Agendas and Decisions: How State Government Executives and Middle Managers Make and Administer Policy

Connecting theory and practice, Agendas and Decisions explores how state-level public executives and managers decide and implement policy. The authors focus on Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander’s (1979–1987) management system, which believed in and practiced the principles espoused by leadership theorists: focus on one or two important substantive problems or initiatives, work with stakeholders to protect the organization and to obtain necessary resources, hire good people, and authorize them to act. In addition to sending his cabinet members to the Kennedy School of Government to learn leadership principles, he also established the Tennessee Government Executive Institute (TGEI) to provide a similar program for mid-level executives. Authors Dorothy F. Olshfski and Robert B. Cunningham managed the TGEI during its first five years and had unprecedented access to state-level public executives and managers. Here, they explain the everyday workings of state-level bureaucracy within the context of a simple decision model and share managers’ and executives’ own stories. Their research questions several aspects of the current orthodoxy on decision-making processes, offers new thinking about executive leadership in implementation and evaluation, and compares executive and middle-manager thinking and behavior.
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About the author

Dorothy F. Olshfski is Associate Professor of Public Administration at Rutgers University at Newark and coeditor (with Kathe Callahan and Erwin Schwella) of Global Public Management: Cases and Comments.

Robert B. Cunningham is Professor of Political Science at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and coauthor (with Yasin K. Sarayrah) of WASTA: The Hidden Force in Middle Eastern Society.

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Additional Information

SUNY Press
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Published on
Jan 8, 2009
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Political Science / American Government / State
Political Science / Public Affairs & Administration
Political Science / Public Policy / General
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A unique resource for students and professors alike, this book reveals the important practical, educational, and emotional benefits provided by college programs that allow students to help others through service work in inner-city classrooms, clinics, and other challenging environments. Filled with vivid first-person reflections by students, Experiencing Service-Learning emphasizes learning by doing, getting into the field, sharing what one sees with colleagues, and interpreting what one learns.

As the authors make clear, service-learning is not a spectator sport. It takes students “away from the routines and comfort zones of lecture, test, term paper, exam” and puts them into the world. Service-learning requires them to engage actively with cultures that may be unfamiliar to them and to be introspective about their successes and their mistakes. At the same time, it demands of their instructors “something other than Power-Point slides or an eloquently delivered lecture,” as no teacher can predict in advance the questions their students’ experiences will raise. In service-learning, students and teacher must act together as a team of motivators, problem solvers, and change agents.

While most of its personal vignettes come from service-learners who have worked as mentors in elementary schools, the book also includes a chapter in which coauthor Michele Gourley describes at length her experiences at a faith-based health clinic in Honduras. In offering such stories—along with a succinct introduction to basic concepts, an assessment of how service-learners can effect transformational change, and project examples—this text will not only prepare students for the adventures of service-learning but also aid professors and administrators tasked with developing service-learning courses and programs.

Robert F. Kronick is a professor of educational psychology and counseling at the University
of Tennessee–Knoxville and the author of Full Service Community Schools.
Robert B. Cunningham is a professor emeritus of political science at the University
of Tennessee–Knoxville. His books include Agendas and Decisions: How State Government
Executives and Middle Managers Make and Administer Policy, coauthored with Dorothy F. Olshfski. Michele Gourley is a physician and public health professional with a background in rural community health and state health policy.
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