by Tom Parisi
Whether it’s Congress trying to tackle the financial crisis or a local city council working to solve traffic snarls, confrontation among members of a public body usually stifles innovation.
So says Distinguished Teaching Professor Gerald Gabris, director of the NIU Division of Public Administration. Gabris and some of his NIU colleagues have been researching the topic for several years, testing their hypotheses by collecting data from local municipalities in northern Illinois.
Gabris says the ability of elected officials to get along well and reach consensus is directly linked to a public body’s capacity for innovation, which is necessary to effectively tackle complex modern-day problems. Without governmental innovation, the public loses out because quality of life suffers.
“It sounds like common sense, but there is a relationship between how well a city manages itself and how well a board gets along,” Gabris says. “When the people are split on how to handle problems, they’re paralyzed from taking action and often end up doing nothing.”
Gabris will address how local governments adapt to complex change through innovation during a Presidential Teaching Professor Seminar from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 7, in the Capitol Room of Holmes Student Center.
The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served beginning at 11:30 a.m., and the talk with be followed by a question-and-answer session.
“NIU’s Presidential Teaching Professors are the university’s top teachers,” Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver says. “As this seminar demonstrates, they very often are top researchers as well who incorporate their own cutting-edge work into their lessons. Professor Gabris’ timely talk promises to teach us all something new about what makes government effective.”
In addition to having group members who work well together, effective public bodies also possess strong administrative leadership, Gabris says. Administrators initiate the majority of innovations.
“We’re interested in studying the process as opposed to the specific innovations,” Gabris adds. “By knowing the factors associated with high innovation, we hope to be able to diagnose municipalities that are having trouble and then develop practical ways to improve board relations and heighten management leadership.”
Gabris has been teaching courses in public administration, a division of the Department of Political Science, since 1986. He was designated a Presidential Teaching Professor in 2003 and became division director a year later. His research focuses on leadership, merit pay, organization change and human resources management.
U.S. News & World Report recently ranked NIU’s Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) program third nationally in the specialty field of city management and urban policy.