The art of prescription: theory and practice in public administration research

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • M. Evans


Publication details

JournalPublic Policy and Administration
DatePublished - Jan 2007
Issue number1
Number of pages24
Pages (from-to)128-152
Original languageEnglish


This article addresses a perennial controversy in the study of public administration - should academic knowledge about public administration be used for its betterment? And, if so, how should academic knowledge about public administration be used for its betterment? It is claimed that the answers to these questions lie in the symbiotic relationship between knowledge and action, theory and practice. In consequence it is argued that it is the responsibility of public administration scholars not only to provide explanations and understandings of administrative and political subjects but also to defend bureaucracy and to seek progress through ‘enlightened’ prescription. With these arguments in mind, first a ‘critical approach’ to public administration for reconciling the world of thought and the world of action is presented in which the prescriptive enterprise is used to integrate theory and practice. Second, a set of principles for ‘enlightened’ prescription is formulated to ensure that the knowledge claims that emerge from this process remain as rigorously conceived as possible. And third, a methodology is developed through the use of a logical framework matrix to provide both a practical device for evaluating the utility of public administration research for public action and to draw attention to putative problems in research in terms of theorization, method, data analysis and synthesis - thus demonstrating the benefit of ‘enlightened’ prescription to both the study of public administration and its practice.

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