Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
The emotional value attached to poor public services in South Africa is evident from the recent violent protests by citizens in the South African Mpumalanga Province against the perceived lack of proper service delivery by the government. Bearing in mind the expectations for service delivery after the election of new public representatives in the national and provincial spheres during 2009, it is appropriate to critically reflect on the how and the means (sometimes referred to as "technology") applied by public institutions to transform political policy into practical programmes. This critical reflection is usually expected to be the result of the influence of the academic subject Public Administration. This article is thus concerned with whether Public Administration discourse has included a critical reflection on technical apparatus and technical activities in the domain of the technical insofar as it concerns public administration. Various scholars have in the last few decades written extensively about the application of technology by government in rendering public services. However, the question can be asked whether technology is only of recent relevance to Public Administration or whether the early scholars such as White (1926) and Gullick (1937) perhaps have paved the way during the 1920s and 1930s for a Public Administration reflection on the use of technology today. This article reflects on the historical and current place of technology in Public Administration, specifically with regard to improving public service delivery. This reflection is based on a comprehensive review of relevant books and journal articles. It starts with an analysis of the concepts technique and technology, followed by an assessment of the role of technology in Public Administration and proceeds with a discussion of not only the place of technology in the subject of Public Administration, but also the relevance of public administration technology for improving service delivery. For the purpose of this article the concept technology refers to the critical reflection on the technical, while the concept technique refers to the domain of the technical where technical objects (tools) are used in technical activities. Consequently, technique and technology in Public Administration are studied in terms of three broad traditions of the discipline, namely the European tradition, the British tradition andthe American tradition. The article argues that Public Administration, the academic subject reflecting critically on the practice of public administration, has developed since the sixteenth century Cameralist Germany and Austria as a result of a growing need for administrative techniques necessary to carry out public functions, into the technology of public administration. The content of Public Administration has been strongly influenced by changes in the social order in the broadest sense of the word. Subsequently the technical tools and activities used by general society have not only been applied in public administration, but became part of the domain of Public Administration. Public Administration thus has to study the techniques relevant to public service delivery. These techniques may include those related to the use of the computer (the socalled information technology) in an ever changing public administration. The development of Public Administration as a subjectfield can be summarised as a gradual movement from a public administration dominated by politics and generalists to public administration rendering services to societies with diverse and specialised needs by means of ever changing techniques. Public Administration seems to develop as a result of a growing need for a body of techniques for executing public functions. The result of the application of these techniques in public administration is inevitably reflected in the quality of the government services rendered to the public. Public Administration, the technology of public administration, has to take cognisance of communities' dissatisfaction with public service delivery, and critically investigate the techniques responsible for the inappropriate public services in order to improve the applied techniques.
Keywords : Public Administration; technology; technique; development; computer; education; academic subject; service delivery; public service; reflection.