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2018 Conference Track Topics

ASPA’s 2018 Annual Conference will center around the theme: Mission Focused and Service First: Creating Innovative Solutions. Presentation tracks will look to definitively bridge theory with practice, providing opportunities not only for researchers and academicians to demonstrate their work, but also highlight ways practitioners can put that work to use—and have already done so. Far from being theoretical, attendees can expect to attend this year’s conference and take home hands-on innovations they can put to use in their locality.

Ten tracks will categorize this year’s panels and workshops across the dominant themes within the discipline.

Integral to all of them, however, will be the concepts of innovation, evidence based decisionmaking and taking theory to practice.

The conference co-chairs encourage all who submit papers for consideration to make sure they are considering those concepts as they prepare their proposals.


1. On a Shoestring: Budget, Finance and Procurement

Public budgeting is a process oriented activity incorporating a wide range of decisional premises. Much like policymaking, budgeting is defining social and political needs and then translating those needs into economic action. However, the consistency of the public remaining the same on every policy matter is nearly impossible. It is also inevitable that tax revenue and public expenditures operate on different cycles and may leave the government in debt or a deficit from time to time. What does the research tell us and how are on-the-ground administrators putting their experiences to use for best practices?

Sample Topical Areas Include:
  • Performance-informed budgeting and reporting
  • Acquisition, contracts, procurement and grants
  • Public debt
  • Retirement systems
  • Fiscal stress and resource deficiencies
  • Financial transparency
  • Financing economic development
  • Public performance standards and benchmarking
  • Privatization and collaborations

2. Before (and After) the Storm: Emergency and Disaster Management

Successful recovery from a disaster requires coordination with various federal, state and local frameworks, as well as intense coordination between sectors and stakeholders at the community level. Emergency managers have an opportunity to use the post-disaster policy window to create a more resilient community, but more often than not, disaster recovery leads to unequal outcomes and exacerbates the vulnerability of those most at risk. Planning for recovery prior to an event—including institutionalizing the mechanisms and frameworks needed for effective coordination with the National Disaster Recovery Framework—is crucial to ensuring a successful recovery process. What new data can we bring to bear within disaster management and what can we learn from emergency managers who have lived through the storm?

Sample Topical Areas Include:
  • Strategic crisis management
  • Homeland security
  • Implementation challenges
  • Local, state and federal agency collaboration
  • Advancing public safety and trust
  • Procurement issues
  • Border security
  • Co-production
  • Economic consequences

3. An Eye toward the Future: Environment and Technology

Concern over environmental issues such as air pollution, water quality and natural resource management—just to name a few—continue to permeate discussions at all levels of government. As these concerns grow, it is evident that questions surrounding how to best manage environmental resources and potential harm to them have implications at the local, state and federal level. These concerns not only impact the environment but also have economic and social implications to which we must be attentive. What's a public administrator to do?

Sample Topical Areas Include:
  • Natural resource management
  • Environmental policy
  • Transportation
  • Smart growth and livable communities
  • Sustainability and economic development
  • Technology breakthroughs and emerging trends
  • Health and medicine
  • Social media
  • Cyber security
  • Big data

4. A Guiding Philosophy: Ethics and the Law

While individual social beliefs, political attitudes and economic interests vary, a nation’s citizenry comes together around shared bonds, values and societal rules. But how a public views those rules, values and bonds shifts and changes over time, requiring us to constantly debate our premises. Sometimes, we re-achieve consensus; sometimes we agree to disagree. Proposals within this category will look at ethical and legal conundrums in public administration, how these questions have been answered over time and what the practical implications are for all of us—within public service as well as academia.

Sample Topical Areas Include:
  • Combating corruption
  • Standards of accountability
  • Competing values
  • Ethical frameworks
  • Legal challenges
  • Integrity in government
  • Professionalism in the industry
  • Police and community relations
  • Education issues

5. Diamonds in the Rough: Human Resource Management

Are you enabled to do your job? Do you feel motivated to do a good job? Are you recognized for being successful? Do you have an opportunity to provide feedback about your role at your organization? These are just some of the central questions behind human resource management as it pertains to public organizations and the science behind how we manage personnel. These issues are made even more important as the public sector continues to struggle to attract and hire new employees. This track will look at questions related to labor relationships, workforce management, professional development and more from both a research and practitioner perspective.

Sample Topical Areas Include:
  • Innovative HR strategies
  • Engaging employees
  • Cultivating leadership
  • Employee satisfaction and motivation
  • Labor relations
  • Improving productivity and efficiency
  • Diversity in the workplace
  • Public pensions and retirement

6. Blurring the Lines: International and Comparative Public Administration

Comparative approaches set out to define patterns of public administration and service and develop generalizations of practice. Whether within a set of jurisdictions or across cultures, they uncover trends that provide insights on similarities and differences, leading to action. These characteristics often revolve around, but are not limited to, administrative features, structure, leadership, management, collaboration and public policy approaches. This, in turn, provides the widest perspectives on application. Through comparative public administration, the focus is on the here-and-now while searching for what can be.

Sample Topical Areas Include:
  • Global public administration
  • Federalism and intergovernmental relations
  • Collaboration across public administration organizations
  • Models of collaborative governance
  • Sustainable governance in nations around the world
  • Infrastructure and megaprojects

7. Winning the War: The Military in Public Administration

Graham Allison examined public and private management, suggesting they were fundamentally alike in all unimportant respects. This track considers the intersection between public administration and the military. How do we study it? How do we fund it? What makes for an effective procurement process? How does the military manage relationships with the public sector? Our defense sector is appreciated for a culture that fosters a commitment to mission and its ability to produce responsible and dependable leaders, often under various confining circumstances. Public administrators can learn a lot from the military, and vice versa. Let’s start here.

Sample Topical Areas Include:
  • Cultures of service
  • Chains of command
  • Transfer of these services to the civilian and government leadership roles
  • Critical issues facing veterans and military families
  • Bridging the gap between military and society
  • Military and public service motivation
  • Infrastructure on base
  • Procurement
  • Veteran’s affairs
  • Military academies

8. A Fresh Approach: Nonprofits and Civic Engagement

Over the past few decades the increased demands on government have led to public agencies and political entities looking for innovative ways to address growing challenges.  As a result, we have seen a rise in an interest in engaging the public as well as significant growth in the number of nonprofit organizations due to the potential solutions they can provide to modern issues.  As public opinion has increasingly turned against government, public servants understand the need to increase engagement with citizens to better understand the issues and carry out the will of the people.  Nonprofits have provided an outlet through greater flexibility and collaboration for governments to tackle issues in innovative ways.  This track encourages papers that are examining fresh approaches taken by nonprofit organizations and governments engaging the public. 

Sample Topical Areas:
  • Nonprofit and nongovernmental organization collaboration
  • Volunteerism
  • Civic engagement & public service motivation
  • Community visioning
  • Capacity building
  • Open source government
  • Role of nonprofits in shaping policy

9. All Are not Equal: Advancing Social Equity

Government’s legitimacy depends on its commitment to justice; concern for the equitable treatment across all segments of the population lies at the heart of our government institutions.  As public administrators, we have an obligation to know, promulgate and practice justice. This requires that we identify communities not being effectively or equitably served, understand their needs, protect their dignity and work to ensure they are included in effective practices of governance.

Sample Topical Areas Include:
  • Public services in at-risk communities
  • Immigration practices and implications
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Gender equality
  • Tribal issues
  • Youth and the elderly
  • Cultural issues
  • Education issues

10. A Perfect World: Public Administration Theory

Public administration is how society organizes and operates its public institutions so they provide desired services at an acceptable economic cost, while enhancing democratic behavior. Its evolution started with centrality of administration with the work of Wilson and Goodnow; moved to scientific administration with the work of Taylor through Gulick; progressed to critical self-examination with the Waldo-Simon debates and then to centrifugal forces after Waldo’s work took root. Still, paradigmatic tensions remain high given that the field does not lend itself to a theoretical “deep dive.” This track will look at theory affecting both the academic discipline and its related professional occupation, rooted in good governance and data driven decisionmaking.

Sample Topical Areas:
  • Evaluation and contribution of practice-based evidence
  • Theoretical concepts and approaches to public administration
  • Governance and theory
  • Novel techniques and cutting-edge research
  • Practitioner contributions to research and teaching
  • Academic contributions to public management and policy