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1. Ecology in Public Administration

2. Introduction to Riggsian Theory

3. Agraria-Industria Model

4. Fused-Prismatic-Diffracted Model

5. Criticism of Riggsian Model

6. Conclusion

7. References

Ecology in public administration was primarily introduced by Professor John M. Gaus, one of
the early pioneers of public administration. In his introduced concepts, he emphasized that
the public administration including its development as well as its activities were influenced
by its setting or ecology. According to Gaus, the plans, programs, policies, and design of
public administration is influenced by factors concerning the physical environment or
ecology, and that any structure and living thing existing in a given area has an
interrelationship with the surrounding environment. In practice, this concept means that when
building a structure, an individual must plan all aspects of the construction, from the
materials needed for the structure, the actual area where it will be constructed in relation to
the people residing in the area and the physical environment existing. This concept also
means understanding the impact of the structure to the social relationships of people in that
area and what specific technologies are being used and how it influences and impacts the
inhabitants of that environment.

Ecology thus pertains to interrelationships of living organisms and their environment.

Ecological approach to public administration thus includes elements of the environment – the
place, the individuals, the physical and social technology as well as the relationships of these
elements. It is essential to note that Gaus has translated ecology – the complex structure and
connections with each other of living things that are in a specific area of the public
administration project – into a lens by which to analyze the project’s impact. And the means
by which he applied this is directed to raise awareness of ecological factors that permits
administrators to respond more wisely and appropriately to the demands and challenges of
the external environment of their organizations.

Gaus also viewed the ecological concept in public administration as a means to devise a new
and renewed institutional pattern for individuals. With such concepts, the ecological aspect of
administration reflects a crucial role in understanding and directing the forceful change in
public administration. A more sensitive and conscious approach to ecological factors allow
the public administrators to provide a more appropriate response to challenges within and
beyond their organization. If applied properly, this approach can serve as a diagnostic tool for
the public administrator and can provide standards for evaluating impact on an organization.
Ecology can aid the practitioner in visualizing the major elements in the administrative
processes and provide a specific standard for measuring impact in an organization.

For Gaus, merging public administration with the concept of ecology helps in establishing a
more novel way of conducting things and is actually related to the concept of change. He
looked to public administration to find some new sources of content and opportunity for
public administrators to emphasize some influence on the situation in which they find
themselves. He believed in applied social science, that through an ecological approach to
public administration, the new and renewed institutional pattern could be devised for
individuals living in an age of change. Ecology in public administration became a vital
instrument for comprehending, directing, and modulating the forceful change in the public
administration. Through this application, public administrator can be active in the wider
ecological approach to make change in strategic management and planning of public serving

This practice is clearly manifested in the management of ecosystems. The fragility of

ecosystems that are threatened by construction of buildings and other public administration
projects are now systematically addressed using the principles laid out by Gaus. One aspect
of this situation is the dwindling of some species brought about by the disturbance of their
natural habitat and ecosystems. Another aspect of this case also reflects the industries that are
conceptualized and built by man and which have led to the threat of climate change. The
gravity of the perceived threat of global warming has moved scientists and policymakers to
recognize that sufficient measures to sustain ecosystems must be ensured by substituting the
governmental jurisdiction as the major institutional level for implementation.

Due to this developments, the politics as well as the policy of natural resources management
are experiencing drastic transformation. The dominant aspect of resource management has
been focused around property ownership, or jurisdictional domain which is mainly concepts
that originated from the West. But now, resource management is also organized around the
parts of the whole ecosystems such as individual resources, wildlife, or commodities. Hence,
there is now a more comprehensive view of managing resources in the context of building
public administration projects or even structures in general. Another factor that influences
public projects from the point of view of ecology is the question of sustainability. Discussing
resource sustainability reflects the issue as among the most poorly understood within the
ecosystem planning and management process. The ecosystem approach confronts the
political process by asserting a participatory process in which all interested key players are
able to participate to achieve an effective and integrated ecosystem management while
recognizing the role of individuals as part of the ecosystem.

Fred Riggs, who is known as the Father of Comparative Public Administration is propounder
of ecological approach. He wrote the book “The Ecology of Public Administration” in 1962
in which he threw light on the relationship & interaction of an administration with its external
surroundings. He analyzed that many factors like political, social, economic, administrative
etc., are influenced by its environment and in turn influences the environment in which it

Riggs had extensively studied the administrative systems of several countries in a

comparative way. He observed that almost all the researchers were comparing the
administrative structures of both developed and developing states and did not bring the
influence of environment into consideration. He felt that this way of comparing the
administrative systems was improper. He said that in the administrative system of every
country there is an ineluctable influence of environment on administration and, hence, any
comparative public administration must take note of it. It is because the administration of an
industrialised developed state is qualitatively different from the public administration of an
underdeveloped state.

The principles applied by the administrators of a developed state have very little relevance in
a developing state. Riggs has lamented that the public administrators, politicians and policy-
makers have ignored this important point. In addition, the policy-makers of the newly
independent states, being guided by zeal to develop their states within a short time, applied
the administrative principles of the developed states. But they forgot to note that the public
administration of developed states reached the present state through several stages of test and
experiment. Moreover, one set of principles cannot be applied everywhere. Riggs further
stated that a perfect method of comparative public administration must be based on
ecological study or analysis and it must also be nomothetic.

Riggs developed a comparative public administration on the basis of ecology and, for this
purpose, he divided all the societies into two broad categories - industria and agraria. Riggs
has said that the public administration, structure of government, social mobility, judicial
system, law etc., of these two types of state are different. So, while making comparison, these
aspects must be brought under consideration. In his approach, he described two types of
models -
 Agraria - Industria Model (1956-1957)
 Fused - Prismatic - Diffracted Model (1959)
Between both of these extremes, there exists the ‘prismatic society’ which has administrative
sub-system known as ‘Sala’ model. Riggs mainly focused on prismatic society and its
features by a diagram of a prism.

Riggs began with a bipolar analytical framework known as the so called agraria - industria
model, which highlighted the contextual distinction of public administration between the
traditional agrarian societies and modern Haque industrial nations. The agraria is
characterized by self-contained and agriculture-based economy, family or clan-based
organization, divine authority source, and communalistic value. On the other hand, the
industria possesses interdependent market economy, achievement-oriented organization,
secular authority, individualistic value, and so on. Given such contextual variations, the
administrative system in the agraria is characterized by politics-administration fusion, lack of
specialization, and ritualistic action but in the industria, it is based on politics administration
division, specialization, impersonal human relation, and functional action. In his research on
public administration, Riggs continued to emphasize the importance of its contextual
determinants. All societies are either agro dominant or industrial. The shift from agro to
industrial is compulsory and unidirectional.
Here are a comparison between the main feature of an agrarian and industrial society.

Agrarian Industrial
Ascriptive values, i.e. people are placed in social Achievement-oriented classification
classes based on birth or other factors.

Particularistic norms. Universalistic norms.

Diffuse patterns. Specific patterns.
Stable local groups and low spatial mobility. High mobility.
Simple occupational differentiation. Egalitarian class system.

Drawbacks of the model:

1. Doesn’t help in examining transitia society.
2. No mechanism to study mixed society.
3. Even industrial society have agriculture.
4. Assumes unidirectional movement.
5. Stresses on environment of administration system, not administration systems.
6. Too general and abstract.

Since these extreme ideal types, which hardly had any real life examples, were not adequate
to explain the nature of society and administration in the post-colonial developing nations,
Riggs was searching for a more appropriate model. He eventually came up with a new
analytical construct (known as the prismatic model) to explain these transitional nations.

This model represents the underdeveloped, developed and developing societies. Traditionally
agriculture, folk, societies are fused, industrial societies are diffracted and intermediate ones
are transitioning from fused to diffracted in the prism. Thus, fused society is where a single
structure performs many functions and diffracted one is where a single structure performs
limited functions.

Riggs articulated this prismatic model based on the metaphor of prism – as the fused white
sunlight (which represents the fusion of several colours) passes through a prism, it becomes
diffracted into several separate colours. Here the fused light signifies the fused structures of
traditional society (single structure performing all necessary functions); the diffracted colours
represent the specialized or differentiated structures of modern society (separate structures or
institutions for major functions); and the situation within the prism (which is a transitional
phase between the fused and diffracted stages) reflects the condition in developing nations,
which Riggs began to define as prismatic societies. In explaining the nature of administration
in these transitional societies, Riggs systematically used an ecological approach to explore
their non-administrative domains of society, politics, economy, and culture.

Prismatic Sala Model

Riggs analyzed interaction between the administration system and its environment in
prismatic societies. His Prismatic Sala model represents a traditional or developing society
and 'Sala' is the administrative sub-system of it.
The features of Prismatic Sala Model are:
1. Heterogeneity: High degree of heterogeneity in a prismatic society due to
simultaneous presence of different kinds of systems, practices and viewpoints.
2. Formalism: High degree; due to discrepancy between formally prescribed and
effectively practices i.e. between norms and reality.
3. Overlapping: High degree; due to formally differentiated structures of a diffracted
society co-exist with an undifferentiated structures of a fused society.
4. Nepotism: 'Sala' has nepotism in recruitment.
5. Poly-normative: Co-existence of modern, traditional norms leading to lack of
consensus on norms of behavior.
6. Poly-communal: Hostile co-existence of communities.
7. Bazaar canteen system: The economic subsystem which combines both market
economy and traditional economy. Hence prices of goods keep fluctuating. A small
section exploits a large number and controls economic institutions. Prices of goods is
determined by relationship between people and officials so it varies largely. In this
model, market factors are developed without increase in capital so businessmen try to
increase their influence on politics and administration for personal ends. Black
market, adulteration, hoarding, inflation is seen. Exploitation, poverty, social injustice
are main features.
8. Authority and Control: Authority is centralized but control is localized so
dominance of administrators is seen.

Change in a prismatic society:

1. Pace of development is related to sources of change. Western societies change their
effective behavior to evolving behavior as they have longer timespan for
development. Hence they experience low heterogeneity, formalism and overlapping.

2. Change can be exogenous, endogenous or equigenous. An exogenous society faces

more heterogeneity, formalism and overlapping than endogenous as the effective
behavior precedes establishment of new formal institutions in endogenous.

3. Prismatic societies face problems of greater heterogeneity, formalism and overlapping

in their bid to absorb exogenous change in shortest time.

There are some major critics who consider Riggs’ models too deductive and theoretical
without adequate empirical basis; too static about the influence of external social forces; too
indifferent towards social change; and too over-generalized on the basis of only few case
studies. Although there could be some truths in these critical observations, Riggs often
offered adequate responses to these critics: that his theory-building was based on in depth
case studies; that he maintained a balance between the ideographic and nomothetic
approaches in his academic work; and that he was always against claiming the American
administrative system as a universal model. Irrespective of some of the alleged limits of
Riggs’ work, his theoretical models and arguments discussed above, are largely based on a
nomothetic approach and an ecological perspective.

First, one school of thought that supports the ‘fused-prismatic-diffracted model’ believes that
this model can replace empirical studies in general. In other words, empirical studies are
regarded as having little to no value. The primary reason for this stems from the perspective
that empirical studies are time-consuming and expensive. As Milne astutely points out,
however, it is dangerous for novice scholars to rely entirely upon model theories.
Shortcomings arise when scholars erroneously believe that once one is familiar with one
model of administrative theory, one can draw broad conclusions about the administrative
features of all regions without conducting empirical research.

A second critique of Riggs’ theory identifies the scope of the ‘fused-prismatic diffracted
model’ as being too broad and abstract. Riggs’ structural function studies, which include
several cultural factors--including economic, social, and political—are difficult to follow.
Therefore, some scholars may be tempted to denounce this kind of large-scale theory as
middle-range theory, and hence, consider empirical investigations as supplemental. The
objective is thus to shorten the distance between theory and practice. Concrete examples
include the study of the influence of foreign capital enterprises on political transformations,
and minutely detailed categorizations of hierarchical power systems.

Another critique of the ‘fused-prismatic-diffracted’ model argues that while it is predicated

on the notion of deduction, there is little empirical evidence to support it. Most sciences
require empirical evidence so that results can be verified, not only repeatedly but also at any
time and place. Moreover, objective comparisons would then likewise be possible. Riggs,
however, endeavors to prescribe ‘formalism’ as a given standard, and most scholars consider
this concept as unsatisfactory. Moreover, when scholars attempt to use Riggs’ model to study
the administrative systems of foreign countries, they often encounter numerous difficulties.
Scholars have also found that in some cases the ‘fused-prismatic-diffracted model’ ignores
certain variables, but in others it exaggerates them. For instance, as Riggs himself pointed
out, aside from cultural factors there are others that should also be considered. These include
historical background, the political structure of post-colonial countries, territorial size, the
status of hierarchical power, and the role of the military, as well as social ideologies. Most
importantly, the unique circumstances of each country will have a profound influence on
administrative behavior. Yet, these are factors that Riggs seldom discusses.

In adopting a deductive process, the ‘fused-prismatic-diffracted’ model likewise ignores the

ultimate goal of public administration in its attempt to build a value-free science. W. Wilson
argues that the primary function of any public administration is to work efficiently.
Therefore, it should be obvious that a public administration cannot and should not abandon
certain values. Moreover, while the ‘fused-prismatic-diffracted model’ tends to supplement
its theory with empirical evidence, it is sometimes difficult to find appropriately related
evidence. The uniqueness of Riggs’ theory is undeniably influential. Yet, his theory is to
some extent predicated on logical speculation or assumptions. For instance, Riggs believes
that formalism is the primary and sole factor in increasing administrative hierarchical power
within prismatic societies. This argument, however, is too simple and unequivocal to accept.
To illustrate his argument, Riggs uses American society as his model of a diffracted society.
The shortcoming here is, although American society is a developed and industrialized
country, one cannot infer that it is free of formalism and no longer a prismatic society.
Therefore, the theoretical hypothesis that American society is a model which one should use
in constructing a diffracted society is both inappropriate and unsatisfactory.

Although the analytic pattern of the ‘fused-prismatic-diffracted model’ is based on a

structural functional approach, the primary focus of Riggs’ analysis is placed instead on
social factors. This analytical perspective tends to exclude other factors, which by extension
prevents alternative explanations including the psychological and cognitive aspects of a
prismatic administrative system. It is therefore evident that Riggs overemphasizes the organic
and unified nature of social systems. At this point, it is significant to note that Riggs
repeatedly emphasizes that the primary reason he uses the terms ‘fused’, ‘prismatic’, and
‘diffracted’, rather than classical words like ‘traditional’, ‘transitional’, and ‘modern’, is to
avoid any insinuation of determinism.

It is widely acknowledged that constructional theorists often fall prey to committing causal
inferential errors, and Riggs is no exception. To his credit, Riggs openly admits that the
prismatic model is suitable only in examining phenomena that occur during the social
transformation process. In an actual society, however, ‘independent variables’ and
‘dependent variables’ are complex and thus hard to predict. Consequently, causal inference is
difficult to avoid. From a purely functional or linguistic point of view, the ‘fused-prismatic-
diffracted’ model uses too much terminology and specialized jargon. To understand it, one
must patiently wade through the definitions provided by Riggs himself. Thus, in designing a
new model, and in the effort to distinguish it from others, Riggs established a unique
vocabulary that has no application whatsoever to other models.

Overall, an ecological public administration should improve upon its weaknesses in the
following ways. First, in using ecological public administration as a research approach,
the notion that the environment alone can determine administrative behavior should be
avoided. Riggs observes that, while it is important to describe the environment’s
influence on other subjects, inversely, one should also acknowledge the influence
individuals have on the environment. Only by taking into consideration the dual aspects
of interacting influences can we hope to develop an authentic ecological model.

Second, although the ecological approach attempts to explain the transformation process
within an existing system or within the functioning of a peculiar environment, it still
largely ignores the ultimate concern of public administration, namely, the evaluation of
policies and the realization of intended goals. Milton J. Esman, a comparative public
administration scholar, points out that in additional to traditional research, one should
also pay more attention to those studies that make a direct contribution to the substance
of public administration. These include studies on industrial development, education,
public sanitary science, personnel administration, and financial-economic policies,
among others. Thus, rather than pointing out behavioral limitations, the ecological
approach should emphasize strengths in problem-solving instead.

Lastly, public administrative models that build upon the foundation of the ecological
approach are usually predicated on intuitive and a priori assumptions. The models are
found to be inefficient and cumbersome due to their lack of empirical experience. John
Forward thus proposes an ecological public administrative model that employs
statistical analyses to study related ecological factors that are based on empirical

The aforementioned criticisms of Riggs’ ‘fused-prismatic-diffracted’ model are not, of

course, without their own shortcomings. Some of them may have misrepresented and
even distorted the essence of science, while others are derived from entirely different
analytical approaches. In light of the fact that each scholar has his or her own interpretation
and criticisms, one shouldn’t completely ignore the “fused-prismatic-diffracted” model’s
contributions and strengths.

In conclusion, Riggs argues that listing merely one environmental factor does not
constitute adopting an ecological approach. What ecological public administration
requires, or more specifically what defines research as being ecological, is the
identification of critical variables as well as the demonstration of administrative items
and plausible patterns of correlation.

Essays, UK. (November 2018). Ecology of Public Administration. Retrieved from
College, Bilyani (September 2016). Jajoo, Riddhi (Riggs’ Fused Prismatic Diffracted Model).
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Fever, UPSC. Riggs Comparative Model. Retrieved from

Library, Your Article. How Ecology has Become a Factor of Public Administration?.
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Peng, Wen-Shien ( A Critique of Fred W. Riggs’ Ecology of Public Administration)

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