Machine Learning for Public Administration Research, with Application to Organizational Reputation
46 Pages Posted: 25 May 2018 Last revised: 13 Oct 2018
Date Written: May 14, 2018
Machine learning methods have gained a great deal of popularity in recent years among public administration scholars and practitioners. These techniques open the door to the analysis of text, image and other types of data that allow us to test foundational theories of public administration and to develop new theories. Despite the excitement surrounding machine learning methods, clarity regarding their proper use and potential pitfalls is lacking. This paper attempts to fill this gap in the literature through providing a machine learning “guide to practice” for public administration scholars and practitioners. Here, we take a foundational view of machine learning and describe how these methods can enrich public administration research and practice through their ability develop new measures, tap into new sources of data and conduct statistical inference and causal inference in a principled manner. We then turn our attention to the pitfalls of using these methods such as unvalidated measures and lack of interpretability. Finally, we demonstrate how machine learning techniques can help us learn about organizational reputation in federal agencies through an illustrated example using tweets from 13 executive federal agencies. All R code, analyses and data described in this paper can be found in the Online Appendix.
Keywords: organizational reputation, machine learning, public administration, text analysis, gradient boosted trees
JEL Classification: H83, C55, D83
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation