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Minnowbrook Conference

Minnowbrook I (1968) Using funds supplied as part of a "super-professorship" paid for by the State of New York, Dwight Waldo facilitated a 1968 meeting at Minnowbrook, Syracuse University's beautiful conference center in the Adirondack Mountains. Limiting participation to men under age 35, Waldo was principally interested in redefining the focuses of public administration theory in the context of social upheaval--a timely topic in 1968. The need for a public administration that was relevant to the public interest was the general theme of conference papers, but no one idea dominated the proceedings. The scholars who attended the Minnowbrook Conference were young scholars of public administration and they were more than eager to embrace new definitions of their discipline. Minnowbrook I marked the beginning of the "New Public Administration". "New Public Administration" was markedly different from the existing perception of public administration. It put more emphasis on a normative approach. There were four goals and three anti goals of the "New Public Administration". The four goals were 1.relevance 2.value 3.equity 4.change. The three anti goals were: 1.Rejection of the value-neutral concept of public administration; 2.Rejection that public administration is concerned about preserving status-quo. 3. Public administration is not a subfield of politics or management. In order to achieve the goals the authors put forth four solutions which have been referred to as the 4 D's. They are debureucratization, democratization, delegation and decentralization. But the problem is that they did not provide a concrete idea about the degree of these required in the New Public Administration. Papers that were not accepted for presentation at Minnowbrook I can be found in the compilation "Toward a New Public Administration: The Minnowbrook Perspective", edited by Frank Marini and published in 1971. Minnowbrook II (1988) Twenty years later, Minnowbrook II was held again at Syracuse University's conference center. That conference lasted approximately four days, including the bus trip to and from Syracuse University. It was a second watershed event in assesing the field of public administration. The purpose of the second conference was to reflect upon the impact of Minnowbrook I. It brought together scholars (male and female) who received their degrees in the 1980's and scholars of the earlier generation to discuss the impact of New Public Administration and to address progress on other issues important at Minnowbrook I. Issues discussed included privatization, social equity, the impact of market economics on public administration and very early evidence of the effect of information technology on public management processes. On the third day of the joint conference between new and old scholars, the new scholars revolted against the established structure of the conference and insisted on a time to meet privately, in the tradition of Minnowbrook I. This meeting was held in the Boat House. During that meeting, the scholars identified the different context of 1988 versus 1968. Problems were seen as not narrowly defined nor easily solved. In 1968, there was a sense that the problems public administrators were asked to solve were indeed solvable. Instead, in 1988 there was a perception that all important problems were interconnected social issues and responses could only ameliorate, not resolve. The new scholars discussed the skills and education needed to support the changing environment of public management. They also discussed a need for public administration theory building around the concept of interconnectedness.

In line with Minnowbrook I, Minnowbrook II participants developed a book. That book, entitled Public Management in an Interconnected World: Essays in the Minnowbrook Tradition, edited by Mary Timney Bailey and Richard T. Mayer, was based on papers excluded from presentation during the conference by its organizers. Minnowbrook III (2008) Minnowbrook III was held September 3-7, 2008. The theme for the third gathering was: The Future of Public Administration, Public Management, and Public Service Around the World. It consisted of two phases. Minnowbrook III Phase One (September 3-5) was again held at Syracuse University's Minnowbrook Conference Center in the Adirondack Mountains. This was a "preconference workshop" for emerging scholars nominated by senior scholars in the field. The 56 invited attendees were more diverse than previous Minnowbrook conferences in terms of race, gender and nationality, involving for the most part assistant professors but including several tenured associate professors of public administration. A sizable percentage of the attendees were affiliated with Syracuse University, the conference host, and Kansas University, home to the sole participant who had attended both earlier conferences. The Phase One conference, one full day plus two half days, was professionally facilitated. The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University sponsored Phase One attendees' room and board, meals, and registration fees for Phase Two. The outcome of Minnowbrook III Phase One, rather than a single formal critique, involved summaries of concerns and future directions representing a dozen focal areas presented to senior scholars and attendees at the opening session of Phase Two. These included academicpractitioner relations; democratic performance management; financial management; globalization/comparative perspectives; information technology & management; law, politics & public administration management; leadership; methods/interdisciplinary; networks; performance measurement; public administration values & theory; social equity & justice; and transparency & accountability.

The group interested in globalized perspectives encouraged a renaissance of comparative studies as the world has become increasingly interdependent. The essence of the comparative approach is context-sensitivity, that is, awareness that institutional and cultural context matters and should be incorporated into research. Contributions of this approach are practical for meeting curricular needs, and theoretical in making research more rigorous, revealing underlying, often US-oriented assumptions and exploring alternative contexts.

The group interested in public administration values and theory offered a reformulation of public administration, defining public administration as:

"a socially-embedded process of collective relationships, dialogue, and action to promote human flourishing for all." Questions arising from the reformulation included how public administration might recognize competing values and whether a critical consciousness regarding public administration should be encouraged. The group that discussed research methods proposed a statement of commitment document, informally referred to as a pledge or a manifesto, asking new scholars to serve as change agents regarding the use and teaching of research methods and the responsiveness of the peer-review process. One element of this was more attention to the method of action research to increase engagement with the issues and practice of public administration; another was a commitment to methodological pluralism. The comparatively brief Phase One, spread over three days and highly structured, may have contributed to its diffuse outcome. Many participants were interested in further discussion on the proposed re-definition of the field, and on pursuing ratification of the methods group's pledge toward reshaping the field. Despite the cordial and pluralistic atmosphere, clarifications and disagreements could not be fully pursued. Other interim discussions simply ran out of time. Minnowbrook III Phase Two (September 5-7) was offered in Lake Placid, New York as a more traditional academic conference to which scholars throughout the world were invited to submit proposals. About 300 proposals were submitted of which 80 were accepted. Following the opening session presentation from Phase One participants, the emerging scholars and senior scholars met in roundtable format to discuss the specific ideas presented. In most subsequent sessions, participants limited paper presentations to allow for enhanced discussion of the material in reference to the ideas presented and developed in the opening roundtables. A trivial fact of note is that the conference was originally scheduled to take place on the campus of Syracuse University in late September 2008. It was rescheduled because the original dates overlapped with Rosh Hashanah.