What Is Behavioral Public Administration Good for?

Anthony M. Bertelli, Norma M. Riccucci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Public administration has seen an influx of work addressing something that has been called “behavioral public administration (BPA)”; A hallmark of BPA is the examination of public administration from a micro-level perspective with attention to the psychological aspects of human behavior. However, scholars of public administration have long applied a micro-level lens to their research, even from a psychological standpoint. We argue here that the call for BPA is mainly an appeal for greater reliance on an analytical lens or research method, namely experimental designs. As argued here, however, little attention has been given to major drawbacks: experiments tend not to be theory driven, they overstate their importance to policy and management, and they fail to capture the significance of politics and institutions. If BPA is to be more than a passing fancy, the limits of experimentation must be reevaluated for public administration. Evidence for Practice: BPA at present is more about the advocacy of experiments than a behavioral agenda for understanding and shaping public administration in practice. Too few of the limitations of experiments in the context of public administration, as both a scholarly field and a context of practice, are considered in contemporary BPA scholarship. Experiments can enhance our exploration of what works in practice but cannot inform management without an integrated program that includes nonexperimental research and theory building.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPublic Administration Review
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing

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