This chapter explores public administration research. Complaints about a lack of rigor in public administration research intensified in the 1980s. “Lack of rigor” meant a failure to define concepts and problems precisely, to test the validity of claims properly, and to build on the work of earlier scholars. In the interdisciplinary schools of public policy established in the 1970s and 1980s, researchers in public management worked alongside scholars from “hard” disciplines such as economics, and struggled to win support from their peers when they applied for tenure and promotion. The public management approach was designed to overcome this stigma. Scholars in public management sought to focus on questions of manageable size, define concepts and hypotheses precisely, and rely on the quantitative-statistical research methods preferred by economists. All of this would assure “rigorous empirical analysis.” By the early 2000s, quantitative-statistical research methods were dominant in the field. The worry today is that a shift in the focus of research toward the macro-level of analysis—that is, toward big questions about the role and design of the state—will mean abandoning the accomplishments of the last thirty years. The chapter then considers three ways to respond to such concerns.
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