What is behavioral public administration?


We describe behavioral public administration as the interdisciplinary analysis of public administration from the micro-level perspective of individual behavior and attitudes by drawing on recent advances in our understanding of the underlying psychology and behavior of individuals and groups. This definition has three main components: (1) individuals and groups of citizens, employees, and managers within the public sector are the unit of analysis; (2) it emphasizes the behavior and attitudes of these people; and, most importantly, (3) it does so by integrating insights from psychology and the behavioral sciences into the study of public administration.

See more: Grimmelikhuijsen, Stephan, Sebastian Jilke, Asmus Leth Olsen, Lars Tummers (2017). Behavioral Public Administration: Combining Insights from Public Administration and PsychologyPublic Administration Review 77 (1): 45–56.


Tummers, L., Olsen, A. L.,  Jilke, S. Grimmelikhuijsen, S. (2016). Introduction to the Virtual Issue on Behavioral Public Administration. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Virtual Issue (3), 1-3. 

For public administration scholars, psychological theories and methods can be extremely helpful, especially when studying attitudes or behaviors of (groups of) citizens, public professionals, or public managers. Behavioral public administration explicitly connects public administration and psychology. For this Virtual Issue, we analyzed the articles of JPART from its inception (1991) to the current day (2015). We find that around 10% of the articles in JPART made a substantial use of psychology. The trend also seems to indicate a recent increase of this type of articles. We highlight eight of these articles in particular. These eight articles are excellent examples of the potential added value of psychological insights to key public administration questions. We hope that this Virtual Issue inspires scholars and practitioners to deepen the dialogue between public administration and psychology.

Olsen, Asmus Leth (2015). "Simon Said," We Didn't Jump. Public Administration Review, 75 (2), 325–326.

ABSTRACT: Kenneth J. Meier recently argued in this journal that the field of public administration has failed to confront old criticisms formulated by Herbert Simon (Meier 2014). The year 2015 marks 60 years since Herbert Simon convincingly made the case for one such criticism: the absence of a “marking stone” to help connect current psychological research and public administration. Sadly, today the distance between research in psychology and in public administration seems greater than ever. Looking around in the top journals of public administration, one can easily detect the absence of psychological theories. At the same time, substantive questions in public administration are an infrequent topic for psychologists. By and large, we conduct our research in separate worlds.

Grimmelikhuijsen, Stephan, Sebastian Jilke, Asmus Leth Olsen, Lars Tummers (2016). Behavioral Public Administration: Combining Insights from Public Administration and Psychology. Public Administration Review.

ABSTRACT: We propose behavioral public administration as a designated subfield in public administration which explicitly deals with the integration of theories and methods from psychology into the study of public administration. We discuss how scholars in public
administration currently draw on both methodological and theoretical innovations in
psychology and point to research questions in public administration which could benefit from further integration. Behavioral public administration cannot, and should not, replace ‘conventional’ public administration, but it is complementary to it. Importantly, behavioral
public administration represents a two-way street in which public administration scholars use theories and methods from psychology, and psychologists, in turn, learn from our setting of
political-administrative contexts to refine their theories and methods. Finally, we propose four principals to advance the agenda of behavioral public administration to narrow the gap between public administration and psychology with the aim of advancing our current understanding of public administration theory and practice.