Book chapter

Organization Theory and Public Administration (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Organizational theories can be classified into three types—structural, cultural, and mythical. The structural perspective is based in "bounded rationality" and focuses on how formal structures influence the thoughts and actions of public actors. According to this perspective, leaders are central in decision-making processes and are scoring high on rational calculation and control, achieving public goals using the formal structure as a tool. The leaders could either hierarchical dominate decisions or there could be negotiations among them. The cultural perspective focuses on the role of informal norms and values in public organizations; how they develop and their impact. Gradual institutional development by adapting to internal and external pressure is creating unique or distinct cultural identities. Concepts like path dependency and cultural compatibility are central. The mythical perspective focuses on the social construction of reality and how symbols have importance in public organizations. Political and administrative leaders often talk in one way and act in another, meaning that it's a loose coupling between talk and action. Symbols may be important in supporting instrumental actions. The dynamics between the theories in explaining public decision-making theory is discussed. It's argued that these theories in combination with democratic theories are needed to develop a specific set of theories for studying public organizations, because the public sector is distinct from the private sector. The theories can be used to analyze decision-making in public organizations, whether related to agenda-setting, policy-making, negotiations, regulation, implementation, public reforms, and so forth. It's discussed a research agenda where the potential of the theories for researching public decision-making is discussed and examples given.