Tension Between Theory and Practice. For Example,

tension between theory and practice. For example, books may explain how decisions should be made; however, reality and human nature dictates how they are made.

Just as no battle plan survives the first shot, scholarly resources such as books can provide practitioners with a wealth of knowledge about any area of interest, but no amount of "book learning" can replace the insights that are gained through empirical observations and personal experiences (Neuman, 2003). Moreover, valuable knowledge can be gained from a wide variety of sources besides books (Dulung & Pheng, 2005). Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that there is dynamic tension between theory and practice because the latter continues to inform the former, particular in the public sector. Nevertheless, theory is generally based on the seminal work of others that typically includes findings from their own empirical observations and personal experiences, meaning that books do in fact provide a valuable foundation that can be used to recognize the decision-making processes that may otherwise appear irrational. Theoretical perspectives can help practitioners see "the big picture" and avoid being trapped and misguided by their own preconceptions and prejudices. More importantly, though, the exigencies of the human condition frequently demand on-the-spot decision making based on little more than intuition and knowledge rather than personal experience. Consequently, by expanding their horizons with respect to how others view these human behaviors, books can provide practitioners in any field with the background they need to formulate their own decisions in a complex operating environment. By incorporating theoretical perspectives into their decision-making, practitioners can better understand the harsh realities that are always involved in balancing conflicting interests and allocating scarce resources.


Dulung, a.Z., & Pheng, L.S. (2005). Factors influencing the selection of subcontractors in refurbishment works. Architectural Science Review, 48(1), 93.

Neuman, W.L. (2003). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches, 5th ed. New York: Allyn & Bacon.


Look for commonalities among theories. Are there some common theories among the public sector? Do management theories help us understand and evolve in public management?

Public management theorists try to model systems in ways that can be used to identify key stakeholders and what policies are best suited to balancing all of the interests that are involved (Halachmi & Bouckaert, 1996). Besides the conventional theoretical models used in public management such as rational choice, a number of new theories, including stylized facts, descriptive, and conceptual, have emerged in recent years as well (Antwi-Boasiako 2010). These conventional as well as new management theories may differ with respect to which variables are most important for evaluation, but they all share a common feature with respect to containing several such significant elements. In this regard, Antwi-Boasiako (2010 advises, "Formulation of a theory must include significant elements to establish a common trend for analysis" (p. 63). As a result, some public management practitioners draw on the best of the available theoretical perspectives for their own unique situations. In this regard, Antwi-Boasiako emphasizes that, "Some of the key models of political economy, such as public choice theory, are currently being espoused by governments that simultaneously are using mechanistic measurement systems for performance totally at odds with the assumptions of their political economy paradigm" (p. 163). Finally, management theories help practitioners understand and evolve in public management by formulating policies that are based on complex real-world situations. As Antwi-Boasiako (2010) point out, "Policies are what governments decide to do, or not to do. New theories help the reader identify alternative explanations, despite the complexities of municipal governance and reforms" (p. 63).


Antwi-Boasiako, K.B. (2010).…