The RFAP – Three Decades of Publication of Studies on the Administration in France and World Wide – Fabrice Larat

Fabrice Larat, ENA, France



The part played by reviews and journals in the organisation and development of the various fields to which they relate, whether literary or scientific, is undeniable.  Vehicles for both reflection and analysis, and a means of communication between members of a specific community, reviews contribute to the emergence and circulation of ideas, concepts, and paradigms.    Essential factors in the definition of an object for research and possibly its empowerment, they are also a space for sharing and socialisation, in particular through the members of the editorial committees and other scientific advisors.  Finally, because they are designed to last, and their regular appearance marks them with continuity, reviews have a structuring effect which enables knowledge and information to accumulate, and also to evolve.

Forums, vehicles and platforms at the same time, reviews play various essential parts in both the intellectual and material functioning of a sphere of activity.  For all these reasons, a review is both the central player on the stage to which it relates, and a fairly accurate reflection of its development, in particular with regard to the changes in concerns or approaches involved.  Public administration reviews have a vital part to play, alongside the networks and the international organisations dedicated to studying public administration, and alongside the institutions teaching this subject.  It can therefore be taken as a given that the presentation of the functioning of a national review and its history reflects the true characteristics of the public administration of a country being studied, with their landmark developments and their constants.

The RFAP and the study of public administration in France
The Revue Française d’Administration Publique (RFAP) was founded in Paris in 1977.  It was the successor to the bulletin issued by the Institut International d’Administration Publique (IIAP) launched ten years earlier. From its very beginnings, the aim of this quarterly review was to act as a link between officials and teachers, enabling observers and analysts of administrative life to join forces in research and debate, and making a detailed study of the problems.  The foreword to the first issue was, significantly, signed by the vice-president of the Council of State.   Its editorial committee included key figures from various horizons, such as Jacques Attali, Guy Braibant, and Michel Crozier.

Since 2002, the review has been published by the École Nationale d’Administration, which has merged with IIAP.  With more than thirty years behind it, some 550 subscribers, and an average current run of 1200 copies per issue, not counting electronic circulation, the RFAP is now a central player in the study of, and debate on the administration not only in France, but world wide.  It is now the only French scientific review dedicated to the discipline of public administration as internationally recognised by bibliometric tools.

As the RFAP is a themed review, it calls for a multi-disciplinary approach, and this is one of its major advantages.  In fact, the field of public administration, which is a central subject for political or legal science, is also studied by sociologists, historians, and economists.  The great diversity of its issues is designed specifically to identify and assess impartially the problems that arise when studying the administration, public management and public policies, in particular in their comparative and European dimensions.  In many cases, issues enable researchers from different disciplines to cross reference a common subject.  The review is also open to articles by participants (in particular senior officials, students of the administration colleges and even politicians), which makes it possible to compare their experiences with the external view scientists take of these questions.  A quarterly chronicle dedicated to the economic public sector as well as the various aspects of administrative life has enabled RFAP readers to follow current affairs continuously over a period of more than thirty years.

A Mirror held up to the Discipline?
In accordance with the aims of the review, the issues dedicated to a certain set of problems cover a range of subjects.  Sectoral analyses of the administration are thus well represented,  in each instance relating to a focus point of the review and, more widely still, reflecting the various facets of administrative questions in time and space.  The RFAP has thus handled themes as varied as the administration of universities, research, schools, health, the armies, justice, parliaments, and even sport.  Public policies are another important feature, in that their implementation has implications which are often weighty in administrative terms, such as the involvement of new categories of participant, the special procedures they require, and the problems they raise.  Areas as divergent as prison policy, and urban, environmental, and immigration policies have thus been subjects for in-depth studies.

After being guided for many years by the IIAP, it is not surprising that the aspect of comparative administration is one of the characteristics of the review.  In spite of the French mainland aspects of the matter, this stance testifies to the wish to open up French research to what is happening in public administration abroad.  This special attention is shown in the publication of themed issues dedicated to certain countries (including the administrations of Italy, Japan, South Africa, Mexico and post-reunification Germany), and even international questions corresponding to little-known administrative realities such as the administration of international organisations.

Testifying to the increasing importance being given to the process of integration in the running and future of European States over recent decades, European questions return at ever-closer intervals, from the first issue dedicated to L’administration et la construction européenne  (1988), via La Communauté européenne, un dialogue d’administration  (1992), L’administration de l’Union européenne  (2000), L’européanisation des administration s (2005), La réalisation de l’espace européen de liberté, de sécurité et de justice  (2009), to Où en est l’administration de la Commission européenne?  in 2010.

Finally, reflecting the focus on the administrative realities of the day is a major part of the priorities and concerns of the moment which are discussed and analysed issue by issue, in particular with discussions on topics such as maladministration (1988), public management (1982), the approach to projects (1990), evaluation (1993), social relations in the private sector (1996) and regulation (2004). This having been said, even more than the nature of the actual topics, it is their evolution that makes it possible to measure the shift in the focus of interest and the existence of recurrent problems. For example, the question of repeated reforms surfaces on a regular basis; the 1978 issue dedicated to administrative reform was followed twenty years later by an issue on failed reforms (1998) and then in 2003 by one on State reform and the new public management under the title “Mythe et réalité”  and, more recently, by one on the genealogy of State reform (2006).

Between Science and a Wider Audience –  the Dual Contribution of the RFAP
Designed to give a better understanding of developments in administration and public management and the issues involved, the review has continually improved the added value of the articles published, in particular by insisting on thoroughness and quality in the handling of topics. To do this, the management and administration of the review have ambitious aims in terms of professionalism, in line with the practices now in use at international level. Following a change in editorial policy in the early 2000s, the RFAP has become a review with a scientific type leadership.  Its editorial approach now meets the international quality standards of scientific reviews. Thus the practice of systematic evaluation of articles spontaneously submitted was introduced in 2002.  In mid-2008, the practice of evaluation was extended to all articles, including those published in themed issues.  The fame and recognition of the RFAP in the field of administrative research mean that a third of its subscribers are now from abroad.

Located at the crossroads of the administrative and academic spheres, the RFAP is thus an original meeting point of the demand for expertise (which takes the form of themed issues on topics decided on by the editors) and the supply from both specialists from high public office and French or foreign researchers from a range of disciplines.   Even though the proportion of practitioners among the authors has fallen in recent years, far from becoming a scientific review written by university staff for university staff, the RFAP, due to its origins and in view of the institution which publishes it, has the vocation of remaining a review of both reference and transfer.  As can be seen from the make-up of its readership, the RFAP continues to address a mixed audience.  The challenge it has taken up is that by remaining open to those who give the administration life, and comparing their expertise and observations with the analysis of Scientists,  it makes a dual contribution to the field of public administration by advancing the state of knowledge and illuminating the actions of the decision-makers.

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