Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Public administration? How do we feel about that?

The question in the title was one that our Intro to Public Affairs professor posed at the outset of his class. Most of the fellows took it as something of a humorous question, but after some careful reflection, I've come to realize that he's ingeniously managed to frame one of the key problems we'll have to continue to solve for the extend of our public service career.

How do we feel about that?

The problem indeed becomes, 'how do we feel about that?' Is it just a job, is it , or is there something deeper. Amusingly, the Woodrow Wilson paper that we had as homework was an excellent comparison of values: are we just a cog in a wheel, or are we passionate Administrative policy making difference engines (and yes, I know the artificial intelligence statistical analysis variant of that term)? Are we the comfortably insulated bureaucrat, or are we the functional, boots on the ground, troop directing field officer? Interesting problems to have, and none too light to consider with a deeper sense. According to our instructor, we're training to be bureaucrats, but then, has the definition of such changed over time? And would we necessarily be involved in a change agent program if we were simply going through a tool gathering mission to arrive at a carefully arranged, comfortably insular place? I think not, and so, bureaucrat, supposedly, must not have as decidedly unseemly a tone as it might have once had. Or I miss my guess.

Public Administration?

Any decently trained public administrator, or one that is effective at creating Administrative Policy changes, are those that bring with them passion, interest, and skills to effect the changes in society that they are desirous of creating. To that end, statistical analysis is crucial, and indeed, essential to the mission. How are results of administrative policy showing up in the population? How are people utilizing the benefits which administrative policy makers are putting into place? Amusingly, the precise areas of statistical analysis that we are covering in the course that we're relentlessly plodding through currently are the very same ones that were a gap in my understanding during my waning years at NYU. Had I but known that invariable utility of a z-score during my doctoral seminars in language acquisition and linguistics, how much better might my analyses have been? If only I'd comprehended the determinance of a standard error calculation, what might have changed in my perception of intake versus uptake? I jest, but, in reality, these are the precise questions playing out in the back of my mind while the professor is busily questioning the other students what the probability of random samples selected from his 'little black box' having income ranges from $25,000 not known, but then, how could I? I had never been in a class that explicitly covered it, it had been nowhere in my electives or required coursework up until then, and I hadn't specifically sought out the knowledge, but neither did I know that I had a need. There is an aulde maxim in education - 'thou shalt not test that which has not been taught', though, experience is a cruel and unforgiving mistress, for she gives the test first, and the lesson after.

Special thanks to the fine gentleman from Atlanta who has affectionately come to be known as 'Dr. Dré' for providing me with this particularly useful Latin proverb: post hoc, ergo proctor hoc
After this, because of this... meaning essentially, if I play the harp every morning just as the sun is about to rise, the doesn't rise because I play the harp.

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