Get access

Unanswered Questions about Public Service Motivation: Designing Research to Address Key Issues of Emergence and Effects


Bradley E. Wright is an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His research on the work climate and motivation in public and nonprofi t organizations has appeared in journals such as Administration & Society, American Review of Public Administration, International Public Management Journal, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, and Public Administration Review.

Adam M. Grant is an associate professor of management at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. His research, which focuses on work motivation, job design, prosocial helping and giving behaviors, and proactive behaviors, has appeared in leading management and psychology journals, such as the Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Organization Science, Journal of Applied Psychology, and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.


As public service motivation research gains momentum, important questions emerge regarding its origins and consequences that are not addressed by existing research. The authors identify some fundamental public service motivation assumptions, including critical gaps in our current understanding of its basic tenets. The authors then discuss specific research studies that, by virtue of their findings and designs, may fill in and inform such apparent gaps. Their aim is to chart new concrete directions for scholarship that complements and advances existing public service motivation research.