1 1 NASPAA Core Competency #3: An Analysis Date: Submitted To: Dr. Naim Kapucu PhD. & Brittany Haupt University of Central Florida
2 2 Abstract The research conducted for this journal article is one of five components of a larger study that seeks to justify the benefit and utilization of the five universal NASPAA core competencies in public service education programs, specifically MPA programs. The literature review for this article focuses on the third core competency: To analyze, synthesize, think critically, solve problems and make decisions and the ramifications thereof on graduating students. The data analysis for this article is based on the accumulation of survey data distributed to 67 county managers in the State of Florida by a class of graduate students in the Capstone Experience course in UCF s MPA program. The goal of this research was to justify the use of NASPAA core competencies as a universal standard for public service education, and whether or not the utilization of these competencies has an immediate impact on the affected students within accredited public service education programs. Due to the low number of respondents it was not possible to derive conclusive evidence between the relationship of NASPAA core competencies and successful public management.
3 3 Introduction The metamorphosis of public organizations, and the shift from leader centric environments to serving not steering approaches for public management, paved the foundation for research and has identified fundamental competencies that each potential public manager should possess, upon acquisition of the Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree, which effectively qualifies candidates for public management. These competencies have been identified through the characteristics, knowledge, skills, and behaviors of public managers who have significant success in a public service career. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration (NASPAA 1 ), a collective of graduate programs for public policy, public affairs, public administration, and public & nonprofit management, has identified five universal core competencies 2, or abilities, each graduate should possess before the completion of their MPA: 1. The ability to lead and manage in public governance 2. To participate in and contribute to the policy process 3. To analyze, synthesize, think critically, solve problems and make decisions 4. To articulate and apply a public service perspective and, 5. To communicate and interact productively with a diverse and changing workforce and citizenry (NASPAA, 2013) The accompanying research concentrates on universal competency number three: specifically an MPA graduate and public management candidate s ability to: 1. Develop expertise on local government (including budget, communication, strategic planning, social, political, human resource, technology, resources, sustainability, succession planning, and leadership) 2. Appraise the concepts of social science research methods, statistical analysis and information techniques and to apply the skills to analyze public policies and problems and make a policy or managerial decision 3. Create networked/ collaboration solutions to modern problems 4. Evaluate and model best practices, and 1 NASPAA Website: 2 NASPAA standards:
4 4 5. Develop professional capacity in basic skills (writing, speaking, math, critical thinking). This paper will focus on addressing questions pertaining to an public administrator s ability to analyze and make decisions. Our intention is to identify answers to questions such as: Is there a correlation between the application of NASPAA principles and field of study; How do NASPAA principles apply to best practices; What are the outcomes for public administrators who utilize the skill of collaborating modern problems; Is the current NASPAA core competency measurement tool sufficient for critically analyzing all public managers whether they have achieved and MPA or MBA; and Does survey based research acquire more reliable data than an analysis of performance based outcomes will be? Developing a research hypothesis that possesses a capacity for identifying whether or not our research questions have a positive impact on, and therefore a positive relationship with the NASPAA competencies is imperative to any potential determination of whether or not this study was statistically significant, or more importantly any recommendations we may make for public administrators who do in fact recognize the importance of NASPAA competencies in an MPA education, and within public sector professional environments. Provided that the accumulated survey data is accurate, we seek to make a conclusion that: H 0 There is a relationship between NASPAA core competencies and successful public managers. H 1 There is no relationship between NASPAA core competencies and successful public managers. H A The relationship between NASPAA core competencies and successful public managers is impacted by multiple components. Literature Review The NASPAA competency to analyze, synthesize, think critically, solve problems and make decisions requires public administrators to have an understanding of specific skills in
5 5 order to make sound decisions. For this competency, the required skills sets include the following: develop expertise on local government, appraise the concepts of social science research, creating networked/collaboration solutions, evaluate best practices and develop professionally capacity skills. Develop Expertise on Local Government In his (1887) Study of Administration 3, (a future) President Woodrow Wilson sought to delineate the intrinsic value of public administration on the government which it serves, observing, It is the object of administrative study to discover, first, what government can properly and successfully do, and, secondly, how it can do these proper things with the utmost possible efficiency and at the least possible cost either of money or of energy (Wilson 1887, p. 197). The establishment of purpose and functionality as methods for which to measure public sector impact, and efficiency are today recognized as public administration s ethos, and as fundamental elements of an organizational strategic plan designed specifically as an instrument used to determine the public value of a public organization. These elements are also however imperative components of a public administration education curriculum that NASPAA accredited schools of public affairs, public administration, public policy, and public management seek to demonstrate to future and potential public administrators enrolled within their public service programs. Perry (2001) notes the necessary transformation that public affairs education programs must undertake when seeking to accommodate the rapidly changing public sector. Perry (2001) advocates for the use of three specific questions to identify a program s corresponding course of action: How will the transformation alter the content of delivery of public affairs education, research article written for Political Science Quarterly
6 6 How will the transformation change how we teach specific topics, and What are the values that public affairs graduates should possess in the transformed public service (Perry 2001, p. 209). Kettl (2001) identifies the production of human capital as the most significant challenge impeding transformation in public affairs education noting an inadequate contribution of talent that is necessary for adapting to shifting forces within the public sector (Kettl 2001, p. 213). In slight contrast, Walker (2001) denotes a federal government that is out of shape with a range of skills imbalances, inadequate policies, procedures, regulatory framework, and no succession planning in place for the impending retirement of baby boomers within the federal workforce (Walker 2001, p. 222). Walker (2001) believes that both government and public affairs education programs, should work in partnership to reflect on how best to prepare students for the more challenging tasks of governance in a performance-oriented culture (Walker 2001, p. 225). Kim and Layne s (2001) proposal that the addition of e-governance education in public affairs programs is paramount to the preparation of a successful (future) public manager is a supposition that continues to hold true, as implied by Wang and Bryer (2009) who suggest that the use of new web-based technologies make public participation, easier to implement and less costly for citizens to engage conceivably rendering transaction costs for governments a lesser issue (Wang and Bryer 2009, p. 180), and by Bryer and Zavattaro (2001) who suggest that these new web-based technologies have transformed how government agencies are managed internally, how citizens and businesses conduct transactions, and how citizens engage with their governments (Bryer & Zavattaro 2011, p. 325). Kim and Layne (2001) advise the field of public affairs education to develop a curriculum that facilitates a preliminary understanding of the infrastructure of e-government and web-based technologies, the issues associated with
7 7 providing services on the web, and web-based techniques designed to ensure the citizen participation in direct, digital democracy (Kim & Layne 2001, p. 238). In their analysis of international activities by U.S. schools of public policy Devereux and During (2001) cite Wildavsky (1985) who proposes, Schools of public policy were designed to be organizations that would do for the public sector what business schools had done for the private sector: produce students to colonize the bureaucracies, to criticize what those bureaucracies were doing, and in a modest way, set things right" (Wildavsky, 1985, 27)(Devereux & During 2001, p. 241). Appraise the Concepts of Social Science Research The primary requisite of the successful application of student outcome evaluation practice is an agreement and understanding on behalf of public universities that evaluation is indeed important, and is a necessary component of organizational action (Brown 2002, p. 14). There is currently no single or definitive standard for evaluating student performance outcomes, which to many may be perceived as a fundamental issue with public universities and higher education in general. Surveying students and employers; the service learning capstone experience, and rubric specifically designed to empower students, and, substantiate the connections among teaching, learning and assessment (Peat 2006, p. 305) are among the most commonly used strategies for evaluating student performance. While each of these strategies are fundamental components of a successful measurement instrument, the use of only one to evaluate student performance and value to their respective organization produces an inadequate picture of the impact that the university s MPA program has on the student s professional success. For example, surveys, perhaps the most common technique for outcome evaluation, are periodically criticized for being incomplete, and for assessing perceptions of only program alumni, and not other stakeholders such as employers,
8 8 and leaders within the surrounding community (Newcomer & Allen 2010, p. 222). En masse a poor student performance evaluation instrument displays a lack of dedication on behalf of the university to engage employers and organizations, ultimately conveys a too big to fail attitude to potential public and private partners within the community. Because academia and higher education increasingly determines a society s evolutionary potential, (Alexander 2000, p. 412), conceiving and establishing a set of standard and accepted agreements that emphasize the assessment of outcomes and results, becomes a crucial task that must be undertaken if higher education seeks to define its relative worth (Aristigueta & Gomes 2006 pp. 2&3). Higher education does indeed have the capacity, and the influence to accomplish such a feat, however the large majority of current student outcome evaluations infrequently examine the relative accumulated impact of the public service education on hiring organizations or on governance, and oftentimes fail to measure the perceived benefit graduates of their respective public service program have to their hiring organizations (Newcomer & Allen 2010, p. 215). Rather than attempting to develop a measurement designed to test an accumulation of multifarious criteria such as those aforementioned, universities more often than not are comfortable using practical scales that will serve well enough, that ultimately implement only one of the aforementioned measurement criteria (Williams, 2002, pp. 45 & 46). The consensus seems to be that it is too difficult to develop and prepare a student performance outcome evaluation framework that considers job performance, employer satisfaction, and individual value to their respective organization upon the acquisition of their (the student s) MPA from a NASPAA accredited university. The results convey a fragmented, and one-sided story that provides more questions with no real answers, which ultimately leads to an erroneous perception of the university s MPA program.
9 9 In order to have a substantial impact on educational quality evaluations must include measurements that engage faculty, students, alumni, and public service employers in a process of renewal to lead to educational improvements," (Jennings 1989, p. 443) ultimately facilitating an equitable environment where qualified judgments about the program s level of success can be made (Fitzpatrick et al 2009, p. 21), and resolving whether each student s experience with the MPA program (in question) determines the overall impact of the MPA program on their professional careers (Jennings 1989, p. 441). Engaging stakeholder groups collectively, instead of exclusive one-way communication permits for an inclusive communicative environment where stakeholders are confident that their feedback makes a difference, ultimately ensuring that they will be more likely to take the process seriously (Roberts 2001, p. 28). In sum, additional factors such as student satisfaction with their educational experience, job related attitudes, motivation, and the anticipated value (from stakeholders) of the university to its surrounding community must also be considered to ensure equity (Roberts 2001, p. 26). The evaluation must also seek to establish the premise that the completion of the university s MPA program leads to better educated policy analysts and administrators who are more effective than they would have been otherwise (Jennings 1989, pp. 443 & 439). Furthermore the standard strategy for student performance outcome evaluations does little to identify what is necessarily good or bad about a particular program, and does not attempt to compartmentalize a sequence of steps or processes that can be taken to improve the educational quality (Jennings 1989, p. 441). Create Networked/Collaboration Solutions Public administrators must have the ability to network with an array of stakeholders in order to address critical issues within communities. Effective leaders must possess the ability to
10 10 analyze critical situations and utilize partnerships in developing possible solutions. Schwarz (2000) indicates one characteristic of an effective leader is the ability to facilitate collaborations and teamwork and foster participation in the overall process, leading to an achievement of outcomes (Kapucu, 2012). The idea of collaboration is primarily about the community partnerships of belongingness in regards to the community (Kapucu, 2012). Therefore, public administrators must have an understanding of the key stakeholders who have a genuine interest developing solutions for critical issues within their communities. The idea of Shared Leadership is a concept that directly relates to networking and collaborating, and one, which is often used by public administrators. Denhardt (2011) describes the process of shared leadership as leadership that goes beyond the manipulation of individuals, but a form of leadership that is concerned with focusing human energy on projects that benefit humanity (p.145). An additional description of shared leadership, by Bryson and Einsweiler (1991), is transformative capacity that has a need to be sure the move is politically acceptable, technically workable and legally and ethically defensible (Dehnardt, 2011, p. 149). This concept of transformative capacity allows public administrators to analyze, critically solve problems and make effective and efficient decisions. Evaluate Best Practices In the last decade there has been growing interest in government performance and effectiveness. Fernandez (2007) study sought to develop a model for contracting performance in the public sector. Advocates of privatization believe that competition can make government more efficient and responsive; yet contracting out brings concerns about contract monitoring and service delivery accountability. There are at least three approaches to contracting performance that explore how to manage these relationships effectively (Fernandez, 2007). The conventional
11 11 approach, views contracts as arm s-length transactions between rivals with opposing interests; second, relational contracting reflects contracts that are flexible and cooperative in nature, communication and trust are at the center of this approach and third, policy implementation where one or more private entities share the implementation of plans across organizational boundaries and sectors (Brown et.al, 1998; Hall & O Toole 2000; Romzek & Johnston 2002; as cited by Fernandez, 2007). The success of the latter improves when financial resources are available and agency s officials are committed to the implementation. Fernandez (2007) study shows that relational contracting is the most effective in public agencies. When contracts are managed in a flexible and cooperative manner, performance and effectiveness increase. In part this is due to the number of stakeholders involved in agency decision. The aim should not be programming and controlling the contractual relationship, but to develop trust to facilitate the timely and successful execution of the contract. Public sector organizations face a series of constraints that affect the way decisions are made. Paul Nutt (2000) studied the decision making process in the public, private and third sector organizations. According to Nutt (2000), there are four basic ways in which decisions are made. These are: applying an existing solution, benchmarking, search and innovation. Nutt (2000) found that public organizations are successful when they use a cyclical search approach. The search approach involves identifying alternatives from ideas that are available; vendors are made aware of the organizations needs and proposals are requested. This generates information on the type of solutions available in the market. The best solutions are incorporated into a new request for proposal, which helps tailor the solutions to the needs of the agency. According to Nutt (2000) cyclical search was very efficient at the Department of Defense; it required 6 months for development and had a 100% acceptance rate. Cyclical search allows the agency to gather
12 12 knowledge about the solutions available before having to make a strategic choice, however this can be difficult if the project does not have public and political support. This push for competition is acknowledged by Towles (2003) efficiencies can be derived from competition, specialization, and intelligent division of labor (pg. 7). Increased competition means agencies must prove their processes add value. To adapt to the changing environment Towles offers 10 strategies public agencies can employ to develop a competitive advantage. These strategies are: agencies must differentiate their product, offer solutions not products, source strategically, have knowledgeable buyers, highlight their value added services, maximize the use of technology, know the true acquisition cost, protect their intellectual capital, maintain a flexible structure and strategy and manage their customer relationships (Towles, 2003). This is in line with Fernandez (2007) finding that flexibility and communication where key elements in public organization performance. Develop Professionally Capacity Skills Educational levels within public service have increased annually since 2003, constituting the attainment of an MPA as the new benchmark for public service success. A study conducted by Lewis and Oh (2008) suggests that employees that have acquired an MPA do substantially better than other college graduates in public service, as they earned an average salary of $81,000, (in 2003) which is an 20% increase over those with just a bachelor s degree ; and that one-quarter of those public employees surveyed were supervisors or managers, compared to less than one-fifth of undergraduate degree holders (Lewis & Oh 2008, p. 466). This research denotes a multitude of elements necessary for the advancement of proven public sector strategies for success, none more critical however than the expanding emphasis on outcome performance measurement in higher education.
13 13 As the insistence upon, and demand for accountability through student outcome performance measurement in academia and higher education continue to increase, the defining of criteria that indicate specific skill deficiencies becomes an imperative element for the development of an effective student outcome measurement system. The literature implies that perhaps the most significant flaw is the disengagement between students, and educators whose fundamental purpose is to provide a sufficient platform for students to learn basic skills, and apply them to critical thinking and writing in content-specific courses (Peat 2006, p. 296). Accountability and outcome measures of performance do not require a standard survey framework, although surveys are indeed the most widely used, and successful format for acquiring outcome measurements. Outcome measures can also be obtained through the use of course and project related rubrics, which are designed as a framework for facilitator expectations, and as a guide for assessing the application of writing skills in content areas (Peat 2006, p. 296), and as a supplement for generating program performance data (Roberts 2001, p. 22). An issue however, particularly in higher education, is that instructors may not feel that it is their role to grade student work from an integrated perspective, choosing only (for the sake of their personal time and effort) to grade students based solely on substantive criteria (Peat 2006, p. 296). The formulation of a lesson plan that includes itemized guidelines and outlines designed to convey course expectations not only assists in the achievement of institutional policies and benchmarked (and academically accepted) standards, but also provides students (and future public employees) with research freedom in a less constrained learning environment where basic structure is provided that allows students to focus more on substance, and less on academic formatting requirements.
14 14 NASPAA provides an integrated outline of criteria related to each of the necessary requirements for an outcomes measurement system which include: starting the assessment process early ; making sure surveys are compatible with seated goals ; collecting entry and exit surveys over long periods of time ; creating and maintaining an alumni-tracking program, and, using methods with greater probability of increased response rates on surveys (Aristiguetsa & Gomes 2006, p. 15). Methodology For successful completion of this study, it was imperative to gather comprehensive qualitative data that enabled our research team s capacity for implying a relationship between the NASPAA s core competencies and public administrators, as well as providing a justifiable recommendation for the use of those core competencies for public service education. The methodology used for this cross-sectional study consisted of three parts: Research Design, Measurement tool, and Data Collection. Research Design Our collective determination was that a quasi-experimental 4 research design would indeed be satisfactory for evaluating the relationship between the NASPAA S core competencies and public administrators. A quasi-experimental research design enabled our research team to sufficiently address the fundamental skills associated with each core competency. It also allowed us to compare multiple contributing factors, as well as our chosen method for data collection, a short survey questionnaire, to attain the data needed to justify the utilization of NASPAA core competencies as a universal tool for educating public servants. The analysis was to answer the following questions: 4 Distinguished by lack of random assignment of subjects to an experimental and control group (Babbie 2013, p. 367).
15 15 Measurement Tool 1. Is there a correlation between the application of NASPAA principles and field of study? 2. How do NASPAA principles apply when considering best practices? 3. How do public administrators measure the outcomes as they relate to the application of NASPAA competencies? 4. Is the current NASPAA core competency measurement tool sufficient for critically analyzing all public managers whether they have achieved and MPA or MBA? 5. Which is more adequate: survey based research, or outcomes analyses? The research hypothesis was tested primarily through the use of a survey instrumented entitled Master of Public Administration Core Competencies and Career Preparedness. This survey instrument has three sections. Section one focuses on each NASPAA competency and each skill set relating to each of those competencies. Using a seven-item Likert (seen below) scale ranging from 0 (N/A) to 7 (strongly agree), we asked each of the survey respondents to assess, and provide a rating for the application of NASPAA competencies to their job. Strongly Agree Agree Somewhat Agree Neither Agree nor Disagree Somewhat Disagree Disagree Strongly Disagree Figure 1: Likert Scale used for this research N/A The second section uses six open-ended questions, which ask for each public administrator to display a general understanding of the core competencies, and how that understanding prepared them for their career. The final section presents demographic information for the respondents to the survey. It is hypothesized that public managers with an understanding of NASPAA core competencies are successful in their career. Within this hypothesis the independent variable is the success of the public managers and the dependent variable is NASPAA core competencies. Data Collection Plan
16 16 This analysis examines the relationship between the success of public managers and NASPAA s core competencies. The method used for data collection was dependent upon successful external communication, and the acquisition of a point of contact that would either complete the survey instrument, or relay the instrument to the appropriate destination. A sample population consisting of sixty-seven county managers within the State of Florida were identified as the potential target audience, and of those sixty-seven twenty-four responded. Table 1 below exhibits each of the counties, and corresponding county managers that participated in our NASPAA core competency survey. Table 1 Participating Counties Brevard County Lafayette County St. Johns County Charlotte County Lake County Santa Rosa County Columbia County Leon County Sarasota County Flagler County Manatee County Seminole County Hardee County Martin County Sumter County Hendry County Palm Beach County Union County Hernando County Pinellas County Volusia County Jackson County Polk County Walton County In order to evaluate the primary data our group utilized a combination of SPSS and Excel to interpret the results, and to test our hypotheses: H 0 There is a relationship between NASPAA core competencies and successful public managers. H 1 There is no relationship between NASPAA core competencies and successful public managers. H A The relationship between NASPAA core competencies and successful public managers is impacted by multiple components.
17 17 The final analysis of our accumulated data would also include a simple regression analysis, which aids in the determination of whether or not our study provided adequate data to make a definitive conclusion based on statistically significant (p <.05 5 ) data. Findings The aggregated survey results reveal that 75% of respondents had obtained a Master s level degree in business, the applied sciences, or the social sciences, with nearly 40% (of those respondents) receiving a Master s Degree in Public Administration. The mean, or average number of years that each of the respondents has worked in their current jurisdiction was years with a median average of 11 years. The average number of years that each of the survey respondents have worked in their current position as county manager totaled 7.7 years with a combined median average of 5 years. The average turnover rate is exceedingly high indicating that regardless of whether managers are educated with principles Current Jurisdiction Current Position deriving from the NASPAA core competencies their aggregated experience in this Figure 2: average years working at current position within current jurisdiction. position does not provide adequate time to implement many of the learned functions. This leaves us to speculate as to whether or not the foundation laid by NASPAA core competencies in public 5 5% is a scientifically standard level of significance and is the level of significance decided upon to test the hypotheses for this study.
18 18 service education programs is indeed effective as a method for educating potential and future public managers. More importantly, and in regards to our identified research questions we postulate that there is in fact NO correlation between NASPAA principles and public administration as a field of study. Furthering this alternate hypothesis, and based on a lack of supportive evidence we (although hesitantly) refute that public administrators use NASPAA principles, and associated best practices when measuring organizational outcomes. Respondent Behaviors Diagram 1 below illustrates respondent values, and response behaviors as to which of the identified NASPAA core competencies they find most relevant, and important in those manager s everyday environment. Eight of the 24 survey respondents (33%) identified NASPAA core competency 3, the ability to analyze, Lead and manage in public governance synthesize, think critically, solve problems, and make Participate in and contribute to policy process 7 decisions as the most important competency to possess as future public service officials, and current public managers indicating the relevance of core courses such Analyze, synthesize, think critically, solve problems and make decisions Articulate and apply a public service perspective Communicate and interact productively with a diverse workforce No Answer as Research Methods for Public Administrators and Figure 3: Respondent behaviors identified by answers to survey questionnaire. Analytic Techniques for Public Administrators as imperatives for successful public management.
19 19 Seven of the respondents (29%) identified competency 1, the ability to lead and manage in public governance as the second most important competency to grasp for future and current public managers suggesting that core courses such as Public Organizational Management, Public Financial Management, Public Budgeting, and Strategic Planning and Management are in fact the key components necessary for public sector success. When asked if, and how these core competencies were addressed within the educational program that each of the respondents attended, half (50%) of the respondents gave and answer of not applicable, unsure, or even responded with no answer at all. This would seem to indicate that NASPAA core competencies, particularly within our sample population, were not How was this competency addressed in your MPA program recognized, and therefore not emphasized by the programs that our sample respondents attended. This conveys a stark contradiction to what we as MPA students and future Respondents public managers have been taught; that NASPAA core Figure 4: Half of the respondents in this study concluded that they were unsure how NASPAA principles were addressed in their educational programs. competencies are a fundamental foundation for public service education. The collective respondent sentiment concerning this survey question indeed seems to indicate that NASPAA principles are considered when developing best practices, and that public administrators (at least those survey) do in fact measure outcome and performance based on
20 20 NASPAA principles. What these answers do not however answer is whether or not these universal principles are so fundamental that public administrators (who may be unaware of NASPAA core competencies) are cognizant of these universal principles when developing those best practices. Analysis of dependent variables For the purposes of this analysis we determined the question, How familiar are you with MPA program competencies, to be our independent variable. We then used our survey data to determine 29 dependent variables, each of which are depicted in the table 2. Using SPSS we ran multiple statistical analyses on our data in a concerted effort to prove our null hypothesis to be true, or rather to fail to reject our null hypothesis. Our initial analysis included the calculation and interpretation of descriptive statistics (see Table 2), which we would then use in a simple regression analysis that we hoped would provide greater insight into public administrator decision-making as it pertains to the application of NASPAA core competencies in professional environments. The descriptive statistics calculated for this study illustrate a normally dispersed frequency distribution with an average standard deviation of 1.66 and a mean z-score of 4.95 (CI 95% & 5.21 at p <.05). To calculate our confidence intervals we used the standard and scientifically accepted formula for determining CI: X ± Z(! ) or 4.95 ±.4999 (2.766/ 29). The! aggregated SE 6 (.174) and the aggregated significance level (.42) calculated from a simple regression analysis of each of the 29 identified (above) competencies did little to prove the validity of our identified research questions, and even less to assist in rejecting our null 6 Standard Error
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