Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Mechanisms of Representative Bureaucracy

Friday, November 13, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Gretha K Burchard, Florida International University
This paper aims at exploring the multiple ways how representative bureaucracy can have an impact on the population. The vast majority of or representative bureaucracy literature has not taken the different mechanisms behind a representative bureaucracy sufficiently into account. Using data from German public schools, this study examines whether teachers with a migration background can also have an impact on students without actively standing up for their respective minority groups.

While research on representative bureaucracy in general is abundant, the question through which mechanisms representative bureaucracy can make a change has not yet been addressed sufficiently. Most studies focus on examining the link between passive and active representation, thereby exploring the factors that make minority bureaucrats become active representatives of their minority group (e.g., Meier, Wrinkle, and Polinard, 1999; Seldon, Brudney, and Kellough, 1998). The problem is the overemphasis on the link between passive and active representation. A bureaucrat standing up for his or her minority group (active representation) is not necessarily the only way how representative bureaucracy can make a change. There are different ways how a bureaucracy that passively represents the population it serves can have substantial positive outcomes, be it by minority citizens wanting to comply with the agency’s goals because they feel more represented by a minority bureaucrat, by minority bureaucrats having an empathic understanding of minority citizens, or by a minority bureaucrat influencing the behavior of non-minority bureaucrats in the same organization (Lim, 2006).

This study addresses the question “How, with the help of which mechanisms can representative bureaucracy have effects on the population it serves?” with the help of data from German high schools. The analysis of survey data of 60 teachers and their 1200 students will help to reveal whether a higher representation of teachers with migration background can have substantive effects on the students. The mechanism that may play a role is the change of behavior on the part of students with migration background due to perceived better understanding, more trustworthiness, and higher legitimacy.

The results of this study are significant as they will be of great value for schools, state governments and the federal government. The German government is currently actively promoting the increased hiring of school teachers with migration background. The results indicate that the continued increase of persons with migration background in the teacher workforce, specifically in leading positions, and in the entire public sector should become an issue of utmost importance.


Lim, H.H. (2006). Representative Bureaucracy: Rethinking Substantive Effects and Active Representation. Public Administration Review 66(2), pp. 193-204.

Meier, K.J., Wrinkle, R.D. and Polinard, J.L. (1999). Representative Bureaucracy and Distributional Equity: Addressing the Hard Question. The Journal of Politics 61(4), pp. 1025-1039.

Seldon, S.C., Brudney, J. L., and Kellough, J. E (1998). Bureaucracy as a Representative Institution: Toward Reconciliation of Bureaucratic Government and Democratic Theory. American Journal of Political Science 42(3), pp. 717-744.