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Autor:  inglewood  11 June 2011
Tags:  Public Services
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In the last twenty years public service motivation (PSM) has emerged as an important area of

research in public administration and personnel management. Advances have been made in the

study of variation in PSM among individuals, particularly in the development of survey

instruments to measure PSM and tracing out its antecedents. Yet in other important areas

knowledge of PSM remains cursory or nonexistent. In this brief essay I will discuss the

development of high PSM among employees of public organizations.


Perry and Wise (1990, 368) defined public service motivation as ‘‘an individual's predisposition to respond

to motives grounded primarily or uniquely in public institutions.'' Perry (1996) further decomposed PSM

into four dimensions: attraction to public policymaking, commitment to the public interest and civic duty,

compassion, and self-sacrifice. It is apparent from the conceptual definition and empirical measurement

of public service motivation that not all individuals are equally endowed with it. Determinant sand

antecedents of PSM at the individual level have been analyzed in the literature (Perry 1997; Brewer,

Selden, and Facer 2000). Given the individual-level variation in PSM, it is not prima facie obvious that

public bureaucracies must be populated by actors who possess high levels of it. Prominent examples of

bureaucratic corruption and malfeasance both in the United States and abroad are sufficient to

demonstrate the empirical relevance of this point: it is difficult to contend that recent scandals relating to

bribes in the distribution of mineral rights on public lands by the U.S. Department of Interior reveal a high

degree of public service motivation on the part of perpetrators ratings on PSM measurement scales, little

attention has been devoted to how organizations can develop high PSM in their ranks or attract

individuals with high levels of PSM. Furthermore, recent work that does explore organizational

determinants of PSM (Moynihan and Pandey 2007; Paarlberg, Perry, and Hondeghem 2008) focuses on

internal management practices within public organizations, for example, mission statements, internal ‘‘red

tape,'' and degree of hierarchy. Excluded from this research is the issue of the political environment

surrounding public organizations. Given the presumed importance of PSM in fostering successful public

service delivery, this is an important missing link in the literature. In general there are two paths public

organizations can take to cultivate high PSM in their work force: organizations can select individuals who

already possess high PSM, and they can inculcate high PSM among individuals who happen to work for

the organization. Little is known about either mechanism—how it works at a causal level, how and why it

developed in specific cases, etc. Gailmard and Patty (2007) develop a formal model related to the first

channel. The model formalizes two aspects of public service motivation as identified in the PSM literature:

a process of self-selection into a public bureaucracy by potential bureaucrats, and individual

heterogeneity in degree of PSM. Self-selection helps to endow organizations with a high PSM workforce.

The central point of the model is that this self-selection has several beneficial consequences from the

standpoint of organizational capacity and effectiveness, but the same self-selection also inherently

contributes to politicization of bureaucratic policymaking. Thus, the attraction and self-selection of public

servants is a double-edged sword, though the PSM literature has focused only on one of the edges. A

basic presumption of this model is that individuals vary in the extent to which they are concerned with

public policy, a presumption firmly bolstered by individual-level survey evidence (G. Lewis and Frank

2002). Some agents attach intrinsic concern to public policy in the sense that they will sacrifice other

important goals to improve it; they are ‘‘policy motivated.'' For other agents in the model, utility is not

affected by public policy; these agents are labeled ‘‘policy indifferent'' in the model's parlance while

intentionally stark and dichotomous, this distinction maps directly into Perry's (1997) first dimension of

PSM, attraction to public policymaking. Arguably, though, there are differences in the concepts. Literally

construed, Perry's dimension is specifically public policy making in and of itself—so that simply

participating in the process, no matter what policies it leads to, is sufficient to tap into this motivation. In

Gailmard and Patty's model, policy-motivated individuals obtain benefits if they consider policy desirable,

but also incur costs if they consider it undesirable. They obtain these benefits and costs regardless of

whether they participate in the process or are otherwise ordinary citizens engaged in private sector

employment. Moreover, policy-motivated agents in Gailmard and Patty's model obtain benefits from

effecting what they consider positive changes in public policy by participating in the process. Thus it is not

simply participation in the process that matters to these agents, but participation in furtherance of

desirable ends. This assumption squares naturally with Paarlberg and Perry's (2007) finding that public

servants exhibit greater ‘‘buy in'' to organizational goals when they fall within the servant's ‘‘zone of

(affective and normative) values,'' as well as the general observation that it is manifestly contrary to a

public service ethic for an agent to use public authority to further policies that she herself considers to be

detrimental by her own standards of good policy. This is perhaps so self-evident that Perry (1997) left it

implicit in his characterization of PSM.


Public service motivation cannot be automatically assumed to exist in public organizations, and it cannot

be developed simply by deciding that it should exist. Rather, it is endogenous to the role of bureaucratic

organizations in the policy process and the political response to bureaucratic expertise. When politicians

reward expertise development in bureaucracies with an enhanced role in policymaking, agents who

obtain utility from improving public policy will obtain unique benefits from public service, and self-select

into it.


Gailmard, S. and J. Patty. 2007. ‘‘Slackers and Zealots: Civil Service, Discretion, and

Bureaucratic Expertise.'' American Journal of Political Science 51: 883–889.

Leisink, P. and B. Steijn. 2008. ‘‘Recruitment, Attraction, and Selection.'' Pp. 118–135 in

J. Perry and A. Hondeghem, eds., Motivation in Public Management: The Call of Public

Service. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Paarlberg, L. and J. Perry. 2007. ‘‘Values Management: Aligning Employee Values and

Organizational Goals.'' American Review of Public Administration 37: 387–408.

Perry, J. 1997. ‘‘Antecedents of Public Service Motivation.'' Journal of Public Administration

Research and Theory 7: 181–197.

Paarlberg, L., J. Perry, and A. Hondeghem. 2008. ‘‘From Theory to Practice: Strategies for

Applying Public Service Motivation.'' Pp. 286–293 in J. Perry and A. Hondeghem

University Press.

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