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Public Service Theories and Public Interest


Public interest has been debated at length by great philosophers as well as renowned authors. Scholars argue that it is an academic discipline to be taught in class while philosophers argue that it is an art that can only be learned through observation and practice. This paper seeks to look at how the traditional and current public service theories can help in coming up with the best definition of public interest.

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Modern public service theories put more emphasis on public participation in all aspects of governance, unlike traditional theories where decision making is the sole responsibility of the topmost leadership. In the traditional public service setting, ordinary citizens are instructed to carry out orders and duties as assigned by the top leadership. On the other hand, in modern public service practice, the so-called ordinary citizens are continuously consulted and engaged in the whole decision-making process.

In scenarios where public engagement is upheld, the overall decisions taken constitute opinions and contributions from every member of society. This makes their implementation easier (Sanford, 2008). Thus, traditional theories can be said to have been rigid instructions based on one’s hierarchical position in society and designed for individual gains rather than the benefit of the general public.

Economic theory

This theory insists that it is the responsibility of policymakers to allocate and distribute resources in such a way that even the scarcest resources are distributed in a manner that benefits the largest population in society. In this theory, priority is given according to the societal urgency as resources most needed by society are distributed first.

The relationship between this theory and the new public service theories is that it addresses the need for accountability of allocated resources, social equity in the distribution and emphasizes an efficient public service system. This theory aims at upholding the three fundamental principles of modern public service through economic methods. In order to realize such objectives managers must involve their employees in the managerial process (Kettl & James, 2009).

Complexity theory

This theory is often employed as a rapid results initiative since it elaborates why a given organization may opt to adopt a certain leadership style over others. It is employed by organizations when there is a need to improve the overall efficiency in service delivery. Furthermore, it calls for certain changes in the leadership of the organization in order to meet set objectives. The changes may be both simple and complex.

New public management trends demand that each individual plays his or her role in the managerial process. Any attempt by an individual at one level to assume the roles of another level will lead to the implementation of an individual opinion rather than the intended public interests. Management systems should thus be designed in such a way that they allow public participation so as to enhance system efficiency. Managers should, therefore, serve as public figures to offer direction and avail resources for the implementation of proper management systems (Elcock, 2006).

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Public administration and public interest

Elected leaders are responsible for identifying public interests. However, care should be taken to ensure they focus on social equity and efficacy and at all times ensure they separate between politics and administrative responsibilities. This is the best method through which civil servants can serve the public interest.

Government support on active citizenry explains the role of the government in ensuring the efficient provision of goods and services to the citizens. It needs to put in place enactments that serve to promote democracy and economic development so as to empower its citizens (Houchin & MacLean, 2005).

In conclusion, public interest involves putting the general public concern in every aspect of one’s undertakings. It is concerned with a constant reminder of the societal perception and the subsequent effects of one’s decisions.


Elcock, H. (2006). The Public Interest and Public Administration. Politics, 26(2), 101-109.

Houchin, K., & MacLean, D. (2005). Complexity theory and strategic change: An empirically informed critique. British Journal of Management, 16(2), 149-166.

Kettl, D. & James, F. (2009). The Politics of the Administrative Process. Washington D.C.: CQ Press.

Sanford, M. (2008). Public Interest Law: Five Years Later. London, UK: McGraw Hill.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, January 23). Public Service Theories and Public Interest. Retrieved from


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