Volume 19, Number 1, Spring 2016

                                                             SYMPOSIUM

Symposium on David Farmer’s Public Administration Theory ……............      1

B. Cunningham and A. Wachhaus

Symposium................................................................................................      2

B. Cunningham and A. Wachhaus

What Is Newark? ......................................................................................      8

A. Wachhaus

Applying Farmer’s Lenses: Two Illustrations ...........................................    16

T. Barth

Of Rhizomes and Pointillism: David John Farmer’s Influence,

Method and Art in the Field .....................................................................    30

R. Huff, C. Cors, J. Song, and Y. Pang

Advancing the Practice of Performance Measurement in Public

Organizations: Observations from the Tennessee Municipal

Benchmarking Project ............................................................................     45

C. Shults

Heroes, Superheroes, and Policy Outcomes: An Alternative View

of Leadership Of Public Organizations ...................................................     60

R. A. Schneider

The Practicality of Poetic Contemplation: A Reflection on David

Farmer as a Methodologist .....................................................................   79

R. Schmukler

Out of the Fly-Bottle? A Post-Script on Post-Traditional Public

Administration ........................................................................................   90

D. J. Farmer

David Farmer’s Body of Work: A Retrospective and Prospective

View ........................................................................................................  103

O. White, Jr.

This article reflects on how Farmer’s writing on the use of multiple lenses informs two writing projects, one on values-based decision making and the other on lessons from intensive community engagement activities. Farmer’s use of the business, ethical, critical theory and feminist lenses are found to be particularly relevant and useful to these writing projects, providing a deeper understanding of organizational theory and practice than reliance on any single lens.  

David Farmer suggests that there are multiple ways of looking at social science concepts. No one perspective, or lens, is superior, but taken together, multiple lenses can be enriching and yield a clearer picture of complex ideas. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate Farmer’s multiple lenses approach by looking at performance measurement in the public organizations that participate in the Tennessee Municipal Benchmarking Project (TMBP). Observations from the TMBP suggests that utilizing only one lens can be detrimental to the decision-making process, while employing multiple lenses acknowledges multiple factors in the decision-making process and aides decision makers in reaching a consensus. 

David Farmer’s work is too often misunderstood, perhaps because of the truly imaginative metaphors that he employs for expressing it, and the seemingly paradoxical prescriptions that it leads to at the level of practical action. This problem is helped by elaborating the grounding in which his work is at least implicitly set (namely, Traditionalism in American public administration) and by considering its congruence and compatibilities with the best of such contemporary organization theory as Deming’s approach to organizational and management practice. With such clarified understanding, it becomes obvious that his work opens the way to a truly new 21st century model of public administration both in theory and in application.

The work of David John Farmer has been recognized as critical to the Public Policy and Administration canon. Its impact has been far-reaching both geographically because of its international application and theoretically because of the vast array of public administration challenges it can help resolve. This paper uses the concepts of rhizomatic thinking and reflexive interpretation to describe Farmer’s work. And because a critical piece of Farmer’s work is a bridging of the gap between theory and practice, it formally introduces Farmer’s research approach as Farmer’s Method. This article is intended to serve as a useful tool for students, practitioners, and theorists in understanding the vast contributions of David John Farmer and the practical application of his work.

This post-script starts by offering sincere thanks to the writers of this symposium (organized and developed by Robert Cunningham and Aaron Wachhaus) for their helpful discussion of my thinking about Post-traditional Public Administration (P.A.) and the way out of the fly-bottle. I appreciate the writers’ thoughts relating to the practical and creative life-world benefits that are available from shaking loose from the misleading constraints of our traditional public administration narrative(s) – the constraints of our traditional grand or master narrative(s), our traditional P.A. language game(s). I admire our P.A. predecessors like “founder” Woodrow Wilson and friend Dwight Waldo, who went beyond the narratives of their own times. But our context has changed even more. There is a more urgent need to go beyond not only the cul de sac of the traditional P.A. narrative(s) but also the boxes of our own social, psychological and other constraints that limit our own understandings. These limits also apply to me, of course.

Farmer encourages the use of multiple perspectives as a means of developing robust knowledge. He points out that it is impossible to fully know any thing from a single vantage point. Further he encourages us to reflect on how our perspective shapes what and how we see. He also points out that practice is the test of theory. I apply that maxim here, considering how my understanding of the city of Newark, NJ is impacted by the perspective from which I view it, and by exploring how other vantage points may yield different views of the city.

This article reflects on David Farmer’s contribution to theory and aesthetics in the field of Public Administration, as a means of discussing its methodological input to the improvement of PA praxis. It also discusses the question of contextual limits to the perspectival options that Farmer advances in his approach to the diverse ways of dealing with the complexity of public problems, dilemmas and paradoxes. The author’s inconclusive yet respected standing on these matters is that although many of the questions raised still remain unresolved, their formulation would not have been possible, nor clarified, without David Farmer’s long-reaching and formidable arguments.

David John Farmer is iconic within the PA Theory Network and beloved by his students at Virginia Commonwealth University. His major books include The Language of Public Administration (LPA, 1995), To Kill the King (TKTK, 2005) and Public Administration in Perspective (PAIP, 2010). Each book seeks to move PA scholars and practitioners beyond conventional thinking and acting by breaking down organizational, bureaucratic, and conceptual boxes and by encouraging a commitment to public service backed by thoughtful reflection within a playful, imaginative mindset. Farmer’s ideas are as useful in the workplace as in the classroom.

Public managers often have a different perspective in comparison to the elected officials with whom they serve. Yet, they are tasked with working side-by-side with these elected leaders on behalf of the public good to govern and lead state and local governments, public authorities and other bodies. This article accepts these two realities as a priori assumptions and examines how elected and appointed officials interact and the varying perspectives and expectations of these groups. Rather than spend excessive energy on a compare-and-contrast exercise of administrative and elected perspectives, this study uses “The Super Friends,” a children’s cartoon from the 1970s that takes into consideration the varying powers of super heroes as a lens to view and then understand this unique administrator/elected relationship and its challenges.

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