Is Public Administration a Science or an Art?

Gifted administrators like Kautilya, Akbar, Todarmal, Bismarck and Sardar Patel worked wonders with their administrative skill and were hailed as the greatest artists in their own field by an admiring world.

This was the reason why training had no role in preparing an administrator for his future job. However, there is difference of opinion among the thinkers on whether public administration is an art, science or craft.

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Before we decide whether there is a science of administration or not, it is necessary to understand the meaning of the term “Science”. If by science is meant a conceptual scheme of things in which every particularity covered may be assigned a mathematical value, and then administration is not a science.

If on the other hand, we rightly use the term in connection with a body of systematized knowledge, derived from experience and observation, then public administration is a science. Public administration knowledge is increasing and public administration study is being approached through the scientific method.

Luther Gullick is of the view that, “Science of administration is a system of knowledge whereby men may understand relationship, predict results and influence outcomes in any situation where men are organized at work together for a common purpose”.

Science is characterized by precision and predictability. A scientific rule is one that works all the time. As a matter of fact rules in science are considered to be so rigid and final that they are not called rules at all but laws.

Two parts of hydrogen combined with one part of Oxygen will always give us Water or steam or ice, depending on the temperature regardless of where and when the amalgamation of the two elements takes place.

Of course, if the apparatus combining them is dusty or if some one switches it off at the wrong time, or if any of countless thousands of other things happen, the formation of H20 may not occur. But this does not invalidate the formula. So nor sciences or some aspects of science, achieve such a 100 percent level of predictability.

Many of the scientific aspects of the social science similarly deal with expectations that govern only a portion of the elements being scrutinized, not all of them. For example many social scientists feel that they have established pretty much as a scientific law, the theory that political participation correlates with education and affluence.

But more explicitly they feel that their research has proved that the more educated and/ or the more affluent people are, the more they will tend to participate in the political participation, will almost invariably be greater in those communities or neighborhoods where education and affluence is greater.

However one cannot automatically assume that any person who has a Ph.D and one having Rs. 50,000 per month salary-the two do not always go together will be a feverish participant in the political process.

In similar fashion, one cannot single out an individual at the bottom rung of the education-affluence ladder and automatically assume that he or she is estranged from or antagonistic to, politics; obviously some low income and less educated people participate quite intensively in politics, while some of the well educated rich have never been bothered registering to vote.

Yet, with it all, the latter are much more likely to take a more active role in politics than are the former. Science here reigns, although somewhat imperfectly, by establishing degrees of probability.

Administration makes or should make great use of scientific data, laws, and theories. The use of mathematics and computer sciences in some aspects of budgeting is a fairly obvious example. The utilization is personnel work of somewhat less definitive but nevertheless statistically valid material developed by psychologist is another.

Thus administration uses these types of scientific data, but is it a science itself? In attempting to answer this question we should note that the utilization of science is not confirmed to the sciences themselves.

Music, for instant, bases itself on law of harmony that are quite mathematical. Painting depends on laws dealing with the colours of the spectrum. Yet both music and painting are arts, not sciences. In a sense, the same holds true for administration.

Administrators made use of scientific laws, techniques and data. But they do so in ways that allow a great deal of free rein to the individual imagination and temperament.

Practically every social discipline, finds itself confronted with the question whether it can be a science? It is obvious that social sciences cannot produce such results with the same certainty as it can in the physical sciences like physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Astronomy etc.

Politics has no principles by following which a political leader or party can win a majority or prevent revolution with absolute certainty. Economics has no sure recipe for making individual or nation prosperous.

Same way, public administration too has no sure principles by which desired results can always be obtained. And on his ground the physical scientists and others of their way of thinking during the claim of these studies to be sciences.

We are proud that man thinks fie has a will of his own and acts in accordance with the dictates of his will not two persons-not even real brothers are completely identical in their attitudes, perceptions, orientations, and responses.

Even the same person doe? not make, identical response to identical situations. A subject which studies human behaviour is, as a result, certainly much more complex and should in no way, be regarded as existing on a level lower than that of physical sciences.

Robert Dahl has argued that public administration is not a science because it does not have principles that are of Universal applicability. He says that there can be no truly universal generalization about public administration without a social characteristic impinging on public administration.

Can we determine what aspects of public administration of any, are truly independent of nation and social setting? Are these principles of public administration that are of universal applicability or valid only in terms of special environment public administration have had its growth in the cultural framework of the west. As such, its findings and principles may not necessarily hold valid in other parts of the world, where different cultures prevail.

As public administration has vital interaction with its social setting, an institution or principle of public administration is unlikely, to be transplanted in another society. Public administration is culture bound. Until principles of public administration are either derived or varied from cross-cultural studies, they cannot lay claim to universal validity.

In short, public administration can be entitled to be called science only after its principles are directly derived from studies and investigations made in the different societies of the world-in Asian, satin American and African Countries.

No social science including public administration, which studies human behaviour, can claim the degree of precision and in fallibility characteristic of physical science. Dahl says, “We are long away from a science of public administration” No science of public administration is possible unless:

(a) The place of normative value is made clear.

(b) The nature of men in the area of administration is better understood and his conduct is more predictable.

(c) 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.

There is much validity to the criticism of Dahl. But it must he remembered that he wrote this in 1957. Since then much advancement has been made. Increasing research has been initiated to discover the place of man in different administrative settings and to understand the compulsions of social environment of public administration.

Comparative studies today form the core of the discipline. Thus, great effort is being made in studying public administration in scientific direction. Public administration must be understood to be science because a scientific approach to its study can be used.

It is not a science to the extent that it has preciseness or universal validity of laws or principles. To this extent there is no social science that can claim the pre-requisites of a physical science.

Public administration is primarily a science of observation rather than experiment. Public administration is a progressive science whose generalization or ‘Principles’ are bound to be constantly revised and restated in the light of fresh discovery of facts and new experience.

There can be no absolute liability about the lessons it teaches, although various points of view put forward from time to time may give the student a truer and truer insight into the problems involved.

With a view to encroaching the science of public administration and discover new techniques and principles of administration special institutions have been established in all the advanced countries of the world.

For example, in Great Britain there is renounced Institute of Public Administration, in the U.S.A. there is the famous Max Well Graduate School of Public Administration at Syracuse, and in India, there is the Indian Institute of Public Administration in New Delhi.

Now we focus our discussion to the last category, that of craft, we find a more suitable or at least a more comfortable classification. The woman who paints a picture that hangs in a museum is an artist.

The man who brings his easel and palette into the museum to copy this picture is a craftsman. The later has an objective stands for the goal he is trying to meet and against which he can be judged. He may use a variety of techniques and materials in his effort to achieve this goal. But the goals remain the same.

Another painter-craftsman with the same aim may mix paints differently, shade light differently, or do a host of other things which the former craftsman did not do. But he or she is striving for the same end and outside observer can usually determine who was the most successful.

A more persistent hypothetical problem will further point up the ability of viewing administration as neither a science nor an art but as a craft. Let us assume that a city is divided
for the purpose of garbage collection into two distinct and equal sections.

One team of sanitation workers under an assistant sanitation commissioner is assigned to each section, with the objective of keeping the streets clean. The ways in which each team goes about; its work may differ depending on the personalities of workers, and a variety of other factors. But an objective standard exists for comparing the relative efficiency of each which produces cleaner streets?

Most administrative activity does not lend itself to such an easy evaluation as the example just given. When it comes to assessing the efficiency of a foreign policy operation-to take just one example, assessments and judgments can become very tricky. The administration of a policy often becomes hard to separate from the policy itself.

Furthermore, there is not always agreement on the critical or the objective against success or failure is to be measured. And in many cases, varying conditions will complicate our comparison. In the street cleaning case, for instance, one team may excel another team only because its streets are in a lower density section of the city which has less garbage.

Or it may outperform the other team only because its district is closer to the incinerator, thereby cutting down the travel times needed to send its dump trucks back and forth.

Nevertheless, despite all these complicating factors, in most administrative situations there is an objective standard lurking somewhere, shadowy and illusive and hard to apply through it.

At the same time, there is almost never a precise formula that will invariably work best in all situations. The situations not only change but the ideas that may be applied to handling them are almost as infinite as the human mind.

Another example, this one from history will provide further support for our contention that administration may be more easily categorized as a craft than as an art or a science. President Roosevelt used a great deal of artistry and imagination in dealing with various problems faced in the particular situation.

Yet he was not creating a work of art but resolving a difficult problem. The same time, however, scientist, for what he did not lend itself to easy formalization. His solution, although it might provide some ideas for other administrators faced with similar dilemmas, certainly does not lend itself to an all-embracing equation.

Such a solution, for instance, would not have proved of much use of George Washington when he confronted the somewhat similar challenge of dealing with the bitter fight between his two top aides, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. For one thing, there were no conservation projects to inspect, no trains to transport the visiting party and no photographers to take and send back pictures of their amicable visitations.

Furthermore, Hamilton and Jefferson were probably not the type of men who would be amenable to such treatment and certainly it would be hard to imagine the somewhat austere “Father of our Country” sitting them down to nightly poker sessions.

In summary, administration uses artistry but is not an art. It uses science but is not a science. It is more properly thought of as a craft, seeking to achieve goals and to meet standards, and in so doing often managing to utilize all the creativity and capacity that its harried practitioners can muster.