Public Administration's About Iteration, Not Perfection

Apr 30 , 2022
By Halima Abate (MD)

In a public administration at any level, in any setting, there is always a demand in operations for a move away from civility and towards productive governance. However, as there are factors beyond our control and influence, there is a logic to focusing on the achievable. Deliberate attention should be considered as existing complex problems continue to evolve, joined by emergent issues every day.

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best,” Otto von Bismarck once noted.

It is true. There are always constraints on the fulfilment of good governance. Hence, the concept of the term, amelioration, is relevant as public administrators are never able to address all of the public's problems. Amelioration refers to improvement – a striving to do better, combined with the recognition that it will never be possible to achieve a perfect outcome that is acceptable to all. Hence, we need to be nuanced about expectations of creating enabling environments on the one hand and “getting things done” on the other where public administration is concerned. Progress does not come not from revolutionary turnarounds or the purging of established organisations. It instead emanates from adjustments in the perspective, manning procedures, and measures of the existing framework. The application of amelioration, thus, might be vital.

It does not take a genius to notice that the failure of governance is associated with limited resources, poor checks and balances and lacklustre political support. This may sound negative, but considering amelioration, the following takeaways should be kept in mind. The first is to keep focused on making incremental changes on an ongoing basis, and avoiding frustration if one does not achieve a perfect outcome. The other is emphasising the aspiration to excellence and doing best rather than overpromising the deliverables.

Practising the approaches in this way might support the development of a more realistic, more objective view of the challenges faced by public administrators. Besides, visualising the extent of challenges for the people will facilitate better engagement and create empathy in pursuing solutions to governance problems. Aside from exercising amelioration, embracing compassion and positivity as core governance principles are necessary because it is executable across all contexts of public service. Being positive by continuing to pursue solutions to governance problems and showing empathy in our professional interactions in ways that build citizens' trust can be constructive rather than throwing our hands in the air and complaining about politics.

Politicians will come and go, crises will eventually end and future problems are inevitable. What will not change is the necessity of public administration dedicated to the public; one that carries out its duties with core values of efficiency, effectiveness, economy and equity. There is a trend to use a political end to judge the means of public administration instead of using it as an efficiency criterion to judge the ends of a promised public service or agenda. Besides, as there is no tradition in training public administrators, perhaps because it has usually been thought more important for administrators to be responsive than skillful, the application of time and power to build a smoothly running organisation to achieve the settled social objectives has been disregarded.

Hence, the provision of a constructive continuity in government through reevaluating the concepts of public welfare, unity, democratisation and equality will provide positive results. Put together, the approaches of amelioration will provide a push for greater responsibility for achieving public value and enhancing efficiency by influencing the purpose, structure, and goals of public organisation.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 30,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1148]

Halima Abate (MD) is a public health professional with over a decade of experience. She can be reached at

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