Minnowbrook I (1968)

Features of The First Minnowbrook Conference

The First Minnowbrook Conference (also known as Minnowbrook I), was commissioned in 1968, to tackle the social unrest of the 1960s, in which public administration showed no signs of being aware of them, much less being eager to solve them.

The Vietnam WarOpens in new window was nested in the wider context of the earlier assassinations of President John F. KennedyOpens in new window, the Reverend Martin Luther KingOpens in new window, and Senator Robert KennedyOpens in new window. These killings were followed by a wave of urban riotsOpens in new window, and social unrest was widespread.

Dwight WaldoOpens in new window, then holder of the Albert SchweitzerOpens in new window Chair of Public Administration at the Maxwell School of Syracuse UniversityOpens in new window, who later referred to the period as a time of turbulence, had earlier attended a conference of leading public administration scholars and stakeholders in 1967 and came out rather surprised that the content of the conference had little to do with the pressing issues of the times.

He wondered saliently whether people in public administration had insights on the field that were more relevant to the turbulent times. He began to hit on the idea of a small conference limited to young—young in this case, meant less than thirty–five years of age—public administration practitioners.

Committed to recruit only the best and brightest of the new generation of public administration scholars, Dwight Waldo summoned three junior colleagues, all assistant professors—H. George FredericksonOpens in new window, Frank Marini, and W. Henry LambrightOpens in new window—to plan, organize, and start the conference.

The Minnowbrook I emphasized two factors:

  1. The 1960s was a turbulent period besieged by numerous social disturbances; yet public administration indicated no signs of being aware of them, much less being eager to solve them.
    This was well articulated by Dwight WaldoOpens in new window in his book titled ‘Public Administration in a Time of Turbulence’, published in Public Administration ReviewOpens in new window in 1968.
  2. There was a need to hear young scholars and practitioners of the discipline, as public administration was facing a kind of generational gap.

At the Minnowbrook I, matters related to fairness, justice, and equality were huge topics of the day—the Vietnam WarOpens in new window, urban riotsOpens in new window, campus disruption, social protest—were freighted with questions of fairness, justice, and equality.

The major themes of the conference include:

The Minnowbrook I Conference was followed by several symposia, workshops, and other gatherings.

The conference papers were published in a book titled, Toward a New Public Administration: The Minnowbrook Perspective, edited by Frank Marini (1971).

This book is considered a classic and is important to the intellectual development of the field, not only because it provides a historical perspective on the scholarly debates that took place at the time but also because it sets the stage for the themes to be explored after the conference.

These themes were seen, in retrospect, as important markers for where the field was moving and what topics required more research.

Some of the participants in the Minnowbrook I Conference were familiar with the debate between Dwight Waldo and Herbert SimonOpens in new window over the role of science in political science and public administrationOpens in new window (Dahl 1947; Simon 1947, 1952; Waldo 1952a, 1952b; Drucker 1952). The debate tended to frame the Minnowbrook “conversation,” dominated by the antibehavioural perspective associated with Waldo.

Herbert SimonOpens in new window laid emphasis on a more empirical investigation of organizational and behavioural approaches to understanding decision making — one that incorporated tools of management and social psychology.

Waldo’s views were different; he emphasized a more political, theoretical, and philosophical approach to thinking about the tensions between democracyOpens in new window and bureaucracyOpens in new window.

His emphasis was more of a critique, less positivistismOpens in new window, and more directed at increasing the bureaucracy’s involvement in developing processes for public participation and democratic expression.

He feared that public administration as a field would become replaced by decision makers who were overly consumed with a set of values that focused on making government organizations efficient and effective at the expense of democratic values.