Interview with Dr. Craig Shinn

In light of our 3rd Annual Celebrating Public Service Gala, Honoring Dr. Craig Shinn’s Lifetime Contributions to Conciliatory Governance, we spent a little time with him reflecting on his career as a practitioner and an academic. He spoke to us about the meaning of governance, his legacy, emerging issues, and advice for those who are new to public service. He gave us a peek at a book project he will be working on as he enters retirement. Below are some excerpts and summary from our interview.

What is Governance?

“Governance” is the topic of passion for Dr. Shinn. In the interview he emphasized the importance governance in our everyday life.

He defines governance as the rules of the game for creating agreements requiring different resolutions at every social scale to fit polity differences and set rules that allow us to arbitrate value differences and do politics well. He underscores once collaborative work is done, we turn to and depend on government to hold and carry out agreements over time. These institutional arrangements are what make components of the market economy such as property rights, contract law, and monetary policy work.

What are your major contributions while at PSU?

In an effervescent tone he described himself as an academic who sees himself in practice characterized as a hybrid between academic and practitioner. He notes that one of his contributions is meeting the learning needs of public service professionals at various levels.  His work with public service professionals is not limited to degree based activities. For example, he has also worked with mid-career professionals at the request of federal executives seeking additional competencies for their staff.

His contributions have been predicated by his thirty years of practice. As part of the 7th American Forest Congress, he helped create heroic agreements at a time when armed conflict and violence was present in the woods. All of his contributions emanate from applying strong theory and incorporating challenges practitioners face.

He is proud of the success of his students and becomes overjoyed when he sees students in practice, building on what they’ve learned in the academic program that reflect contributions from the Hatfield School.

Describe an emerging issue in the field.

When Dr. Shinn began his work, the focus was on getting practitioners to see beyond individual roles and expand their perspectives to an organizational and institutional level. Today, the work in public service requires a broad perspective. He says “We need to move between sectors, move across the landscape.” In his forthcoming book, co-authored with Dr. Ingle and Dr. Morgan, they argue it is no longer sufficient to focus on creating vital organizations. Instead we must create polity leaders and measure our success in terms of residual to the community and society as a whole.

Advice for students entering public service.

Dr. Shinn believes people who choose public service careers are doing special work in society. Unfortunately, however, they have become the targets of dislike, dismay, and distrust. The public service work is typically done in the shadows; but the seemingly marginal every day work matters in making a real difference. Those of us in public service need to work well technically and politically. We need to be open to the fact that technical work may be disputed, not because of facts, but because the variations in the meanings attached to the work.


We thank Dr. Shinn for his time at Portland State University and with the Center for Public Service and wish him well as he transitions to retirement.

If you are interested in attending the Dinner and Symposium, there is still time to register.



Interview and summary by Jennifer Martinez, Graduate Assistant at the Center for Public Service.

Edited by Dr. Masami Nishishiba

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