Representative bureaucracy and active representation: A search for missing links

Joan Marie Gibran, Tennessee State University


This research identifies some of the missing links in the relationship between passive and active representation. Studies have shown that organizational structure and process are important variables in this relationship. Others have identified administrators' perceptions of discretion as another crucial linkage. However, the extant literature does not provide us with a clear understanding of what makes these linkages significant in leading administrators to assume the role of an active representative. Consequently, the theory of representative bureaucracy has failed to clearly specify how, or from where, administrators who assume a representative role derive the perception that they can implement policies in a way that benefits the community they serve. This study uses a sequential mixed methods research design to examine how organizational characteristics influence individual perceptions of discretion and how these perceptions lead to representative behavior. The research also examines how organizational characteristics vary in their effects on administrators at different organizational levels, and how they interact with individual characteristics to produce advocacy behavior. The first stage of research involved a survey of public administrators randomly selected from nine Tennessee State Agencies. The results of this survey were analyzed using a three step MANCOVA model. This was followed by 13 in sample interviews. Information from these interviews provided additional and very useful insights into the results of the quantitative analysis. This research also identifies several variables that are effective in transforming passive representation into active representation. First, it identifies some aspects of organizational structure as sources of perceptions of discretion. These structural sources of discretion include structural and functional differentiation and administrative span of control. Second, it identifies some organizational processes, such as communication, documentation and monitoring, as influential in shaping administrators’ perceptions of discretion and influencing advocacy behavior. And third, this research also identifies such influences as role expectations and uncertainty as links between perceptions of discretion and active representation. These findings lead to the conclusion that the work context created by administrative leadership is crucial in mediating the complex interrelationships between organizational structure, processes, individual values, and representative administrative behavior.

Subject Area

Public administration|Organizational behavior|Organization theory

Recommended Citation

Joan Marie Gibran, "Representative bureaucracy and active representation: A search for missing links" (2007). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI3259048.