Public Administration Research and Real-world Problems: Topic Modelling the Changing Landscape

Project: Research

View graph of relations


This project will tackle questions at the core of the public administration (PA) discipline by examining the tensions between academia and practice. PA is an interdisciplinary “design science” focused on solving real-world problems. However, as academia has become more professionalized, PA scholars more specialized, and research tools more sophisticated, PA scholars around the globe have argued that these changes have disconnected PA research from real-world practice. This project will systematically examine the changing landscape of PA research to ascertain whether PA scholarship has shifted over the past two decades towards more esoteric topics and an undue focus on method at the expense of tackling real-world problems. Such a project is now possible because advances in technology and methodology allow for a comprehensive evaluation of all published journal output in a given field. Topic modelling methodology identifies latent topics underlying large collections of textual data, allowing themes to emerge from a systematic analysis of a substantive corpus of material. A machine learning algorithm known as Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) will be used to uncover the latent topic structure and then establish the distribution of each word and document across these topics. LDA will be applied to the corpus of approximately 13,000 PA articles published in the 16 leading PA journals between 1997 and 2018. The topics identified in this project will be contrasted with real-world problems, policies, and issues. These will be measured at both the global and local policy and administration level using the UN Sustainable Development Goals and an analysis of PA textbook topics. Variations in the relationship between theory and practice will be examined by assessing the extent to which an article is cited and published in a high impact journal, the research methods used, the geographical location of the study, and the degree of interdisciplinarity and international collaboration involved in its production. The project will contribute to the discipline of PA and its development by identifying the most influential research topics and relating these to real-world topics to provide an understanding of PA’s “social structure.” This project will be hosted by the Laboratory for Public Management and Policy, which provides the resources and facilities to undertake integration studies such as topic modelling. The project will be undertaken by scholars experienced in integration studies and the methodology and application of topic modelling.


Project number9042733
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/19 → …