The Future of Public Administration: Speaking Truth to Power or Fluffing the Lines?

Prof. Richard Shaw

Since Woodrow Wilson identified the dual imperatives of politics and administration, a great deal of focus has been on the point of confluence of the two. To the extent that ‘speaking truth to power’ has been a common feature of liberal democratic systems of public administration, the constitutional premise has been that administration needs to enable the political will but test and contest the political against evidence and experience. Absent this kind of relationship politicisation can corrupt and compromise. This paper seeks to address two issues – the first is to examine the role of political staff in the core executive and assess the extent to which they may be vectors for administrative politicisation. In so doing we will draw on two pieces of research conducted in 2005 and in 2017 examining the role and influence of political staff in the New Zealand core executive. The second is to locate this research within the context of the discipline of Public Administration and invite reflection on whether, in the context of that discipline, recourse to - and the increasing influence of – political staff represents one adaptation to the ‘large forces’ shaping administrative development.