Public Administration is a Matter of Life and Death

Karin A. Bottom, John Diamond, Pamela T. Dunning and Ian C. Elliott give their insight on this interesting topic.

Public administration is a matter of life and death. Debates about new laws and the development of new policy can generate headlines and social media noise. But it’s the implementation of policy and the direct actions of governments that protect or risk lives.

If the Covid pandemic has shown us anything, it’s the interdependence of nations and the importance of effective public administration. Between January 2020-December 2021, the Covid pandemic resulted in 14.91 million excess deaths on a global scale[1] and cost the global economy around $12.5 trillion[2]. The effects continue to be felt but they are not spread evenly across the world. Sadly, yet unsurprisingly, costs have fallen hardest on less wealthy nations. Yet, even amongst the wealthiest nations, such as those in the G8, significant disparities are evident in the experiences and consequences of the pandemic. For example, the UK suffered 2,688.64 deaths per million of population compared to Germany that had 1,707.57 deaths per million, Canada with 1,110.87 deaths per million and Japan with 250.06 per million[3]. There are a myriad of possible reasons for the disparity in mortality rates which concern public administration including policy towards mask mandates[4], levels of trust in government[5] and central-local government relations[6].     

We can see from this how public administration – the functioning of government and public services – is a matter of life and death. Thus, you might expect that the teaching of public administration, and the continuing professional development of those responsible for the design and delivery of our public services, would be taken very seriously. In fact, whilst standards and professional requirements linked to degree-level qualifications are common for a wide range of other professions, there is little consistency in how this is handled for public administration professionals across the world. The variation in how public administration professionals are educated and developed invites questions regarding how this effects the efficiency and effectiveness of the public services they are charged with delivering.

The Handbook of Teaching Public Administration is the first international collection of chapters explaining the what, the why and the how of teaching public administration. The five sections explore the status of the discipline, nation-based traditions, approaches to pedagogy and learning, contested concepts and teaching case studies. Our hope is that the Handbook will shine a light on some of the outstanding practice that is supporting public administration professionals around the globe. Additionally, we seek to share practice and stimulate debate about the future of our discipline, how it is taught, what is taught, and why it matters.

While the pandemic continues to raise important questions about different approaches to governance and the most effective ways to protect citizens and facilitate economic growth, challenges lie ahead. The climate emergency is an example in point. Recent announcements by the United Nations have stated that that there is no credible path to keep the 1.5⁰C target in place[7]. This situation starkly demonstrates that we must do more to support competent policy design, implementation and evaluation – the teaching of public administration is central to this effort.



[3] Statistics taken from: (last accessed 01/11/2022)

[4] An, B.Y., Porcher, S., Tang, S.-Y. and Kim, E.E. (2021), “Policy Design for COVID-19: Worldwide Evidence on the Efficacies of Early Mask Mandates and Other Policy Interventions”. Public Administration Review, 81: 1157-1182.

[5] Zaki, B. L., Nicoli, F., Wayenberg, E., & Verschuere, B. (2022). “In trust we trust: The impact of trust in government on excess mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic”. Public Policy and Administration, 37(2), 226–252.

[6] Diamond, P. & Laffin, M. (2022) “The United Kingdom and the pandemic: problems of central control and coordination”, Local Government Studies, 48:2, 211-231, DOI: 10.1080/03003930.2021.1997744

[7] (accessed 02/11/2022)

Handbook of Teaching Public Administration

Edited by Karin A. Bottom, University of Birmingham, John Diamond, Edgehill University, UK, Pamela T. Dunning, formerly Troy University, US and Ian C. Elliott, Northumbria University, UK

Read Chapter 1: Making the case for research informed practice and situated pedagogy

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