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School of Business and Management

Public Administration Symposium

24 August 2020 - 25 August 2020

Time: 9:00am - 5:00pm

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awarded Herbert Simon the Nobel Prize in economics in 1978, considered Administrative Behavior as “epoch-making.” Administrative Behavior has a special relationship to PAR, as two of its chapters appeared in PAR prior to the publication of the book (Simon 1944; 1946). Moreover, when PAR selected its half-century’s “Great Books” in public administration for its 50th anniversary, Administrative Behavior was selected as the overwhelming winner by a panel of 20 experts (Sherwood 1990). The recent resurgence in interest in the behavioral sciences in public administration has reintroduced the book to a new audience (Battaglio and Hall 2019).

One of the reasons why Administrative Behavior has influenced several generations of scholars and practitioners, is that it challenged the prevailing “principles” of administration that were considered to lead to administrative efficiency (Rainey 2001). Pointing out contradictions and incompatibilities between these principles that had been largely ignored, Simon emphasized the need to develop concepts that allowed a better diagnosis of administrative situations and organizational/structural design. Administrative Behavior put decision-making at the center of analysis and examined how individuals make decisions within certain organizational frames or contexts, whether related to vertical and horizontal specialization or coordination, or a combination thereof (Egeberg 2014; Gulick 1937). Whereas standard economic theory assumed that individuals are perfectly rational decision-makers, Simon emphasized the limits to rationality that real-life administrators face with regard to memory, attention, or capacity (March and Olsen 1976). He developed a theory of bounded rationality, suggesting that individuals “satisfice” rather than maximize because they cannot evaluate all potential alternatives due to their limited cognitive and information processing abilities and incomplete knowledge. Simon’s bounded rationality concept heavily influenced, for example, classic public administration work on the “Science of Muddling Through” (Lindblom 1959) and on the budgeting process (Wildavsky 1964).

Administrative Behavior was one of the first books to acknowledge the importance of loyalty and organizational identification for administrative efficiency (Miao et al. 2019), as they align the decisions that individuals make with organizational objectives. Simon cautioned that too much identification with an organizational sub-unit may lead to decisions that are inconsistent with the larger organizational purposes and may necessitate the centralization of decision-making. Administrative Behavior’s analysis of organizational identification was a major influence for another classic in public administration, “The Forest Ranger: A Study in Administrative Behavior” (Kaufman 1960). Simon challenged the notion of the lone decision-maker and demonstrated how organizations influence individual decision-making, by, for example, developing decision premises, assigning roles, establishing operating procedures and communication channels (March and Olsen 1983). Arguing that organizations can attenuate limits to human rationality and nudge individuals to make better choices (Thaler and Sunstein 2008), Administrative Behavior is widely considered as a foundation of the burgeoning behavioral public administration literature that emphasizes the importance of the behavioral sciences for the study of public organizations (Battaglio et al. 2018).

Simon called for empirical research and experimentation into the concepts he developed in Administrative Behavior and this symposium aims to encourage such activity and take stock of the concepts’ continued relevance. We are interested in manuscripts from diverse disciplinary perspectives that contribute to a deeper understanding of decision-making in public organizations. We welcome submissions on theory development and empirical studies based on large-scale surveys, experiments, case studies, and other methodologies. There is no preference with regard to the country of origin of these studies and we encourage submissions from traditionally underrepresented areas. We are particularly interested in research that develops the following topics and questions:

  • New insights on the organizational “principles”, e.g., on types of specialization/coordination, unity of command, and span of control.
  • How do public organizations address bounded rationality?
  • How can the negative consequences of satisficing behavior be avoided?
  • How do public organizations augment authority with other modes of influence?
  • Evidence for a changing zone of acceptance in which employees acquiesce and permit others to decide for them.
  • The trade-offs between centralization and decentralization of decision-making.
  • How do public organizations process, incorporate, and react to external shocks?
  • New insights on the process of composite decision making.
  • How do public organizations deal with value and factual judgments?
  • The interplay of formal and informal communication and decision-making premises.
  • How do public organizations nurture loyalties and organizational identification and what are its effects?

Review Process and Timeline

Apr 15, 2020 – Paper proposal (maximum 1,000 words) should be submitted via e-mail, copying in each of the symposium co-editors.

Apr 30, 2020 – Decision on paper proposal communicated to authors.

Aug 24/25, 2020 – Symposium conference in London, UK. Authors of accepted proposals are strongly encouraged to participate. 

Oct 31, 2020 – Complete manuscripts to be submitted via e-mail, copying in each of the symposium co-editors, for screening and feedback.

Dec 15, 2020 – Manuscripts to be submitted to PAR’s online editorial system. Manuscripts undergo PAR’s normal peer review process overseen by PAR Co-Editors-in-Chief, Paul Battaglio and Jeremy Hall.

Early 2022 – Planned publication date in PAR.