigorous theory.

The pressure for practical results led to a switch from CPA to developmental administration, though such a switch did not produce encouraging results. Waldo charges that the developmental perspective has assumed that to be developed is to be “Western”. The result, he asserts, is that developmental administration has become a powerful and subtle ideology with the characteristics of a “world-girdling religion ,” and the effort to achieve development has amounted to little more than an effort to reproduce the Weberian model of bureaucracy.


  1. 1.“Many Asian and African countries have inherited the colonial idea of civil service as a privileged elite. Hence, the social status of the civil service isan important aspect of the bureaucracy’s unsuitability for change.” Comment.(2014)
  2. 2."..... In most cases.... newly independent states, of the nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America, despite their differences.... are in transition." (Ferrel Heady). What common features are indicative of characteristics of their administrative patterns (cultures)?
  3. 3."Comparative Public Administration both resembles and differs from modern organization theory." Elaborate.
  4. 4.“No science of public administration is possible unless... 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 experience”. Discuss. (2005)
  5. 5.“Instead of looking inward in their own values and requirements, the Asian countries looked outward”. Comment.(1999)
  6. 6.A major problem with comparative public administration is that it has been behavioural. Comment. (1995)
  7. 7. “Comparative Public administration as a field of research is not so much comparative, as it is the study of Public administration in foreign countries”. Comment. (1993)



Comparative public administration, in method and in content, has not successfully integrated with the main field of public administration, to the detriment of both. With globalization and changes in information technology, the current separation impairs public administration education. Nevertheless, public administration today is at the center of the human endeavor to restructure and reshape societies from within, to be viable components of this still unfolding but rapidly growing phenomenon known as globalism. We are not witnessed an old system passing away in its entirety and a new global system being born to replace it. Instead, it seem that we are heading into a profoundly changing order. The economic revolution remains in progress, and the world’s political boundaries are given in to the free movement of people, goods, information, ideas, and even cultural values. Knowledge, too, regularly crosses cultural boundaries in important areas such as finance, technology, and management. To be sure, these changes and developments do not mean the traditional nation-state is dead but they do underscore the magnitude of the problems facing the contemporary state.

One such problem for modern states, particularly those of developing countries, is a growing concern about the capacity of public institutions to shoulder new responsibilities and to ensure fair dealings within the new global structure. Whereas students of comparative administration realize what is changing in this transitional mode, they are not certain of what is emerging as the new global system. The change, however, is creating new opportunities while imposing formidable challenges for public administration. One such challenge is the trend toward allocating a greater role for the private sector in national development, which has shifted the responsibility of public administration from managing to facilitating economic activity. What is implied here is more than a need for “entrepreneurial qualities”. The public administration literature is full of propositions offering alternatives to the often-denounced traditional system of administration (bureaucracy). Space does not permit a full examination of these alternatives, but the New Public Management movement is representative. These alternatives intended or not, are simply grounded in instrumental rationality, which ultimately would erode fundamental values-indeed, the foundations—of representative governance.


Ferrel Heady (1984) in Henry (1999:32-33) posited that CPA addresses five “motivating concerns” thus:

  • as an intellectual enterprise – the search for theory;
  • the urge for practical application;
  • the incidental contribution of the broader field of comparative politics
  • the interest of researchers trained in the tradition of administrative law; and
  • the comparative analysis of on-going problems of Public Administration.

Henderson observed that the Riggsian ideas dominated the earlier works in the field of CPA. The intention of F. W. Riggs and other Comparative Public Administrationists was to utilize the field to provoke and strengthen theory in Public administration. Riggs opined that CPA is to do this by being “empirical, nomothetic and ecological”, which implies being factual, scientific, abstracted and generalizable, systematic and non-parochial.

The above averment essentially implies that CPA is theory based which underscores a basic difference that CPA has with the wider discipline – Public administration. Public administration is basically “practitioner- oriented” or practical for short emphasis. From its inception, CPA has focused more on “theory-building”- seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

Another basic difference CPA has with Public administration is that the latter is culture-bound, while the former with its emphasis on theory is abstract and non-parochial. Public administration on its own is parochial with its inclination towards specific culture which reinforces its practical nature.

Notwithstanding the theoretical inclination of CPA as presented by Henry, Fried observed that the mainstream scholar of CPA are still trying to construct a theory and that “Universal theory remains elusive”. This he noted thus: that national administrative systems are far more difficult to study than other social institutions in view of the difficulty of performance measurement, indeterminable boundaries, cultural variations among nations, and other uncertain phenomena. Wart and Cayer observed on the basis of in-depth research that articles on CPA were far “more practitioner-oriented, more empirically rooted, more likely to make policy recommendations and more concerned with developing methodologies than were articles on this topic in the past”. They concluded however that CPA lacks features giving it clear identity and largely remains ambiguous.


  • Comparison is fundamental to all human thought.
  • It is the methodological core of the humanistic and scientific methods
  • It is the only way a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of political systems can be obtained.
  • Comparison in phases (past and present) and experiences of nations aid indepth understanding of political and administrative institutions.
  • Comparison of politics and administration of other societies affords the benefits of identifying political alternatives and remedying short comings in our national life.
  • It widens our horizon of political possibilities by taking us beyond the precincts of familiar arrangements and assumptions.
  • It assists in developing explanations and testing theories relating to how political and administrative processes/changes occur.
  • As a corollary, it affords the opportunity of assessing the developmental models, theories, assumptions, phases or processes of nation-states in relation to others.
  • The comparative approach facilities an initiation of general theories of political, economic and socio-cultural relationships between countries.
  • By comparing the experiences of many institutions and settings with underlining political theories, the comparative method offers a potent tool for thought and analysis.


Spurred and triggered by events at the international level, comparative public administration moved from the theoretical emphasis of the ‘classical era’ to a new empirical emphasis that tries to make better decisions in public policies and management. For modernizing governments to improve domestic policy making and implementation, they need to know what systems and skills are required to make them work.

The classical CPA era (generally speaking, from 1961 to 1980) includes influences of the periods of the US foreign and programme, bilateral programmes of the French and English with former colonies and of UN agencies such as UNDP, WHO, the World Bank and the IMF. But the driving force of most CPA scholarship during this period was the United States-AID- Cag doctrines. The systematic successes of the post-war Alliance Programme in Europe and the Marshall Plan (a programme of reconstruction for Western Europe became the prevailing model of development for the new nations), for example, generated optimism and excitement about using administrative means for administrative reforms in the developing countries. In short, CPA in this period stressed transfer of Western technology, export of political democracy, modernization of the government machinery through external inducement, training by foreign experts, designing planning systems and setting of institutes of public administration. Like the Alliance Programme itself, which applied to advanced industrial nations, the approach to developing countries was top-down and presumptuous. The classical era produced mostly rhetorical debate about the meaning of development and strategies of achieving goals of nation-building and socio-economic progress. Issues between Western democracy and socialist alternative were debated, producing an appreciation for the complexities of local cultures and institutions. But lacking the infrastructure and skills of the original Marshal Plan target countries, few developing countries grew or developed under the influence of their foreign aid or CPA model building.

There were very few comparative studies of programme or policy administration. The field studies that were performed were largely case studies of particular programmes, from which comparative lessons were often proffered but rarely followed up in later studies. In developing countries comparative studies often boiled down to case studies, such as the Braibanti study of the Pakistani civil service. In the early 1980s, the agenda of comparative public administration was affected of a long period of fiscal conservatism and skepticism in the Unites States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In the early 1990s, it was also affected by the pull of events in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and Latin America requiring new applied knowledge.

The general trend in foreign aid programmes has been to shift funds from direct government assistance to NGOs and private agencies as well as efforts to reduce the state in productive activities through (SOEs). Trade and investment are becoming the preferred solutions to nation building. To the extent that the government was the focus of aid, it was primarily to downsize of budgeting, personnel and programme management. Also, the CPA agenda was affected by the notion that traditional government solutions were not very effective either in the United States and Europe or in the developing countries. The focus became models of reform and methods of turning around government agencies.

Faced with the problem of fewer resources and increased scepticism, the new CPA agenda has been less interested in theory building than in application and translation of existing theories into practice. As with the past CPA efforts, stimulating democratic capitalism. With these interests new CAP studies have poured out in the traditional areas of public budgeting, public personnel management, intergovernmental relations, and public management. In contrast to past debate over such items as turf or field definition, and the quest for middle-range versus systems theory, CPA research began to focus on the application of organization theory to comparative management and policy problems. For the first time a concerted effort has been made on several fronts to examine the determinants of organizational efficiency and effectiveness in comparative perspective. It may be mentioned here that the CPA agenda is no longer simply determined by the flow of US foreign aid money. Funding for applied public sector administrative studies is now solidly multinational, primarily through such institutions as UNDP, EC-PHARE, the World Bank and the IMF.

To conclude, a fortuitous set of circumstances exists for comparative public administration work in the future. The new CPA approach has been strengthened by (a) application of older perspectives, such as ‘functionalism and systems analysis’, and introduction of new theoretical perspectives, such as ‘public choice’, ‘new institutional economic’ theories, ‘reinvention of government’ and ‘good governance’, and (b) focusing research on public policies and public management in the developing countries.

It is observed that comparative administration is moving towards a ‘reinvigorated functionalism’, stimulated by the growth of new public management as a significant influence in public administration and in development administration particularly. New public management (NPM), essentially a market-oriented approach in public administration that distinctly included performance-based management and institutional reform is concerned with operational capabilities of intuitions. Public management is seen as ‘managerialism’ by some, and as ‘ill-defined economicism’ by others, who view it as a ‘neoliberal austerity programme” uncritically oriented towards economic growth at home and aboard, through an array of disparate goals and means that include privatization, globalization and liberalization, reduction of government spending and lowered trade barriers. The NPM has become a dominant perspective in public and comparative administration. The NPM approach is accepted by many developed and developing countries because of its utility and emphasis on performance management and accountability. This approach is views as a new mode of governance.

Neoliberal policies of reduced government size and lowered trade barriers are given much credit for improved Asian economies (particularly in China and India), but doubts have been raised about the possibility and desirability of their wide application. Critics point out that, over the long term, the East Asian model is unsustainable in the absence of a balance between economic and social policies (violation of human and labour rights). A few scholars have criticized the World Bank’s neoliberal institutionalism, in particular for taking management techniques to replace what are in fact governance decisions. Stubbes Writes: The tenets of the approach have certainly infused development agencies, INGOs and ICCs, (with) the core components of the new public management (being) the de-regulation of line management; the conversion of civil service departments into free-standing agencies and enterprises; performance-based accountability through contracting; and competitive mechanism including internal markets.

In USA, UK, and in many European countries, public management has focused on the government reinvention and governance. The comparative focus has been on practical issues of policy and administration, ranging from performance-based procurement and contracting to performance budgeting and performance measurement. One group that is promoting the comparative study of public management as the focus for Comparative Administration is the International Public Management Network (IPMN), which began in USA, it is broadly international. With its two journals, International Public Management Journal (IMPJ) and the web-based International Public Management Review, the IPMN promotes the comparative study of public management as the focus for comparative administration.

For doing comparisons in the European Union, the public management institute at Catholic University at Leuven, Belgium has been instrumental in developing a set of performance indicators comparing national-level public sector performance in policy areas such as health and public welfare. In addition, the European Common Assessment Framework (ECAF) has been developed at the European Institute of Public Administration in Maastricht, Belgium in concert with Public Management Institute to assess programme quality and policy performance across public sector organization in Europe.

Managerial approaches such as NPM, to development have growth in influence notwithstanding a “disjunction between processes and effects” in the application of discourse originating in the developed world to different dominion of developing nations. But because of its emphasis on government accountability, performance-based managerial approach can prove to be conducive to institutional responsiveness and responsibility. Significant theoretical and applied consensus in comparative administration and, in particular, in development administration, may be built around this prospect. Guess and Gabrielyan conclude that “a fortuitous set of circumstance exists for CPA work in the future”. They add, “While the challenges created by a changing world order have never been greater, the use of applied methods and growing international interest in the results of public sector reform have created a variety of scholarly resources equal to these new challenges” thus the study of comparative public administration promotes a reinvigorates theory building in public administration.


  • Increased inter-state interaction due to globalization has a profound impact on the performance of States, which could be fruitfully compared by CPA.
  • Increasing International interdependence of bureaucracies e.g. for security, needs comparative studies.
  • Action groups related to human rights, child labour, environment, gender, justice & disabled are coming together- leading to comparative studies e.g. for environment, Green peace is having global appeal. So is the case with human right organizations having global interlinking (Amnesty).
  • Trends toward co-production of results – public, private and IIIrd sector are coming together for networked governance. Their broad strategies and institutional involvement especially in civil sector and effectiveness can be compared e.g. IRC in USA and TRAI in India.
  • Disaster Management by different countries can be compared to benefit all.
  • Structural reforms in context of LPG- how accepted or rejected in I and III world-makes comparative studies very imp. What is the nature of state on the first and third world – How does it affect/ influence the contextual relevance of state and market has encouraged CPA. Good
  • Governance calls for adopting the best practices from other countries for the general welfare of the society. This makes CPA highly important.
  • Community management of biodiversity in III world needs to be scientific and rational.

Sharing developmental experience is highly important in this context. Overall today, there is optimistic climate for CPA. So it is poised for renunciation.


Comparative public administration is currently devoted to the task of building ecological and developmental models useful for cross-cultural analysis. In this regard, the field is designed to transcend the limitations of American administrative theory and of Weberian analysis.

The Comparative public administration movement emerged in an environment which included such factors as the spread of American occupational administration during and after World War II, the emergence of a host of developing countries, the extension of technical assistance to these countries, the involvement of academicians in the administration of this assistance, and rapid growth of behavioural sciences in general and comparative politics in particular. Because of the interest of the Ford Foundation – the institution which financed the CAG for about a decade – in the problems of the developing countries, and the resultant involvement of scholars in the administrative systems of such countries, a geographical division of labour has emerged between the American public administration and comparative public administration, the latter being interested primarily in the continents of Africa, Latin America, and particularly Asia. This interest in the study of societies with highly differing cultures has stimulated new thinking in the field. Scholars in comparative public administration, led by Riggs, have been in search of new concepts to explain the dynamic and developmental aspects of administrative systems seen from a cross –cultural perspective. These scholars are striving to build truly ecological constructs, i.e., those capable of explaining the impact of environment on the administrative system, and vice versa.

However, such efforts to construct models containing elements of reciprocity have not had entirely satisfactory results to date. For example, the dominant concern of Riggs’s prismatic model has apparently been with the impact of social environment on the administrative system. The treatment of bureaucracy’s influence on the environment has been relatively weak. Thus, Riggs has not developed a balanced interactional analysis. On the other hand, writers on development administration have often considered administrative system as an independent variable and treated developmental goals as dependent variables. Such single factor models of analysis could fall short of the ideals of an ecological approach, for, once again, the analysis would not be truly interactional as the reciprocal influence of the environments upon administration would be neglected.

Moreover in the literature on development administration, writers have not discussed extensively the way an administrative system may affect the developmental process in society. Some attention, however, has been given to the problem of administrative reform, particularly its institutional aspects. It is clear that comparative administrative analyses requires dynamic models of change. Such models should contain a two-fold perspective, one which encompasses an analysis of the internal conditions that affect administrative innovation, and the ecological conditions which favour or frustrate such innovation. Such analysis must envision modal developmental sequences within diverse contexts. In a related area, the normative concern with a balance between the bureaucracy and the broader political system – a continuation of the Weberian tradition-must give way to constructs which are not biased against rapid social change stimulated primarily either by the bureaucracy or by the political leadership.

As far the ecology of the contemporary scholarship in comparative public administration is concerned, the most significant variables seem to be associated with the complexities of modernization and diversity, which in turn are concerned with the dynamic pf social change.

Administration, and particularly public administration, is intimately involved in the entire process of modernization. In other words, conceptual constructs in comparative public administration should have the following elements in order to respond to the challenges of modernization:

  1. cross-cultural compatibility: allowing broad comparisons among administrative systems in Western as well as different non-Western settings;
  2. developmental dimensions: giving comparison a broad linkage with the question of modernization;
  3. ecological perspective: studying interactions between the administrative systems and their environment: an ecological perspective would suggests diverse developmental models rooted in particular sets of somewhat similar systems, and standing between discrete non-comparative approaches and those seeking universal comparative categories.
  4. Goal-orientation: stressing unique goals of particular cultures in relation to their administrative systems.

Incorporation of these elements in the conceptual constructs in comparative public administration would permit analysis of “comparable” as well as diverse administrative systems from the ecological-developmental and goal-orientation angles. In brief, then, the elements of ecology, development, goal –orientation and cross-cultural comparability have to be tied together in comparative administrative analysis, as any one element stripped of others may prove to be less than meaningful.

Presently, comparative administrative analysis has developed for the most part, on the macro and “middle range” levels. Collection of broad generalizations and hypothesis is developing while the empirical testing of these prepositions is being left the future. Thus, in the area of empirical analysis, comparatively public administration is far behind American public administration. Nevertheless, in some other areas the comparative theory can contribute to the American administrative theory, for example, by way of proving certain prepositions like those dealing with prismatic elements in a diffracted society and positive formalism. Likewise, comparative public administration can use the rich collection of prepositions developed in recent years by American Administrative theory and test the extent to which such prepositions are culture-bound. With the growth of large scale complex organisations in developing nations, it may be expected that in the future even the early American administrative theory could serve a heuristic purpose by suggesting certain prepositions on the internal organizational operations in comparative context. The notions of economy and efficiency could be of great relevance to the emergent nations, which, out of necessity, are dedicated to the modernization tasks needing maximum results with severely limited resources. Similar relevance could hold true for writings on human relations.

As we move along the 1970’s “new” public administration in the United States is gaining favour among scholars. Concerned with phenomenological approach, conceptually, and with humanistic orientation, motivationally, the major thrust of the “new” public administration appears to be on enhancing the role and capacity of public administration to meet the challenges of, and to direct, social change. In addition, there is another new focus in organisation theory. Students of “temporary society,” such as Warren Bennis and Philip Slater, are talking of certain desirable changes in organizational structure and internal environment in response to the challenges of the changing social environment. Both of these foci- “new” public administration and of “temporary society” – are concerned with the problems relating to administration-environment interaction, and to socio-administrative change in this interactional context. In other words, both possess an ecological-developmental orientation, though with differing emphasis. It appears, therefore, that comparative public administration and the contemporary American administrative theory share some common major concerns, in the foreseeable future, comparative public administration is likely to strengthen its own identity, although, eventually, a desirable course could be a gradual convergence of American public administration and its comparative counterpart.


A realistic assessment of present situation is necessary for comparative public administration to reach its potential. Such assessment has to produce a clearer vision and suggest how to improve integration with the main filed. But, for a better understanding, there must be an awareness of how we got here. The early mission and priorities of the comparative movement were articulated by Fred Riggs and Ferrel Heady, as well as other scholars, including Dwight Waldo, Milton Esman, Frank Sherwood, Ralph Braibanti, John Montgomery, James Heaphey, and Willian Siffin. Their contributions underlines the need to conduct more empirical studies and to shift from ideographic (distinct cases) to nomothetic approaches (studies that seek explicitly to formulate and test propositions).

One of the most significant early articulations was the accentuation of ecological influences on administrative functions. Another motivating concern of the comparative perspective was the search for theory and for reforming administrative practices. Many newly independent countries used early comparative administration scholarship to build the necessary capabilities for external negotiations for foreign aid. Thus, the reform of administrative system was mostly a stopgap or an opportunities process rather than well thought-out plan with articulated objectives and methods. Administrative reform programs for developing countries have been criticized for ignoring the context of the tradition of democratic representation and for failing to develop institutions with operational capacities to improve prevailing low performance and accountability standards. Yet, at the end of the 1970s, cross-cultural studies had achieved preeminence in university teaching and research, on both public and business administration curricula.

Looking ahead, in twenty-first century, comparative administration is in search of a new focus and a new momentum to meet current challenges. One major challenge to researchers in constructing comparative studies is “Resolving issues of purpose and method.” Properly constructed, comparative research consists of the evaluation of competing explanatory frameworks, the testing of models across spatial structures/cultures/organizations/contexts and the comparison of different instruments for achieving the same end. Resolution of these issues will be judged by their relevance to practice and their link to the main field of public administration.

Improving the relevance and integration of comparative studies depends on developing generalizations from aggregated of particular facts that have reliably established. Without ignoring the concentrations and distinctiveness of the cases being investigated. Whereas early comparative knowledge was derived mainly from single-case analysis, which often served as the empirical base for developing tentative generalizations, the current need is for multiple cases from different context. Knowledge of the operating attributes of the system subject of study is critical not only for developing generalizations, but also to ensure the relationship between the particular (the operating system) and the general (the context) is complementary and coherent. Despite many pessimistic assessments, “the crisis of confidence” in comparative research is not unique. Current and future research has to respond to the need for more empirical, nomothetic studies while employing investigation tools that can accommodate ecological factors. There is need to specify conditions and variables that determine relationships through empirical evidence gathered from case studies and refined middle-range propositions. After establishing the overall objectives of future comparative research, there is a compelling need for an adaptable framework to reconcile systematic comparisons of different administrative systems.

Such a framework has to manifest certain attributes:

  • A wide range with the capacity to harmonize disparate existing research findings of previous comparative studies.
  • Flexibility to balance the conceptual and practical concerns of the filed.
  • Adaptability in the face of contextual variations on the ground.
  • Openness to incorporate indigenous models and native patterns of study and application, along with Western concepts and models


Today’s public administration functions in a different time and faces different challenges, requiring new concepts and methods. Realizing the massive influence of unfolding globalism, comparative public administration opens the door for effective adjustment and transition from traditional, ethnocentric perspectives to a wider scope that integrated knowledge from various places and cultures. There is no one way to get to the place where public administration ought to be. However, clear objectives, ratified application of theoretical perspectives, and updated research instruments would give the comparative approach a better chance of constructing frameworks and contributing to scholarship that enriches public administration and ensures its adaptability to current global conditions.

  1. 1.“Comparative Performance Measurement (CPM) bridges everyday work experience with the broader horizons of comparativism.” Explain.           (2015)
  2. 2.Comment on the reasons why universal theory remains elusive in comparative public administration.     (2012)
  3. 3.“Truly comparative administrative studies are empirical, nomothetic and ecological” (Riggs). In this perspective, examine the current status of Comparative Public Administration.   (2008)                                      

‘The growth of comparative Public Administration is a continuing process and is of relevance for both operational and academic study of Public administration.