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James D. Thompson
On Building an Administrative Science
T h e unique contribution of science lies i n its combination of deductive and inductive methods for the development of reliable knowledge. T h e methodological problems of the basic sciences are shared by the applied fields. Administrative science will demand a focus o n relationships, the use ofabstract conceps, and the development of operational definitions. Applied sciences have the further need for criteria of measurement and evaluation. Present abstract concepts of administrative processes must be operationalized and new ones developed or borrowed from the basic social sciences. Available knowledge i n scattered sources needs to be assembled and analyzed. Research must go beyonddescription and must be reflected against theory. I t must study the obvious as well as the unknown. T h e pressure for immediately applicable results must be reduced. T h e author is a member of the faculty of the Graduate School of Business and Public Administration, Cornell University.1
T H E issue of science versus art for administration seems to be vanishing with the realization that one approachdoes not rule out the other. T h e art of the surgeon, to take a parallel case, is supported by the medical sciences; the art of the engineer by the physical sciences. It is widely recognized that there is an element
=The author is indebted to William J. McEwen of the same faculty for helpful comments.
O N BUILDING A SCIENCE
of art in administration; the possibility of a scienceof administration is only now coming to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, the sole assumption required for the application of scientific methods to the subject of administration is now generally accepted. That assumption-that regularities can be identified in the phenomena under consideration-is the basis of every attempt to train people for administrative roles. If every administrative action,and every outcome of such action, is entirely unique, then there can be no transferable knowledge or understanding of administration. If, on the other hand, knowledge of at least some aspects of administrative processes is transferable, then those methods which have proved most useful in gaining reliable knowledge in other areas would also seem to be appropriate for adding to our knowledge of...