Systems Approach to Public Administration

Systems Approach to Public Administration:

The Systems Approach is an important and valuable approach to the study of Public Administration. It seeks to study it as a system of administration. It offers a systematic view of an organization. It offers several useful premises and concepts for a systematic study of an organization as a set of functions performed by a set of structures. The General Systems Theory viewed society as a system of relations and interactions i.e., as a set of related interdependent and interacting parts. Under its impact, Systems Approaches were developed in various social disciplines. In Public Administration also, the Systems Approach was developed and used by a number of scholars. Systems theorists view an organization as a system of roles and functions.

The origin of the Systems Approach can be traced to the attempts at the building of a general systems theory, and the origin of a general systems theory can be traced back to the creativity of a biologist, Ludwig Von Bertallanfy, in the 1920s. The Systems Approach came to social sciences from Biology through Anthropology and Sociology. For example, Talcott Parsons applied the Open Systems Approach to the study of social structures. Similarly, psychologists, economists, political scientists, and administrative analysts have been using the Systems Approach in the study of phenomena of their respective concerns.

The Systems Approach in Public Administration is based on the thesis that all parts of an organization are interrelated, interconnected, and interdependent. It seeks to use the concept of a system for the study of organization. It defines the system as a set or arrangement of parts so related or connected as to form a unity or an organic whole. A system is composed of elements that are related and dependent upon one another. Von Bertallanfy in his book ‘General System’s Theory’ describes a system “as a set of elements standing in interaction.” Likewise, Collin Cherry holds that “a system is a whole which is compounded of many parts- an ensemble of attitudes.” A System consists of:

  • A set of elements or parts (comprising a whole),
  • Interactions among the parts of the system,
  • Regular pattern of interactions,
  • Interdependence,
  • Structure as sets of roles, and
  • Functions performed by structures.

Chester Barnard’s Views on Systems Approach to Public Administration:

In administrative analysis, the Systems Approach has been widely used in recent years. Chester Barnard is considered to be a representative systems theorist. He used the concept of a system for the study of organization. He conceptualized organization as a cooperation system of interactions among the members of an organization. It is viewed as a set of interactions through which public policies and decisions are implemented in a society for securing the defined targets, goals, and objectives. Chester Barnard includes the following main concepts in his systemic view of public administration. 

(1) Concept of Organization as a Cooperative System- Barnard conceives of an organization as a cooperative system. He maintains that cooperation originates in the need of an individual to accomplish a purpose that he individually cannot achieve. This, of necessity, leads to the emergence of organized cooperative activity. The cooperative organization for its survival must be effective in the sense of achieving purpose and satisfying individual motives.

Thus the individual and organization become important to each other. The government has to adapt the organization to the needs of individuals and the general environment. Cooperation depends upon two interrelated and interdependent classes of processes:

  • those which relate to the system of cooperation as a whole in relation to the environment, and
  • those which relate to the creation or distribution of satisfaction among individuals.

(2) Concept of Formal Organization- It is the cooperative system that gives rise to formal organization. An organization is defined by Brnard as a system of consciously coordinated personal structures or forces. An organization comes into existence when:

  • these persons are able to communicate with each other,
  • they are willing to contribute action, and
  • a purpose is to be accomplished.

Thus the three vital elements of an organization are:

  • Communication.
  • Willingness.
  • Common purpose.

(3) Concept of Specialization as a Quality of Organization- In a formal system of organization, division of labor, which Barnard describes as specialization or functionalism, is integral to the organization.

The bases of specialization of an organization are:

  • the place where the work is done,
  • the time at which the work is done,
  • the persons with whom the work is done,
  • the things upon which the work is done, and
  • the method or process by which the work is done.

The efficiency of an organization largely rests on how these five requirements are met.

(4) Concept of Incentive- Incentives are also important in a formal organization. These incentives are of two types:

  • Material Incentives.
  • Non-material Incentives.

Material incentives include the conditions of salary and chances of promotion. Non-material incentives include the hierarchy of positions with the gradation of honors and privileges, maintenance or pride of the organization, and respect of the community enjoyed by the organization. No organization can exist without the contribution of these two types of incentives.

(5) Concept of Authority- Authority is the very basis of every organization. No organization can work without resting its activities on authority. The communication of an organization gets recognized as valid communication only when it is based on authority. Authority denotes the recognized right to use power and make binding decisions.

According to Barnard, “Authority is the character of communication in a formal organization by virtue of which it is accepted by a contributor or a member of the organization as governing the action he contributes.” Authority consists of two aspects:

(1) Personal Aspect- The acceptance of communication as authoritative.

(2) Objective Aspect- The character of the communication by virtue of which it is accepted.

(6) Function of the Executive- The function of the executive is, firstly, to provide the system of communication; secondly to promote the securing of essential efforts; thirdly, to formulate and define the purpose.

These three functions arise basically from the need for cooperation among various human beings as any organization is basically a cooperative system of human relations and interactions.

A major limitation of the Systems Approach to Public Administration is that it does not provide a clue as to how this approach can study the different aspects of an organization as well as organizations of different types.

Ahmedabad Mill Strike 1918
Rowlatt Act, 1919
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre [April 13, 1919]
The Khilafat Movement, 1919-1920
The Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-22)
Simon Commission, 1927
The Nehru Report (1928)
Poorna Swaraj or Lahore Session of Congress (1929)
Legacy of 19th Century– NIOS

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