Preparing Public Administration Scholars for Qualitative Inquiry: A Status Report

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Preparing Public Administration Scholars for Qualitative Inquiry: A Status Report
  Public Administration Research; Vol. 2, No. 1; 2013 ISSN 1927-517x E-ISSN 1927-5188 Published by Canadian Center of Science and Education 11 Preparing Public Administration Scholars for Qualitative Inquiry: A Status Report Margaret Stout 1   1  Department of Public Administration, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA Correspondence: Margaret Stout, Department of Public Administration, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA. Tel: 304-293-7978. E-mail: Received: January 18, 2013 Accepted: February 20, 2013 Online Published: April 24, 2013 doi:10.5539/par.v2n1p11 URL: Abstract This paper reiterates in succinct form the discipline’s discussion of how qualitative inquiry stands to contribute substantively to public affairs knowledge and why it is therefore a necessary skill to develop as scholars in the field and its cognates; public administration, public policy, and political science. It then presents empirical data on doctoral research methods requirements collected in 2004-2005 and 2011-2012 to demonstrate that while  preparation in qualitative inquiry is improving, at least one-third of the doctoral programs associated with  NASPAA-accredited Master of Public Administration degree programs still fail to prepare candidates in qualitative inquiry. Therefore, the discussion is still relevant and doctoral programs are encouraged to continue curricular reform and enhancement. Furthermore, scholars are encouraged to continue research on research in  public administration .   Keywords:  qualitative inquiry, research methods, doctoral curriculum, research methods requirements 1. Introducation 1.1 Introduce the Problem The literature on public administration research has argued over recent decades that qualitative inquiry stands to contribute substantively to knowledge of the field and is therefore a necessary skill to develop as scholars. Without adequate preparation in qualitative research methods, important questions will remain unanswered or inadequately answered. Despite these ongoing and compelling arguments and curricular improvements in the last decade, at least one-third of the doctoral programs associated with NASPAA-accredited Master of Public Administration degree programs still fail to prepare candidates in qualitative inquiry. This paper will reiterate in succinct form the discipline’s discussion of this issue and make yet another call to doctoral programs to reconsider their requirements for a full complement of research methods courses. The srcinal data on doctoral program requirements for qualitative research methods preparation from 2004-2005 has never been published, but was presented at conference as a means to impact curricular design. This 2011-2012 update shows the increasing inclusion of qualitative research methods coursework at the doctoral level, revealing that while great improvements have been made, there is still ample room for improvement. Therefore, these “old” arguments are still relevant today for about 30 percent of the doctoral programs in question and a reminder that we must continue to broaden doctoral curriculum is of value to today’s readers. Summarization of the comprehensive argument for qualitative research methods pedagogy is somewhat of a can of worms—the conversations in the public administration literature are complex and intertwined in a manner that necessitates some articulation if the full meaning of the argument for qualitative inquiry is to be properly understood. As shown in Figure 1, the related issues move from most general to most specific. Given length constraints, this paper will address the first five of the six issues found in the literature, leaving room for follow-up research on specific instructional methods. In the broadest sense, there is the question of whether or not public administration is a discipline or field of scientific research at all (Adams, 1992; Neumann, 1996; Stallings & Ferris, 1988; Waldo, 1984; White & Adams, 1994b). Assuming that it is at least an endeavor that merits inquiry, the discussion moves on to whether or not the content and quality of research reflects what is demanded of a science in terms of methodological rigor, knowledge accumulation, and the importance or relevance of content. On this point there has been extensive assessment of public administration research as  www.ccsen   published Perry & Cleary, 1ongoing dregard to Answerinmethodolodifferencein generalqualitativethe doctor  pedagogicthe scope A literaturesults an programs unpublishand semi-web-baseargument corroboratThe conclthe endealegitimacy be benefi pluralism and comp Is PubliIs in academic jraemer, 19892, 2000; Mebate regardiualitative and the question gical distincts in mind, the , and in publ research metal programs tal approaches of this paper’se review will d comparisonin public add study inclustructured tel and telephomade for aned by the docsions that caor of public ; (2) a more cial to knowlehere is a needlling argume    AdministratiPublic AdmiIs methoHoA ournals (Hous; Stallings & cCurdy & Clg the approp theoretical inFigure 1. of quality critions and simiconversation ic administrahods most usat produce ttailored to st focus on curr  provide a su of two empinistration ided web-baseephone interve research o against the oral program  be drawn fr dministrationoherent and pdge accumul to better prept, a full third on a disciplineistration reseological plur    w are qualitatministration?What are tAdministr should be Public Ad ton & DelevaFerris, 1988)eary, 1984; Siate criteria quiry. he public aderia necessitatlarities in quturns back to ion specificalful to the fiele scholars wdents intendicular design ccinct summairical studies 2004-2005 and telephoniews with don program reuse of qualitdirectors inter m the literatu needs a broaoductive link tion via methare scholars tf doctoral pr    ?rch of sufficielistm appropr ive research he qualitative ation doctoral used for practi inistration Res12 , 1990; Lan as well as dtallings, 1986ith which to inistration rees a conversatalitative and the value of ly. 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L. 994; s an ly in , and hese nces s of ns in n to yond e the toral ginal lysis, leted Each was : (1) tific ould gical uing Public Administration Research Vol. 2, No. 1; 2013 13 1.2 Research in Public Administration There are two commonly cited challenges to identifying public administration as a scientific discipline: (1) it is not distinct from other disciplines; and (2) it lacks the methodological rigor and quality to build knowledge. The second argument supports the first and includes criticism of the substantive research focus of public administration, the purpose of inquiry, and the quality of methodological execution. Virtually all points made in the literature were corroborated by comments from program directors, demonstrating that they are widely held views (Stout & Morton, 2005). Such quotes are not included for the sake of brevity and to avoid redundancy. The following sections will follow the issues noted in Figure 1. 1.2.1 Is Public Administration a Discipline? In the social sciences, a discipline is generally considered to be a forum for scientific inquiry that differs from that of others. That is, the theories used, the issues studied, and the core knowledge bases are relatively discrete from discipline to discipline (Adams, 1992; Neumann, 1996). However, the study of public administration displays both multidisciplinarity  and interdisciplinarit  y: the former results from a shared focus on a topic of research, while the latter occurs through an exchange of theoretical insights (Raadschelders, 1999, 2005a).  Nevertheless, unique issues are of concern to public administration as opposed to its cognate fields, and researchers seek answers independent from other disciplines (Stallings & Ferris, 1988). For some, this indicates that it may be fine to be perceived as an enterprise  rather than as a discipline, so long as the important questions are being asked and answered well (Waldo, 1984). These nuances should not detract from conducting social science focused on the theory and practice of public administration (Frederickson). 1.2.2 Quality of Public Administration Research Given the overwhelming desire to be perceived as a legitimate field of study, if not a discipline per se, it is  predictable that the topic of research quality would be widely discussed (White & Adams, 1994b). A resounding theme is that public administration research lacks methodological rigor because it makes insufficient use of the  positivist, explanatory social science methodology (Houston & Delevan, 1990; McCurdy & Cleary, 1984; Perry & Kraemer, 1986; Stallings & Ferris, 1988; White, 1986b; White & Adams, 1994a). However, those who  promote interpretive and critical methodologies also question the quality of research (Catron & Harmon, 1981; Denhardt, 1984; Hummel, 1977; Perry & Kraemer, 1986; Thayer, 1984; White, 1986b). Therefore, assuming that explanatory, interpretive, and critical approaches all constitute valid research purposes, there is agreement that the quality of public administration research must improve across a number of dimensions. Of initial concern is the  substantive focus  of study. Second, the  purpose  of research conducted is questioned. Third, critiques of methodological    execution  are given. Quality of Substantive Focus Measures of importance, relevance, and criticality in the assessments made in the past several decades suggest  public administration research is not asking the right questions (Adams & White, 1994; Cleary, 1992, 2000; McCurdy & Cleary, 1984).  Big questions  are “problems with immediate and great significance” (Lieberson, 1992, p. 12). There are two ongoing arguments in regard to the big questions of public administration: (1) which questions should be pursued; and (2) whether the questions meet the needs of scholars, practitioners, or both. In each thread, there are competing recommendations for action. Many prescriptions are made for which questions public administration research should address (Cleary, 1992, 2000; McCurdy & Cleary, 1984; NASPAA, 1987; Perry & Kraemer, 1986; Stallings & Ferris, 1988; Streib, Slotkin, & Rivera, 2001). For example, a host of topical “big questions” in public administration have been put forward (Agranoff & McGuire, 2001; Behn, 1995; Brooks, 2002; Callahan, 2001; Cooper, 2004; Kirlin, 1996, 2001; Neumann, 1996; Rohr, 2004). Two fairly comprehensive analyses were offered by Lan & Anders (2000) and Raadschelders (1999), describing empirical concerns and theoretical perspectives that have been used in  public administration research. Recurring themes include: (1) the distinctions between what is public and private in administration or the notion of “publicness”; and (2) the relationship between politics and administration, or  public administration and society. Another more general approach to ensure relevance is to identify specific levels of analysis, including individual, organizational, and societal. While societal levels may be of greater interest theoretically, individual and organizational levels tend to be of greater interest to practitioners. Quality of Purpose Some critiques suggest that public administration does not produce enough basic research as opposed to applied or descriptive research. Applied research considers practical issues of what   and how . As noted by Raadschelders (1999), these questions typically require deductive research approaches. Studies focus on explanation and Public Administration Research Vol. 2, No. 1; 2013 14  prescription, using knowledge to predict and control the world and its inhabitants. Some questions call for more theoretical and basic research on who  and why , which are most typically answered through inductive research. These questions seek to identify patterns or to understand social phenomena through exploratory inquiry. They include deeply normative questions that call for combinations of descriptive, interpretive, and critical scientific methods. Of course, the division between the different types of questions and their associated research approaches is not hard and fast. For example, large sample regression analysis often contributes to explanations of why social phenomena occur. However, the difference in basic purpose leads to the next quality concern. The purpose of both quantitative and qualitative research is found to be lacking by most accounts (Adams & White, 1994; Brower, Abolafia, & Carr, 2000; Houston & Delevan, 1990; McCurdy & Cleary, 1984; Perry & Kraemer, 1986; Stallings & Ferris, 1988; White, 1986b; White & Adams, 1994a; White, Adams, & Forrester, 1996). First, calls are made to increase basic research and theoretically grounded applied research to avoid the trap of what many refer to as “practice research”. What this means is that purely descriptive studies, while  perhaps of interest to practitioners, do not add sufficient value to the field of study. Case studies must be theoretically grounded and analytical in nature to simultaneously address problems of practice while building disciplinary knowledge (Orosz, 1997; Raadschelders, 1999, 2011). In the pursuit of this research purpose, there is an apparent openness to methodological pluralism with the caveat that the quality of methodological execution improves (Cleary, 1992, 2000; McCurdy & Cleary, 1984; Perry & Kraemer, 1986; Riccucci, 2010). Yet it must  be noted that some scholars cling fiercely to strict positivist epistemologies and the mainstream social science  paradigm that demands explanation and prediction as opposed to understanding (Stallings, 1986). In either case, public administration research must better articulate a clear purpose of explanation or understanding (Adams & White, 1994; Lowery & Evans, 2004; Neumann, 1996; Raadschelders, 1999). Such disclosure will help forge linkages between empirical research on issues of practice (applied) and underlying theoretical foundations (basic) so that both practical and scientific knowledge are enhanced and a clearer relationship between inductive and deductive approaches is forged. Quality of Methodological Execution Even when important questions are being asked in a way that serves the purpose of growing knowledge in the field as well as practice, there are many critiques of methodological execution (Cleary, 1992, 2000; Houston & Delevan, 1990; McCurdy & Cleary, 1984; J. L. Perry & Kraemer, 1986; Stallings, 1986; Stallings & Ferris, 1988; White, 1986a; Wright, Manigault, & Black, 2004). Table 1 shows the criteria used to judge research quality in studies of public administration research by scholars and students (Adams & White, 1994; Bailey, 1992; Cleary, 1992, 2000; McCurdy & Cleary, 1984; White, 1986a; Yin, 1994). These criteria are fitted to mainstream social science research in the deductive, positivist, explanatory tradition even when most research in public administration is inductive and qualitative in nature (e.g. case studies) (Houston & Delevan, 1990; White, 1986b). Indeed, the pessimistic view on quality has been attributed to “inappropriate assumptions about what is acceptable as research in public administration” (Box, 1994, p. 76). In essence, interpretive and critical methods will never meet deductive, positivist criteria, because they are inappropriate measures for assessment (Jensen & Rodgers, 2001). To make such an assessment fairly, we must use criteria that are broad enough to accommodate diverse mixes of  paradigmatic components, while achieving the goal of establishing the trustworthiness of research results. There are two basic approaches to the issue of evaluative criteria for interpretive research. Some scholars recommend using the mainstream standards of validity and reliability (Cresswell, 1998). Others recommend similar but different standards, such as credibility versus validity and dependability versus reliability (Guba & Lincoln, 1998). However, many others have weighed in on this point, offering up a great variety of concepts as possible standards (Lowery & Evans, 2004), with the two most common being rigorous  and  systematic . These concepts are defined differently in the positive and interpretive paradigms. The term rigorous  has become synonymous with mathematical and statistical forms of analysis, relegating an inductive approach to a non-rigorous standing by default (Bevir, 2004; Schwartz-Shea, 2004). Furthermore, this interpretation of the term assumes that relevance for scientific knowledge is achieved by following the deductive scientific method (Dodge, Ospina, & Foldy, 2005). However, these interpretations put empirical research at risk of abstraction to the point where theoretical reflection is lost and results lose all practical relevance or are merely spurious in nature (Adams & White, 1994; Behn, 1995; Cleary, 2000; Kelly & Maynard-Moody, 1993; Mills, 1959; Strauch, 1976). Therefore, while procedural rigor may meet the expectations of positivist science, both theory-building and practitioners require more. Public Administration Research Vol. 2, No. 1; 2013 15 Table 1. Criteria used to judge research quality in public administration McCurdy & Cleary White Adams & White Bailey; Yin Purpose Purpose Guiding theory or framework Theoretically generalizable Validity Validity Flaws in research Transferable (case conditions) Theory testing Theory testing Relevance of findings Replicable (protocol) Causal relationships Hypothesis testing Importance of topic Important topic Causality Overall quality Cutting edge topic As shown in Table 1, the criteria used to judge research quality vary from scholar to scholar Interpretive and other qualitative methods have a more robust concept of rigor in that it must be procedural as well as philosophical (Bevir, 2004; Dodge et al., 2005; Guba & Lincoln, 2005; Yanow, 2004). Procedurally, the researcher must clearly explain how he or she obtains, analyzes, and reports data. To avoid positivist misinterpretations, this is often called a  systematic approach . This criterion helps evaluators differentiate systematic exploration of an issue from casual observation. A systematic approach need not be the inflexible, step-wise, deductive method (Behn, 1995; Yanow, 2004). Interpretive research is systematic in its application of the logic of induction and its iterative response to the research context and subject, as in the production of grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Table 2. Alternative evaluative criteria for research Criterion Positivist Terms Alternative Terms Truth Claim Internal Validity Credibility  (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Allen, 1993; Lincoln & Guba, 1985)  Authenticity  (Brower et al., 2000; Miles & Huberman, 1994) Trustworthiness  (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) Veracity  (Atkinson, Coffey, & Delamont, 2003) Applicability External Validity or Generalizability Transferability  (Lincoln & Guba, 1985)  Fittingness  (Miles & Huberman, 1994) Consistency Reliability Transparency  (Erlandson et al., 1993; Lincoln & Guba, 1985)  Dependability  (Erlandson et al., 1993; Lincoln & Guba, 1985)  Auditability  (Miles & Huberman, 1994)  Neutrality Objectivity Triangulation  (Cresswell, 1998; Miles & Huberman, 1994) Confirmability  (Erlandson et al., 1993; Lincoln & Guba, 1985)  Plausibility  (Brower et al., 2000) Testing out with others  (Moustakas, 1994)  Intersubjective agreement   (Yanow, 2004) Critique Criticality  (Brower et al., 2000) As shown in Table 2, there are criteria to ensure qualitative rigor comparable to those of quantitative rigor For philosophical rigor, researchers must show that their work sheds light on something of practical and theoretical importance in a manner that is reasonable. For this reason, White & Adams (1994a) emphasize that interpretive and critical research should be assessed in terms of its value to the practice of public administration. Evaluative criteria such as practical relevance, importance, utilization, application, and action take on a much greater importance in assessments of quality. With these understandings of rigor as systematic approach and theoretical relevance, we can develop an appropriate set of evaluative criteria for public administration. This discussion may still be “in its infancy for
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