The Role of Organizations in Fostering Public Service Motivation


Donald P. Moynihan is an assistant professor of public affairs in the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin–Madison. His research analyzes public management capacity and reform, especially in the area of performance management.

Sanjay K. Pandey is an assistant professor of public administration at the University of Kansas. He conducts research in public management and health policy. Most recently, he directed Phase II of the National Administrative Studies Project.


In seeking to explain the antecedents of public service motivation, James Perry focuses on the formative role of sociohistorical context. This study tests Perry’s theory and examines the role that organizational factors play in shaping public service motivation, based on responses from a national survey of state government health and human service managers. The findings support the role of sociohistorical context, showing that public service motivation is strongly and positively related to level of education and membership in professional organizations. The results also underscore the significant influence of organizational institutions, indicating that red tape and length of organizational membership are negatively related to public service motivation, whereas hierarchical authority and reform efforts have a positive relationship. Therefore, public organizations have both an opportunity and a responsibility to create an environment that allows employees to feel they are contributing to the public good.