ASPA 2023 Annual Conference | Online, March 20-24
Call for Proposals, Theme and Tracks

The threats to democratic norms in the United States and around the world are known to all of us. The time has come for public administration—as a profession—to shore up our resources, steer the conversation and provide avenues to reinforce democratic principles for current and future generations. Many voices must contribute to these efforts. Ours must be at the forefront.

ASPA’s 2023 Annual Conference, taking place virtually March 20-24, will bring together practitioners, scholars and students from around the world to continue a century-old tradition of bridging research and practice to develop new frameworks, share best practices and showcase new scholarship. 

Recent years have shown weakening democracies amidst a global pandemic that has taken millions of lives and increased inequalities that have existed for decades, if not centuries. Now, emerging global economic volatility has begun to affect nations through inflation and recessionary concerns. Issues considered problematic before are now crises; what were crises are now catastrophes. Notwithstanding noteworthy success in saving lives from COVID-19, improving aging infrastructure and placing renewed emphasis on social justice and racial equity, we also have seen significant backsliding toward autocracy, oppression and ignorance. Even more, the debate between individual freedom and authority undercuts basic societal necessity and rational government structure. Now is the time to loudly and publicly proclaim our commitment to democratic norms and practices, not only in the interest of good governance but to ensure they continue in the near and long term. Public administration “done right” is a beautiful thing. We must celebrate it and showcase its successes.

ASPA’s Annual Conference is the ideal forum for the varied and diverse voices within the public administration community to share information, invite others to learn alongside us and advance excellence in public service. During plenary lectures, concurrent panels, symposia and other forums, we will plan for a more democratic and equitable future.

Seven tracks will shape the discourse, providing focused space to concentrate on current research and practice to help those in the field take the necessary steps for future successes. Review track details below to better understand the discussions we anticipate and submit your ideas for how you can contribute by the November 4, 2022 deadline.

Good Governance and Democratic Norms
If effective public administration and democracy are intrinsically linked, the signs are clear that democracies around the world are on shaky ground. Today’s decisions will impact what the future looks like. While legislative actions and court decisions upend current practices, public administrators are called on to cope with sudden changes and ensure that public service delivery continues. This track will explore what good governance looks like and approaches for instilling democratic values in student learning, scholarship and practice. It also will explore the impact of holding public officials accountable on trust in the public sector and the democratic process. Focus areas include but are not limited to:

  • Balancing responsibilities to elected officials with professional obligations
  • Strengthening governmental accountability institutions 
  • Agency capacity across levels of government
  • Building nonprofit capacity
  • The topsy-turvy state of federalism
  • Civil service reform
  • Strengthening ethics laws and combating corruption
  • Protections for whistleblowers
  • Election administration
  • Nationwide cross-departmental coordination and communication
  • Strengthening inspectors’ general roles across federal agencies
  • Public trust in the Judicial Branch and policy administration in the face of conflict court rulings
  • Structural injustices
  • Encouraging flexibility across agencies and departments
  • Equitable service delivery across government
  • Conflicts between democratic citizenship and administrative neutrality
  • Public administrators’ responsibilities in the face of democratic backsliding
  • ASPA’s responsibilities in the face of democratic backsliding

Social Equity
The months since Summer 2020, when we witnessed protests around the world after the murder of George Floyd, have been momentous. Social equity is now emphasized and proclaimed in public and private organizations and universities; efforts to transform police departments and reconsider appropriate actions are underway; and spotlights are shone on the important work that people of color are engaging in day after day. The work is not done. “CRT” has become a dogwhistle for some; people of color—specifically Black men—continue to be arrested and killed at disproportionate rates; legislators around the world are fighting to solidify racist systems; sexual orientation continues to be attacked at the state and local level; and wealth disparities are increasing. What role does public administration play in these divisive social constructs? How can we increase equity as we work to strengthen democracy? This track will explore this question and the numerous issues that play into it. Focus areas include but are not limited to:

  • Structural, systemic and institutional racism and injustice
  • Law enforcement leadership and reform
  • Health care inequities and their impact on the broader community
  • Housing and land use inequities and their long-term ramifications
  • Inequalities across society
  • Ongoing LGBTQIA challenges
  • Gender issues across society
  • Equity for indigenous peoples
  • Diversity in government workplaces
  • The role of HBCUs and community colleges in equitable education
  • Immigration and border issues
  • Inequities in the justice system
  • Administrative burdens and social equity

Public Service
Trust in government has been at an all-time low for years. It continues to decline, as does public sector employees’ trust in their workplaces, agencies and departments, encouraging some public servants to find other lines of work. Those continuing to respond to today’s challenges with courage and creativity now are expected to be active standard-bearers for democracy on top of their already heavy workload. How do we encourage public employees to continue their work in the face of so many obstacles? How do we protect and inspire them to “fight the good fight” and encourage the next generation to choose government service when so many other sectors are “safer” and more “appealing?” This track will examine the state of public service and specifically calls on practitioners to provide their perspectives on the challenges they are experiencing and possible solutions. Focus areas include but are not limited to:

  • Telling the truth while staying safe on the job
  • Trust, corruption and leadership across all levels of government
  • Hiring and retention 
  • Volunteerism and civic engagement
  • Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Policy shifts in human resources management
  • Teleworking, caregiving and other challenges
  • Recognizing employees as stakeholders
  • Performance measurement systems and initiatives for government and residents
  • The meaning of merit
  • The role of political conflict on management
  • Intergovernmental dynamics
  • Collaboration among nonprofit/NGO professional organizations and associations
  • Effective use of boards of directors and executive management teams

Global Challenges
Both the pandemic and rising tide of anti-democratic sentiment around the world have highlighted the disparities among many countries. As public administrators, our role is to analyze success stories, fit applicable ones into our models and find effective ways forward, no matter the country of origin. This track will provide a valuable forum to exchange practices and recent research and generate new ideas. From public health to governance models to infrastructure to climate change and beyond, there is plenty of space to engage, learn and plan for future possibilities. Focus areas include but are not limited to:

  • International organizations in an era of rising nationalism
  • Implementing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • The importance of SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
  • Strengths and weaknesses of populist governance models
  • Sustainable governance in developing nations
  • Emerging models of collaborative governance
  • Democracy and social justice across boundaries
  • Collaboration across professional organizations
  • The role of elections and their effective administration
  • Ethics and corruption around the world
  • Lessons learned for public service delivery around the world
  • Exploring foreign assistance successes and growth areas

Emergency Management and Public Health
Pandemics, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, school shootings ... Chicken Little may actually be right: The sky actually may be falling. It’s up to us to fix it. Our emergency managers continue to fight through some of the most significant natural disruptions seen in decades—all at once. It feels impossible to keep up; it is all the harder to do so if democratic institutions are crumbling around you. What does the scholarship tell us about best practices that can be employed? What do practices tell us about what actually works when the rubber meets the road? What new thoughts can students bring to the table, having experienced some of these challenges during some of the most formative years of their lives? This track will showcase successes, innovative approaches and intense panels. Focus areas include but are not limited to:

  • Workforce capacity to handle crises
  • Public funding limitations and the impact on emergency response
  • Homeland security and complex attacks
  • Advancing public safety and trust
  • Gun control through an emergency management lens
  • Immigration, border control and refugee crisis management
  • COVID-19’s strain on the public health system
  • Evaluating and enhancing the public health system
  • Natural disaster response
  • The role and use of social media in a disaster

Environmental Sustainability
Whether elected officials have doubted the veracity of the science behind climate change or chosen to ignore it entirely, one thing is certain: Our planet is struggling and the choices we make every day worsen that struggle. Local communities can make progress toward mitigating some of the damage, but achieving consensus—much less unity—on this issue is difficult, if not impossible, despite the necessity of a whole-of-government approach. This is a science problem, an economic problem and a political problem—but also an administrative problem. The research is clear; what does practice tell us? This track will explore the many manifestations of climate change and how government at all levels can have an impact. Focus areas include but are not limited to:

  • Natural resource management
  • Water supply management 
  • Environmental policy
  • Technology breakthroughs and emerging trends
  • Economic consequences
  • The role of inequality in associated outcomes
  • Climate emergency management
  • The economics of climate change
  • Innovations in smart growth and green and livable communities
  • Energy, water and food security
  • Intergovernmental collaboration to share the burden
  • Innovations in energy usage and their impact on local communities

Infrastructure and Finance
The U.S. Congress passed a once-in-a-generation infrastructure package last fall, with funds sent to states and localities to start on necessary improvements. Globally, infrastructure maintenance and upkeep are scattershot—best in areas where it is prioritized and utterly failing in many regions. How do we as administrators choose which projects are most deserving, especially when inflation has shrunk available funds? Do we focus on roads, bridges, highways and dams, or cybersecurity and the technology that makes all infrastructure more efficient and safe? This track will look at how the public sector is tackling infrastructure challenges of all kinds and how to support projects and programs given funding challenges, reporting requirements and more. Focus areas include but are not limited to:

  • Infrastructure investment and capital planning
  • Cybersecurity and public use of technology
  • Challenges in public transit 
  • Optimal uses for artificial intelligence
  • Open government, open data and transparency
  • Practical steps and leading practices in creating public-private partnerships
  • Contracting for complex products and equity in public procurement
  • Strategic public procurement in strengthening agency effectiveness
  • The infrastructure of “big data”
  • Implications of inflation on infrastructure funds
  • Why fiscal accountability matters
  • Acquisition, contracts and grants management