American Government (8th edition) by Gitelson, Dudley and Dubnick
    Purchase at: Amazon;

  • Randi Art
  • www.flickr.com
    This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from randubnick. Make your own badge here.
  • Draw Breath (Friends Ciarán and Isabel)
  • Sociable Geek (Friend Stephen)
  • Meditations71 (Friend Stefan)
  • Slugger O'Toole
  • Ideal Government Project
  • Thur's Templates

Monday, November 15, 2004

Ideal Government Project

Being new to this “weblog” business (and having much of Sunday in Northern Ireland with time on my hands), I began exploring what’s “out there” that might be relevant to my own interests. One of the most interesting hits was a weblog at http://www.idealgovernment.com/, which its main blogger (William Heath) describes as “a web user's antidote to personal frustration with public services.” Good enough, but making things most attractive is the blog’s “Ideal Government Project” (ok, IGP from now on)-- and I immediately decided to join up.

The project modus operandi is simple enough: “1. Observe and record precisely what happens, and 2. what the ideal encounter should have been like.” My immediate reaction: Brilliant!


When I think about the general literature in American public administration, two books that I most admire fit the mode of “ethnographic” study that is central to the IGP: Herbert Kaufman’s THE FOREST RANGER (1967) and Michael Lipsky’s STREET-LEVEL BUREAUCRACY (1980). [A more recent work in the ethnography of government work is Stefano Harney’s lesser known STATE WORK (2002), which has sat on my book shelf here in Belfast long enough. I am now inspired to give it a more detailed read.]

The brilliance of the IGP is how it takes advantage of the weblog technology to create a collective do-it-yourself venue for perhaps the most significant and least utilized approach to understanding public service. For me, this is what has been missing in the study of accountability. We’ve developed neat little frameworks that provide broad understandings of what it means to be accountable, and many of us have used case studies (typically of the ‘ambulance chasing’ genre) to test and tease out those models.

What we haven’t done, however, is get down to the ground level to understand what the accountability relationship really means – and that is where the ethnographic analysis can have its greatest payoff. (There is the the complementary approach to listening to the "stories that managers tell" that has the same 'flavor' as ethnographic studies -- see the work of Ralph Hummel and others....)

Of course, the value of ethnographic approaches only emerges when they are executed in disciplined ways, and the open-ended nature of the IGP poses a challenge in that regard. At the same time, it is just as valuable to have this DIY venue where we can express out well-informed frustrations with the everyday encounters we have with bureaucracy.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what develops – and adding to the list of “aaaarghs”.


Harney, Stefano. 2002. STATE WORK: PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION AND MASS INTELLECTUALITY. Durham: Duke University Press.
Hummel, Ralph P. 1991. Stories Managers Tell: Why They Are as Valid as Science. PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION REVIEW 51 (1, January\February):31-41.
Kaufman, Herbert. 1967. THE FOREST RANGER: A STUDY IN ADMINISTRATIVE BEHAVIOR. Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Lipsky, Michael. 1980. STREET-LEVEL BUREAUCRACY: DILEMMAS OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN PUBLIC SERVICES. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.


links to this post

Comments on "Ideal Government Project"

 

post a comment

Links to this post:

<\$BlogItemBacklinkCreate\$>