The Pracademic: An Agenda for Re-Engaging Practitioners and Academics


  • Paul L. Posner is a Professor at George Mason University, 7160 Main Street, Clifton, VA 20124. He can be reached at


The synergy between theory and practice is a much sought after, but sometimes elusive, touchstone for the development of public administration programs in the United States. A healthy relationship is vital to the success of both practitioners and academics alike. While the field of public administration was in no small part premised on sustaining a healthy academic-practitioner connection, there has been a retreat from engagement due to deeply rooted trends in both academic and practitioner environments. This article reviews these trends and suggests an agenda for reconnection of these vital linkages.


Remembering and celebrating Dick Zody's life should prompt us to revisit the important nexus between academics and practitioners. The synergy between theory and practice is a much sought after, but sometimes elusive, touchstone for the development of public administration programs in the United States. A healthy relationship is vital to the success of both practitioners and academics alike. While the field of public administration was in no small part premised on sustaining a healthy academic-practitioner connection, there has been a retreat from engagement due to deeply rooted trends in both academic and practitioner environments. This article reviews these trends and suggests an agenda for reconnection of these vital linkages.


The integration of academic teaching and research with the communities of practice has been a fundamental aspiration of public administration since its founding as a field. While building an important body of academic theory and concepts, public administration as a field has embraced a professional orientation by seeking to be relevant to practitioners at various levels of government and sectors. While teaching theory, public administration programs and faculty are often acutely aware that their academic content and credibility, in part, rest on a deep connection with practitioners. While theory can be self-contained, the impact of our research and teaching arguably finds its most compelling and highest audience when it addresses the agenda items and concerns of practitioners.

The world of practice serves as the center point of the academic compass for most professional programs. Just as schools of engineering and law are disciplined by the marketplace, which seeks well-trained students, so our programs must perennially find ways to address the fast changing needs of practitioners—whether they be government, nonprofit organizations, consulting firms or contractors. We may not expect such traditional academic disciplines as history, sociology, or political science to cater to the needs of external audiences or practitioners—indeed, these disciplines' insulation from public concerns and issues is considered a strength by some.

However, the failure of professional schools to teach or write for their natural markets is far more threatening to their social and economic function of preparing students to excel in the worlds of business and public organizations. The misalignment of professional programs with the needs of their natural markets can have at least two major consequences. First, it may prompt other providers to emerge who can at least appear to address near-term employment needs but without the quality and perspective that professional academic programs impart. Second, it may lead to the eclipse and ultimate decline in the ability of professional academic programs to thrive or even survive over the longer-term.

In some respects, the academic-practitioner model for public administration was premised on a client services model. Practitioners would provide the “problem stream” for academic research and serve as the de jure or de facto client for those studies. As Kingdon notes, academics would, in return, provide tested findings and ideas to fertilize the “solution stream” in the broader world of public policy.1 Beyond the specific research agenda, academics would serve practitioners through the enlightenment function of education. Practitioners would gain new skills and perspectives on their roles, as well as a credential that could help them improve their career prospects in current or future jobs.

Both sides of the transaction gained from this nexus. Practitioners received information that helped resolve knotty policy dilemmas and a ticket to career advancement if they enrolled in public administration programs. Academics gained relevance and satisfaction in knowing that their work made a difference.

Some went beyond these immediate rewards to suggest more intangible but important benefits. Many observers have noted that practitioners gain from exposure to theory in the impossibly complicated and rapidly moving world of the contemporary public administrator. Faced with multiple demands and rapid change, “self-reflexive” public administrators need theory to help them better understand the various ways that issues and challenges can and should be framed.2

Academics not only gain an audience, but enhance the depth and quality of their own scholarship and theory from the connection. One prominent student of public budgeting, Irene Rubin, argues that it is difficult to study budgeting as an academic without either a practitioner background or mindset. Ideally, public budgeting would be addressed through a shared community of thoughtful practitioners and academics, each contributing unique perspectives but learning from each other through meetings, conferences, exercises and informal discussions.3

Indeed, the founding “fathers” of public administration were often boundary spanners—people who had careers rooted in both academic and public service camps. Luther Gulick, for instance, coupled his well-known theory building and academic service with a distinguished career tackling an array of high-profile public management problems. Along with another academic giant in our field, Charles Merriam, he served on the Brownlow Committee, assembled by President Roosevelt, which made path-breaking changes to the organization of the federal government, followed by important roles in managing New York City's government. He served for three years as the City Administrator under Mayor Robert Wagner. Similarly, Wallace Sayre, a leading public administration scholar at Columbia University, served as Chairman of the New York City Civil Service Commission under Wagner and died suddenly in the Mayor's office as he was being appointed to chair a new charter revision commission for New York City in 1969.


A rich tradition has grown up over the years to connect practitioners with academics in public administration and public budgeting. These connections have been forged through programmatic links between academic programs and public agencies, as well as through the personal careers of boundary spanners or pracademics.

Programmatic Linkages

Academics and practitioners in public administration have a tradition of engaging in specific programs to enrich both theory and practice. Dick Zody himself wrote about this in a 1977 Public Administration Review article reporting on the results of a cooperative effort between the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) to strengthen urban management education, which he chaired.4 Here, he highlighted an emergent urban management program which featured a thickening series of relationships between practitioners and academics. It would be useful to list the kinds of exchanges and networking that he found in examining these programs:

  • Practitioner involvement in academia
  • -Team teaching.
  • -Practitioner development of course materials and syllabi.
  • -Practitioner service as teachers and advisers.
  • -Practitioner-in-residence programs.
  • -Training and education programs targeted to practitioners.
  • Academic involvement in government agencies
  • -Faculty internships and consultancies with public agencies.
  • -Student internships.
  • -Cooperative research endeavors.

To this list might be added other forms of programmatic and institutional exchange. The growth of public administration programs with mid-level practitioners for students guarantees a certain degree of reality checking for academics, and has often provided an entry point for the world of practice to penetrate the academic walls of public administration programs. Indeed, the Kennedy School's Executive Program was premised on the potential benefits of training to both the high-level practitioners expected to enroll, as well as the faculty themselves who would gain valuable insights from the experience.5 Some government agencies fund their employees' participation in these MPA programs.

The development of professional institutes and centers within universities has further encouraged academic/practitioner interactions. Such institutes have a service role and provide consulting and training to governmental officials in the local area and beyond. Our professional associations have sought to become meeting grounds where the two cultures can network and work together in promoting their common interests in advancing our profession. The American Society for Public Administration has dedicated itself to bridging the worlds of theory and practice (in the interests of full disclosure, the author is President of ASPA).

At times, institutions within and outside of government work to foster academic-practitioner exchanges to improve the quality of advice provided to policymakers. For instance, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has for several years conducted a series of high-level forums bringing together leading governmental officials with leading academics and other experts in preparing its reports for the Congress on major issues. Forums on the deficit, future workforce, and governmental management issues were followed by thoughtful reports recapping major areas of consensus and disagreement to guide future policy deliberations.6 Private consulting firms have sought to make these connections as well through “thought leadership.” Firms such as the IBM Center on the Business of Government engage leading academics in writing reports on major management challenges facing governments, which often succeed in translating complex bodies of theoretical and empirical work into terms that are readily understandable to broader audiences of public officials.7

The linkage of public administration programs with public service has, in fact, received institutional recognition in the guidance of NASPAA. The association's accreditation standards have not included public service as an explicit standard, but the Code of Good Practice provides for member institutions to operationalize a commitment to public service. Moreover, the 2009 standards revision committee is moving to require member schools to demonstrate and measure how they have contributed to public service.8 The call for upgrading university engagement with public service has received broader support from the National Association of State and Land-Grant Colleges.9

Brokering Academic-Practitioner Interactions: The Role of the Pracademic

While programs institutionalize relationships, ultimately brokers are necessary to create these programs and sustain them over time. The cooperation between academia and practitioners is beset by tensions between the very different institutional incentives, ways of thinking and traditions of universities and public agencies, as will be discussed below. Consequently, the most well-crafted memorandum of understanding or agreement is bound to suffer from entropy as the inexorable demands of separated institutions assert their grip on well-meaning actors in both worlds.

Brokers breathe life into networks, and through their relationships serve as the glue that holds networks together and sustains them over time. The most effective brokers are those who have occupied significant positions as both academics and practitioners—or so-called pracademics. These adaptable and cross-pressured actors serve the indispensable roles of translating, coordinating and aligning perspectives across multiple constituencies. As Kuhn notes, the effective pracademic not only must straddle both worlds, but must have established sufficient legitimacy to be respected in both communities.10

Pracademics can play many bridging roles. At times, they may serve as network brokers, creating new channels to enhance cooperation and communication across the academic-practitioner divide. However, they may also add value through their teaching, research and public management leadership alone. Pracademics with deep exposure to both theory and practice are ideally positioned to make singular contributions to both enterprises. Academics with experience in public management or policymaking roles can potentially give their teaching more depth and credibility by enabling them to draw on a wide range of experience to support theoretical points. Their research can be informed by fresh insights from exposure to dilemmas and challenges facing practitioners. Their experience serving different communities with disparate values and languages potentially improves their prospects for reaching students with different backgrounds. Drawing on their familiarity with multiple audiences, their written reports and articles may reach to broader and more diverse audiences than traditional academic pieces. Practitioners gain valuable insight from their service as pracademics as well, deepening their understanding of concepts and frameworks that provide valuable perspective and context for the day-to-day issues facing public managers. Exposure to literature analyzing public policy over time and across different nations provides practitioners with important insights and fresh ideas for addressing a wide range of issues.

Notwithstanding the important roles they play against great odds, there is very little written about pracademics. There are only a few citations in our journals about this exclusive group of men and women. Shockingly, there is not even an entry for the term in Wikipedia. However, there appears to be a growing recognition of their importance for related fields and disciplines. The Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) established a new section for pracademics in 2006 to strengthen research, training, education, and community action.

Further examination of the critical role played by pracademics is in order. Their potential to improve the synergy between theory and research suggests that these kinds of nontraditional career paths should be encouraged by academic and public service institutions alike. However, we need to better understand the types of career paths encompassed by pracademics to assess the barriers to mobility across sectors.

One useful taxonomy in describing pracademic careers is to chart the direction and duration of shifts in careers across these sectors. Pracademics can switch across the boundaries in both directions—practitioners can become academics just as academics can become practitioners. The transition across sectors can also vary by the duration of the change, ranging from temporary to permanent conversions. The pathways pursued by practitioners can best be depicted along a continuum, ranging from temporary or short-term switching to more permanent conversions, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Continuum of Pracademics

These differential career paths obviously pose different institutional challenges. Incentives for mobility are strongest at the short-term end of the spectrum, while barriers appear more formidable for mid-range and longer-term career transitions.

There has been considerable adaptation by universities to accommodate short-term strategies. Adjunct faculty has become institutionalized in universities anxious to lower their costs. Adjuncts also can bring substantial added value to the classroom if they succeed in successfully integrating their experience with academic content. In most universities, faculty are encouraged to consult, particularly if such engagements help cover universities' overhead costs. Public agencies and institutions do not offer the same encouragement or space to become adjunct faculty. Adjuncts rarely receive time off or other institutional support for their home institutions. Rather they must often swim upstream against the strong currents of busy jobs and family commitments.

Middle-range pathways are more problematic, with barriers to entry lower for political appointees than for career civil service positions. As Donahue notes, in-and-outers have served as a long-time channel for filling top political appointments in the American bureaucracy when compared with nations having a stronger elite public service.11 The personal and institutional rewards accruing from a longer-term stint with public service are substantial to both the faculty and the university. Nonetheless, academics must gain substantial time off to pursue public service for several years, often needing official leaves of absence. Moreover, the access of in-and-outers to public service positions is generally greatest at the top political level. Career positions are notoriously closed to middle- or top-level entry, owing to the insular nature of career advancement systems in most public agencies.

Practitioners are less likely to pursue academic careers as a respite from busy jobs. Interruptions of public service careers for positions at other institutions are generally seen as crippling careers within bureaucracies. The Federal Senior Executive Service has had a provision for senior mangers to take sabbaticals since 1978, but this has been a rare event, as officials fear the loss of status and position upon their return. Practitioners at the level of political appointees are more likely to adopt mobile career paths that may land them at universities for a time. Political officials ousted from their positions due to partisan turnover or personal resignation can find university positions a welcome transitional stage to gather thoughts, write memoirs and engage in other stock-taking before engaging in another position.

The permanent switchers face perhaps the most formidable barriers for academics and practitioners seeking to change during their active careers. Practitioners face giving up retirement and protected civil service status for an uncertain future in the academic environment. Similarly, academics with tenure also must go from a secure to a less secure environment.

Uncertainty is always a price to be paid from career change, but the attempt to cross the walls of the academic-practitioner divide is even more daunting. Two distinct cultures exist that are protected not only by different personnel and reward systems, but more importantly by intellectual and conceptual bright lines. Sociologists observe that professions seek to distinguish themselves by defining bright lines separating themselves from others—a strategy which provides them with autonomy to govern and police the entry and performance of their members.12

Boundary protection is an important function for those seeking to establish and institutionalize professional fields in both academic and bureaucratic worlds. Having one's own set of concepts, journals, and internalized criteria for judging quality in both writing and staffing becomes the defining touchstone for those seeking academic legitimacy. Career ladders reflect this—academics gain tenure by publishing and gaining acceptance in their own journals. Extensive work at high levels in the public sector, as well as major reports done for government or consulting firms hold little weight in this process.

Within public agencies, bureaucratic norms reward continuity and length of service in competitions for promotion and pay. “Time behind the wheel” is one metaphor used to describe the value placed on learning and internalizing bureaucratic norms as a criterion for advancement. Academics who join public agencies must learn a new language and accommodate themselves to new authority structures. Most importantly, academics must relinquish the control over the content of their intellectual work and reports to the agency leadership. Those who wish to make a difference in the broader public policy world may find this an acceptable trade-off. Some agencies permit academics to continue to write for journals and even books, but generally agencies insist on reviewing the drafts of work submitted for publication.

The barriers to permanent switching are far less foreboding to those in retirement status. Indeed, thoughtful practitioners may find an academic job to be a wonderful change of pace, fulfilling pent-up desires to make intellectual contributions freed from the strictures of bureaucratic hierarchies. Many practitioners at this stage in life, secure in a defined benefit retirement, are satisfied with fixed-term or contract positions; they need not subject themselves to the rigors or indignities of the tenure process.


For all the high-minded rhetoric and well-intentioned initiatives, many in our field would pronounce themselves to be disillusioned about the prospects for integration. Indeed, there is some evidence that there has been a retreat from engagement across the academic-practitioner divide in public administration as well as other professions.

Many years ago, Christopher Jencks and David Riesman warned that academics in professional schools had become more enamored of the disciplines that inform their practice than the professions to which they are linked.13 Professional schools have become more focused on nurturing their own and students' academic portfolios and skills and less on their potential contributions to private firms and public agencies. Some are actually suspicious that relevance in scholarly inquiry entails a loss of control of research agendas and inquiry. Reporting research results in language accessible to practitioners is also resisted by some scholarly communities.14

Scholars have observed a growing separation of research and practice in business schools as well as other professions. Research undertaken by academics is focused on publication in academic journals, not on the potential relevance to the problems facing public and private sector managers. As Khurana and Marquis conclude, many leading business schools have measured themselves increasingly not by the competence of their graduates to contribute in the worlds of practice but by the rigor of their scientific research that is of decreasing relevance to broader communities outside of universities.15 Henry Mintzberg concludes that what is taught in MBA programs is now at odds with what managers need to know to be effective in the real world of private sector organizations.16

Part of this is reflected in the hiring and promotion process in academic programs. Publication in academic journals and books is the primary benchmark for determining tenure and the potential for achieving and sustaining a high level of scholarship is a major factor in hiring. A candidate's experience in public or private organizations, published research in practitioner-oriented reports, magazines and books are deemphasized. Consulting engagements and reports are likewise not weighted heavily in considering a candidate's record in research. Of course, community service is also considered in tenure decisions, but it is the research dimension and, to a lesser extent, the teaching performance that drives the promotion process.17

These trends are reinforced by professional journal and association norms. Journals and academic conferences place heavy emphasis on theoretical and empirical contributions that advance the academic discipline. For the most part, case studies, qualitative research and interpretative studies that are likely to constitute the output of practitioners are often viewed as having lesser potential to advance the discipline.

Accordingly, practitioners find that mainstream academic research has less relevance to their issues and agendas. One study found that the hegemony of notions of scientific rigor has resulted in research of low relevance to managers in public and private organizations. The emphasis on precise measurement and empirical testing has led to the neglect of major areas that are not amenable to quantifiable methods. Rampant empiricism has led researchers to a narrowly focused agenda where findings make only incremental progress from previous studies, trivializing the results of research.18 Research fails to address the larger questions facing practitioners and publics alike, creating gaps that are filled by popularizers lacking academic credibility and competent research skills. One business management scholar argued that academics have left mainstream questions in the management field to people like Malcolm Gladwell who are not fearful of taking on the more substantive issues uppermost in the minds of managers.19

Practitioners themselves also face pressures and incentives that contribute to their disengagement with academic research. Reflexivity is often compromised by harried and hurried decision time frames and pressures to meet demands of increasingly insistent publics and political calendars.20 While some government agencies fund graduate education, many employees gain advanced degrees through their own resources and personal sacrifice while holding down full-time public sector positions. The rewards for achieving degrees may at times include advancement and promotion within agencies, but many practitioners report that their academic achievement does not trigger higher salaries or recognition by their employer. Practitioners often have little time and encouragement to develop journal articles or conference papers in general. Indeed, publication of articles on issues encountered in the workplace is often viewed as a risk, not an asset, to the agency by top officials. It is no surprise, accordingly, that submissions of articles for the Public Administration Review are overwhelming made by academics, with practitioners comprising only 5 percent of the total.21

One of the more alarming signs of disengagement is the retreat of practitioners from participation in conferences of such organizations as ASPA, whose trademark is bringing together academics and practitioners. Many of us remember the annual ASPA conferences as major events where leading practitioners and academics would come together to discuss the major questions facing public management. While practitioners still comprise the majority of ASPA members, many feel that the annual conference has become increasingly oriented to academics. Some practitioners find that the panels and research discussed does not sufficiently address their needs and concerns, and is communicated in terms that are exclusive to self-contained academic communities. Some practitioners, further, report being intimidated in the presence of academics, fearing that they are viewed with disdain.22

Reportedly, practitioners would rather attend conferences of practitioners, such as the ICMA or the Council of State Governments. They find people with similar backgrounds and communication style who face common challenges. Sessions are directly responsive to their problems and concerns. While these meetings convey considerable practical information, one wonders what is being lost by the failure of the two sectors to engage.


As the foregoing suggests, the connection between practitioners and academics is not an easy or seamless one. The tension is rooted in the different ways of knowing and learning across the two sectors. Types of information constituting valid action bases, sense-making, data validity thresholds and other issues differentiate the two sectors. The barriers are present in nearly all fields in which there are both researchers and practitioners. For instance, it took 200 years from the time a cure was found for scurvy until it was widely adopted by the British navy.23

Research on practitioner-academic relationships in other academic and professional fields, however, concludes that these differences can constitute a strength if each party values and respects the unique contribution of the other. Academics who participate in networks with practitioners or communities of practice realize great rewards in discovering the agendas of concern to managers, earning their trust for research studies, and learning how to best communicate their results in terms that can compel attention and action.

It is no surprise that both academics and business firms that achieve higher levels of practitioner-academic collaboration have been found to be more successful. The most successful academic researchers in biological and physical sciences have the highest level of interaction with practitioners.24 From the business standpoint, corporations with the strongest academic networks and scientific research capacity are in the strongest position.25

Research on knowledge transfer and dissemination suggests that a process incorporating creative tension among various ways of learning and knowing offers the greatest likelihood of improving the stock of socially relevant knowledge. A process institutionalizing a dialectic process among differing communities appears to be a far more promising approach to creating and sharing new knowledge.26

An intriguing theoretical framework developed by Ikujiro Nonaka and colleagues provides a dynamic perspective on how academic-practitioner interaction can contribute to higher social welfare. Two kinds of knowledge are postulated to exist: explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is formal and systematic information that is shared in academic research papers and books; tacit knowledge is context-specific and rooted in personal insights, metaphors, and hunches.27 Tacit knowledge includes the concrete observations, anecdotes and examples of practitioners that help them interpret and simplify the complex welter of information and variables in organizational settings. New knowledge is created from the tension and conversion across these two very different approaches to information and meaning. The cycling between these types creates a “knowledge spiral” which facilitates a process of conversion and expansion. Four specific patterns of conversion exist:

  • Socialization—tacit to tacit—professional symposium, best practices, empathy, face-to-face interaction;
  • Externalization—tacit to explicit—grounded theory converting practitioner assumptions and experiences into systematic and tested theory;
  • Combination—explicit to explicit—academic forums and research; and
  • Internalization—explicit to tacit—training and education and networks of academics/practitioners.

The intriguing finding is that knowledge transfer takes place best across the tacit-explicit divide, the arena where it is most difficult. Combination is classic scholarly research with limited progress of an incremental, marginal nature. The breakthroughs occur when there is mobilization and conversion of tacit knowledge, what we might call managerial wisdom, into explicit and tested models and concepts.28

Perhaps the most promising model of interaction for facilitating this knowledge spiral and the conversion of different models of learning and information is the network concept. Such networks as professional associations, informal working groups and policy issue networks are examples of forums where academic-practitioner interactions have the best chance to blossom.29 Traditional avenues for sharing the results of academic studies—journal articles and academic conferences—will not reach practitioners who do not pay attention to these outlets. Even practitioners with doctoral degrees have been reported to stop reading the academic journals in their own field.30 At least for practitioners, face-to-face interaction and communication is a more efficacious way of transferring knowledge.

Going Forward

As we peer into the future, the challenges facing policymakers and managers alike will intensify in complexity and stakes. The coming baby boom retirement will only serve to exacerbate the pressures on government to downsize, right-size and generally achieve more with less.

The nexus between academics and practitioners will become, if anything, even more important in addressing both research and education needs for the public sector. Greater competition among governments and between public and private providers will prompt greater interest in learning from research about the relative efficacy of different models and practices. In the past, hard-pressed practitioners facing heightened pressures from political leaders and restive publics reached for the latest management innovations or fads without waiting for systematic empirical studies on their efficacy.31 It would be far better if academics were at the ready with relevant and credible research and theory that met these emergent needs. The bow wave of retirements about to hit public workforces at levels of government will prompt even greater reliance on universities to produce enlightened and skilled employees armed with the sophistication to navigate between the worlds of theory, research, and practice.

Pracademics along the lines of Dick Zody are needed as never before. Our field of public budgeting, in fact, has provided numerous role models of pracademics going in both directions to add value to public debates and academic research. One is reminded of the unique contributions that Allen Schick was able to provide in the deliberations leading up to the passage of the Congressional budget process in 1974, or the many contributions that economist Alice Rivlin provided in her founding role as first director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Director of OMB and Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve Board. The insights that scholars such as Roy Meyers and Phil Joyce gained from their service with the CBO proved to be of inestimable value in their research on strategic budgeting and performance budgeting, respectively.32 Merl Hackbart's service as budget director of the state of Kentucky likewise provided insights and understandings that have contributed to his emergence as a leading student of state budgeting and finance, while Marilyn Rubin's work with New York City and Carol Ebdon's work with the City of Omaha show how local experience can contribute to our scholarship on local public finance and economic development.

As the careers of these and may other colleagues in our field suggest, spanning boundaries is not an impossible feat. Indeed, one wonders if public budgeting breeds pracademics more than others. Given the closed and obscure worlds of budget formulation and execution, it is difficult indeed for academics to penetrate budgeting through secondary data and number crunching alone. One does not need to have served in official positions to obtain practitioner insights—Irene Rubin's lifetime work on public budgeting shows how a sensitive scholar attuned to the views and lives of practitioners can make sense of this world to thousands of others.

Each of these people have crossed the boundaries in various and often idiosyncratic ways. However, while showing that such actions are possible and often necessary, it is also true that our institutional environments do not encourage such boundary spanning. Academics and practitioners who make connections do so on their own, and often in the face of substantial institutional barriers and disincentives.

Can we make progress on changing the institutional environment to promote the vital interchange between theory and practice in public administration and policy? Can we further aid and abet those extraordinary individuals who pursue pracademic careers?

I have provided the following agenda of changes in institutional incentives and rules for both academic and practitioner community that have the potential to promote greater mutual engagement:

  • Academic tenure and promotion decisions might be adjusted to give greater weight to contributions made in research, writing and consulting done in the public policy and management arenas.
  • Universities could consider enhancing opportunities for practitioners to devote a period of their careers with professional public policy and management programs, perhaps through expansion of term appointments and practitioner-in-residence programs.
  • Professional journals could expand their sights to promote greater coverage of issues of importance to practitioners, possibly by encouraging participation on editorial boards by thoughtful practitioners, encouraging submission of top quality research using qualitative methods and by instituting special sections on developments in the field.
  • Professional associations should expand their scope to ensure that conference agendas are planned with practitioner interests and participation in mind. Associations should consider greater use of forums with careful selection of practitioners and academics to work together on important public policy and management issues.
  • Public agencies should seek to encourage their staff to work more closely with relevant academic partners. In general, participation in academic forums, journals and other publications should be viewed as an asset enhancing the value of staff to an agency, not as a risk or liability diverting staff from their appointed rounds. Agencies should encourage greater opportunities for staff to attend conferences, write for professional journals and work collaboratively with academic researchers on relevant issues. Such vehicles can include greater use of sabbaticals and personnel exchanges between academics and practitioners.

Let me hasten to add that these changes may appear modest to many, but in fact will prove quite challenging to academic and public institutions. The proposals would, in effect, prompt a reframing of the concepts and norms governing career advancement in both of these sectors. As such, they cannot only be expected to generate understandable anxiety, but also are premised on shifting the definition of the mission and purpose that each sector serves for our broader social system.

Notwithstanding the tensions that this agenda will invariably bring to the surface, it is important to underline that a radical makeover of each sector is neither necessary nor appropriate. In pursuing these and other possible changes, the goal should be to promote the unique value added by each sector, not to transform each sector into the image of the other. For instance, it would be unrealistic and inappropriate to expect practitioners to prepare papers and journal articles with the same level of energy and intensity as academics. And it would be equally foolish to expect academics to abandon research and teaching as their primary mission for a life of public service. Each world has its own unique operating style and approach, which are their strengths. However, what we can realistically expect is to shift the agenda so that each is open to and enriched by the input of the other. Thus, our academic research and journals should seek to address the major issues of our day, and our conferences should highlight issues of interest to practitioners, even if managers do not prepare the articles or make the presentations. And we should expect public agencies to cultivate and encourage staff to understand and work with leading academics to keep the world of practice informed of the latest findings from theory and research.

Engagement itself may reveal yet additional avenues for partnerships and networks. There is no substitute for creative, proactive leadership to start a renewed dialogue that will lead to productive institutional change.


  1. 1. John Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies (Boston, Little Brown, 1984).

  2. 2. Camilla Stivers, “The Reflective Practitioner,” Public Administration Review 61, no. 1 (2001): 111116.

  3. 3. Communication from Irene Rubin, January 13, 2008.

  4. 4. Richard E. Zody, “Academic/Practitioner Interchanges: Suggested Guidelines,” Public Administration Review (1977): 572574.

  5. 5. Graham Allison, “Emergence of Schools of Public Policy,” in The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, eds. Michael Moran, Martin Rein, and Robert E. Goodin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006): 75.

  6. 6. See GAO web site,

  7. 7. See

  8. 8. Jeffrey A. Raffel, “The Uniqueness of NASPAA-Accredited Programs: The Role of Public Service in Accreditation,” Working Draft Supporting the NASPAA Standards 2009 Standards Revision Process, September 26, 2007.

  9. 9. National Association of Land-Grant Colleges, “Returning to Our Roots: The Engaged Institution,” Washington, DC, 1999.

  10. 10. See Timothy Kuhn, “Negotiating Boundaries between Scholars and Practitioners,” Management Communication Quarterly 16, no. 1 (2002): 106112.

  11. 11. John D. Donahue, “In-and-Outers: Up or Down?” in For the People: Can We Fix the Public Service, eds. John D. Donahue and Joseph S. Nye, Jr. (Washington, DC: Brookings, 2003): 57.

  12. 12. See Howard M. Vollmer and Donald L. Mills, Professionalization (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1966).

  13. 13. Christopher Jencks and David Riesman, The Academic Revolution (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968).

  14. 14. Robert E. Goodin, Martin Rein, and Michael Moran, “The Public and Its Policies,” in The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, eds. Michael Moran, Martin Rein, and Robert E. Goodin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006): 6.

  15. 15. Rakesh Kjirana and Christopher Marquis, “Diagnosing and Dissolving Our' ‘Translation Gap Journal of Management Inquiry 15, no. 4 (2006): 406410.

  16. 16. Henry Mintzberg, Managers Not MBA's (New York, Barrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004).

  17. 17. Michael J. Bolton and Gregory B. Stolcis, “Ties that Do Not Bind: Musings on the Specious Relevance of Academic Research,” Public Administration Review 63, no. 5 (2003): 626631.

  18. 18. Kenneth Thomas and Walter G. Gymon Jr., “Necessary Properties of Relevant Research: Lessons from Recent Criticism of the Organization Sciences,” Academy of Management Review 7, no. 3 (1982): 345352.

  19. 19. Andrew Hoffman, “Let's Put Malcolm Gladwell Out of Business,” Journal of Management Inquiry 15, no. 4 (2006).

  20. 20. Richard E. Neustadt and E. R. May, Thinking in Time (New York, Free Press, 1986).

  21. 21. J. Edward Kellough and David W. Pitts, “Who Contributes to Public Administration Review? Examining the Characteristics of Authors Who Submit Manuscripts to the Journal,” Public Administration Review 65, no. 1 (2005): 38.

  22. 22. Daean S. Caldwell and Ernest W. Dorling, “Networking between Practitioners and Academics in Law Enforcement,” Public Administration Review 55, no. 1 (1995): 107110.

  23. 23. Sara I. Rynes, Jean M. Bartunek, and Richard I. Daft, “Across the Great Divide: Knowledge Creation and Transfer between Practitioners and Academics,” Academy of Management Journal 24, no. 2 (2001): 340355.

  24. 24. Ibid., 343.

  25. 25. William Powell and Jason Owen-Smith, “Universities and the Market for Intellectual Property in the Life Sciences,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 17, no. 2 (1998): 253277.

  26. 26. Sara I. Rynes, Jean M. Bartunke and Richard I. Daft, “Across the Great Divide: Knowledge Transfer between Practitioners and Academics.”

  27. 27. Ikujiro Nonaka, “A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation,” Organizational Science 5 (1994): 1437; Ikujiro Nonaka and N. Konno, “The Concept of ‘ba’: Building a Foundation for Knowledge Creation,” California Management Review 40, no 3 (1998): 4054.

  28. 28. Leon-C. Malan and Mark P. Kriger, “Making Sense of Managerial Wisdom,” Journal of Management Inquiry 7, no. 3 (1998): 242252.

  29. 29. Timothy Kuhn, “Negotiating Boundaries between Scholars and Practitioners,” Management Communication Quarterly 16, no. 1 (2002): 106112; Hugh Heclo, “Issue Networks and the Executive Establishment,” in Anthony King (ed.), The New American Political System (Washington, DC: AEI Press, 1978): 87–101.

  30. 30. Lynne R. Offermann and Rebeccca K. Spiros, “The Science and Practice of Team Development: Improving the Link,” Academy of Management Journal 44, no. 2 (2001): 376392.

  31. 31. See Eric Abrahamson, “Management Fashion,” Academy of Management Journal 21, no. 1 (1996): 254285.

  32. 32. Roy T. Meyers, Strategic Budgeting (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1994); Philip Joyce, “Performance-Based Budgeting,” in Handbook of Government Budgeting, ed. Roy Meyers (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999).