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Home > For Principal Reps and Faculty > Resources > Internship Guidelines


Developed by ICMA/NASPAA Task Force
on Local Government Management Education


American local government has been variously viewed as the "cradle of liberty" for American democracy, as the context for the "grassroots democracy" deemed so important by Thomas Jefferson, and as the appropriate focus of responsibility for the delivery of most public services by a succession of recent U.S. presidential administrations. American local governments-- counties, cities, villages, towns, townships, regional councils of governments, regional planning agencies, school districts, and other special service districts--collectively employ more persons in civilian jobs than any other level of government. Local government is the only level of government that delivers services directly to every citizen in the nation. It is local government that has the first and primary responsibility for providing the bulk of the public services upon which twentieth century American life depends.

The quality of American local government, in short, is critical. It is crucial to the American quality of life; it is essential for the maintenance of American political values and practices. Since no government can be better than the quality of its leadership--including the people who are appointed to direct and administer its daily operations and activities--the availability of competent local leadership is similarly crucial.

Capable, professional leadership in local government must be stimulated, nurtured, and prepared. It should not simply grow out of experience nor be the accidental by-product of other professional education programs. Students must be given an opportunity to observe and understand the qualities and responsibilities associated with local leadership positions. Those attracted to local leadership must be transformed into highly qualified and dedicated public leaders who accept and advance the standards of professionalism in local government management.

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) are interested in and recognize the importance of education in liberal arts, functional specializations, and general administration as it pertains to local government and urban affairs. Because of their special concern with educational preparation, these organizations have developed the following guidelines to assist colleges and universities in the development of their own efforts to meet this educational responsibility, and particularly to assist in offering professional degree programs tailored to address directly the need for competent, responsible local government leadership.

Statement of Purpose

The development of these suggestions has been predicated upon the belief that the administration of local government agencies is a component of professional public administration that shares the values of general public administration, yet encompasses some aspects that are separate and unique to local government. As a profession, local government management embodies all of the traditional values of commitment, service, dedication, and selflessness historically associated with the concept of professionalism. It is a profession that is committed to excellence in the discharge of the "sacred trust" about which Woodrow Wilson wrote in his 1887 essay that first articulated the concept of professional public service.

Local government administrators are distinguished from their colleagues in other facets of professional public administration by their close working association on a daily basis with both their elected superiors and the residents of the communities that they serve. Not only must they preserve and protect "the cradle of democracy" at its "grassroots" level but also they must supervise and coordinate a wide array of public services produced by an exceedingly diverse range of separate professions, and see to the delivery of those services while interacting, directly and continuously, with the specific individuals being served.

These activities are to be accomplished with the greatest possible economy and efficiency since the use of resources by local governments has always been more closely scrutinized than at other levels of government. Administrators, even in small communities, must demonstrate a range of capabilities and master a diversity of relationships found only among the few most highly placed administrators at other levels of government.

Local government managers thus are public servants engaged in a profession dedicated to protecting and enriching the quality of life in the communities that they serve. They are members of a profession committed to the tenants of democracy and to the preservation and enhancement of democratic principles in local government.

A profession committed to such ideals can optimize its fulfillment only by seeking and sustaining a close working relationship with the educational institutions that prepare persons for entry into the profession. Such a profession must work with these institutions to develop programs for students that will enhance their democratic political values and impart to them the expertise that, in turn, will enable them to fulfill the goals and ideals of the profession.

The guidelines contained in this document have been developed for these purposes. They have been prepared and approved collectively by representatives of ICMA and NASPAA. They are not designed to serve as a basis for accreditation or certification, nor are they meant to be the sole model for local government management education; rather, they are offered as a guide to educational programs seeking to develop and enhance instructional offerings that will serve governments at the local level, and thereby promote a more complete achievement of democratic objectives in political and governmental processes. These suggestions are particularly germane to programs focused exclusively or predominantly on local government.


A curriculum designed to prepare persons for professional careers in local government management should be built upon the standards established by NASPAA for master's programs in public administration. The core curriculum requirements in the NASPAA standards cover the knowledge and skills needed by any professional public manager.

To serve simultaneously as the core of a local government management curriculum, however, the courses in the curriculum prescribed by the NASPAA standards should integrate local government concepts, issues, and examples so that local government management students are familiar with what is generic as well as distinct about the context and administration of local governments. Courses that draw only, or even largely, upon knowledge and examples drawn from the federal or state experience are not sufficient. The local government environment is unique. No other legislative system, for example, is so dependent upon part-time, functionally non-partisan, elected officials. Instruction in local government management must make such distinctions.

The model presented here offers a more intensive local government alternative to the standard model of a generic core coupled with advanced components leading to a specialty. As such, it suggests tailoring the core curriculum to meet the needs of professional local government administrators. Consequently, the following discussion of substantive knowledge and management skills is designed to augment NASPAA's statement of the common curricular components. A matrix that fits possible courses into the core curriculum is offered in Appendix A.

Finally, this model can also serve as a guide to developing the content of courses in local government to serve the needs of persons educated in other professional programs who wish to benefit from exposure to knowledge regarding the policy-making and administrative operations of American local government.

Substantive Knowledge

The content of the curriculum in local government management should be predicated upon the recognition that the local government manager is an important change agent who needs to be attentive to problems in the community, should be in the vanguard of efforts to seek change to solve those problems, and always acts with full awareness of the public administrator's role as integral to democratic political processes.

Elements that should be added to, or emphasized in, the NASPAA curriculum standards for purposes of educating professional local government administrators include:

1. Management and Administration - Local government administrators must be integrative managers and administrators par excellence. Within the local government organization, they must provide staff leadership, design and implement change, structure and coordinate the activities of diverse departments--some of which may have elected heads or appointed citizen advisory boards--improve productivity, and set the tone for high standards of performance among staff. They also link the organization to its elected officials, the public, and the array of organizations and agencies with which local governments must interact.

2. Political Accountability and Local Politics - Local government administrators should understand the roles and characteristics of elected officials and the nature of governing board-administrator relations, including: the patterns of political activity unique to the local level; the differences in political behavior by long- and short- term residents of the community; the local impact of single-issue politics; the different kinds of political cultures found at the local level; the appropriate patterns of interaction between professional administrators and the political arena; and the nature of the politics of interlocal government relations.

In a separate, but equally important, sense, local government managers must understand that political processes are dynamic and ever-changing; that the actions of the professional public manager may necessarily be subject to modification in responses to such changes; and that managerial success requires the ability to adapt to changing political roles as well as changing political personalities. To achieve these purposes, local government managers must be provided with working familiarity with the ICMA Code of Ethics and its accompanying guidelines.

3. Policy-Making and Policy Analysis - These areas are components of basic public administration education. They are equally important to the education of professional local government administrators. However, educational programs directed to such administrators must also focus upon differences in the application of policy-making and policy analysis concepts and methods at the local government level, and particularly in the small community setting. The policy-making process, the users of policy analysis, the resources for such analysis, and the environment in which such processes and activities occur are different at the local level; students must be sensitive to these differences, to their implications for methods of inquiry, and to their effects upon public policy activities.

4. Administrative Values - Local governments operate at the grass roots level of American democracy. It is particularly important that local administrators be well grounded in the responsibilities of professional administrators in a democratic society and aware of their responsibilities for leadership, and especially of their responsibilities for responsiveness to both the immediate public interest and to the long- term public good.

5. Administrative Ethics - Ethical problems are not unique to local government, but the local government leader operates in unusually close proximity to constituents and, as a result, is subject to special political and ethical pressures. Local government administrators need to know how to apply the ethical values emphasized in the NASPAA curriculum; they should be fully aware of the ICMA Code of Ethics and its application. In addition they need to know where and when they will face ethical problems as well as how to deal with ethical dilemmas. Most importantly, they must know how to be the vigilant conscience of their administrative staff and elected officials, and set an appropriate example to bring ethical principles into both public policy considerations and the daily operations of local government. Finally, local administrators need to have a sense of how to apply ethics (e.g. when to bend and when not to bend) in the ongoing practice of administration.

6. Citizen Participation and Public Relations - The link between local government and the public is critical--perhaps even more so than the link between federal or state government and the public because of the direct proximity of local government to its constituents. The public as citizens must be involved in policy making, as members of boards and committees that advise government officials, as customers and clients who receive services, and increasingly as co-producers of services. Administrators must be sensitive to the need for, and work to assure that, activities involving citizen participation will include persons who represent the diversity of the community's social composition. The success of many public programs and the acceptance of local government initiatives require that the public and the media be fully informed about the purpose and activities of local government.

7. Intergovernmental Relations - The focus for the local government administrator needs to be on interlocal, interregional, local-state, and local-national government relations. Administrators should fully understand the need for effective interactions with the non-profit and private sectors and the issues surrounding the involvement of private organizations in public decision making and the private provision of public services. Traditional orientations of the federal system comprised of federal-to-state-to-local processes should be supplemented with more contemporary orientations that focus upon the local government as the primary provider of public services, often in accordance with federal and state regulations and with limited or no outside financial assistance.

8. Legislative Behavior - Increasingly, local government officials must play proactive roles in conjunction with state and federal legislative bodies regarding the development of state and national policy affecting government at the local level. Such roles require that local leaders be familiar with the behavior of such legislative bodies and able to interact with them in ways that promote the interest of their local constituencies.

9. Planning - Broad familiarity with planning, not only land use planning but also financial planning, personnel planning, strategic planning and long-range planning for service delivery functions, is necessary for local management to meet the needs of the 1990s and beyond.

10. Local Government Law - Of particular importance to local government administrators is familiarity with local, state, and federal law as it applies to such functional areas as land use, zoning, health and safety regulation, and code enforcement. Administrative law, especially as it relates to rule making and operations; public liability law; and civil service/personnel operations are also critical. Law as it relates to governmental structure and enabling authority should be stressed.

11. Urban Economics - Administrators need to understand the economic system and the economic dimensions of land use and development, housing, poverty, employment, transportation, and environmental protection. Increasingly, the local administrator needs to grasp the place of the community in the national and international economy.

12. Physical Domain of the City - The physical domain of the city--its economy, its infrastructure, its commercial and industrial facilities, and especially its housing stock have traditionally been the particular concern of local government. Local administrators must understand the factors that affect the quality of this domain, and especially the quality of life in residential neighborhoods, so that community goals can be more expeditiously achieved.

13. Human Resources - People are the key to the labor-intensive functions of local government. As personnel practices can have important implications, administrators should be aware of the various structures and practices of local government personnel administration. They should be particularly concerned with the motivation, development, and appraisal of all local government employees and with assuring that the local government work force reflects and is attentive to the populations served.

14. Accounting and Finance - The local government administrator needs to go far beyond budgeting. Familiarity with accounting and financial reporting, the assessment of financial conditions, knowledge of creative financing techniques, capital financing methods, and cash management are essential. Because they are involved in revenue as well as expenditure policy development, local administrators must understand basic principles of public finance and tax policy.

15. The Dynamics of Community Life - Local managers should have a general familiarity with urban sociology, urban history, demographics, intergroup relations, and community power structures.

16. Human and Social Services - The persistence of "people problems"--related to mental and physical health, poverty, race and ethnic relations, age, housing, education, leisure services, economic opportunities, and other quality of life considerations--is a growing local as well as national concern. The design and delivery of programs and services directed to the solution of such problems are increasingly becoming a local government concern. Local managers must be both sensitive to the circumstances that give rise to such problems and knowledgeable about the service delivery opportunities and difficulties associated with ameliorating them.

17. Racial and Ethnic Diversity - An increase in both the number of women and minority students preparing for managerial careers in local government and local government program faculty who are women or members of minority groups is essential to increase the number of women and minority persons in local government management and to develop greater sensitivity among those trained for management to the needs, concerns, attitudes, and values of the broad range of persons directly served by local government programs. These groups also need effective representation in the policy-making processes of local government. To achieve this end, local government programs must make an active effort to involve women and minority persons as members of their faculties and as speakers, intern supervisors, professional mentors, and educational resource persons.

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Management Skills

Local government administrators require all of the management skills described in the NASPAA standards. They must be able to analyze and communicate information, data, and ideas in terms meaningful to citizens and elected officials who may lack professional skills, and/or related educational background. In addition, they should have educational preparation in the following:

1. Political Analysis - Local government administrators must have antennae to sense key political events and political awareness to understand the dynamics of local political behavior. They should not rely upon locally elected officials as their only source of information about local political groups, emerging political attitudes, changing political values, or potential political difficulties.

2. Consensus Building and Conflict Resolution - Local administrators must understand that logic alone will not suffice in working with adversarial groups. They must understand that they must work as political brokers, using group consensus building techniques and the principles of mediation and conciliation, and be able to use negotiation processes to reconcile divergent interests and points of view.

3. Strategic Planning - Local government administrators must understand the concepts, procedures, and tools for the development of effective strategies to cope with changed and changing circumstances as they affect the local community, and to develop coherent and defensible bases for community decision making.

4. Organization Development and Management - Local governments operate in closer proximity to governmental clientele, to other public service providers, and to persons of all social and economic backgrounds than any other level of government. As a result, they have a unique obligation to provide leadership in the provision and integration of public services and to encourage public service providers to upgrade the quality of life at the neighborhood level. As the officer most responsible for overseeing and integrating the provision of such services, the local government chief administrator must be skilled in organizational design and management, and must utilize these skills both within the local government and among the public and private service providers working at the community level.

5. Long-Range Financial Planning - Unceasing growth of local government responsibilities, coupled with continuing public resistance to increased fiscal support for the public sector, makes it imperative that local government managers engage in careful, informed, and accurate projections of future revenues and expenditure needs; be familiar with a wide range of new and different sources of potential program funding; and engage in cash management, capital budgeting, and revenue forecasting strategies designed to optimize their jurisdiction's long- term fiscal health and stability. Toward this end, their educational experiences must give them extensive familiarity not only with public sector budgeting but also with the full range of finance administration tools, and make them cognizant of the need for and methods of long-term financial planning.

6. Information Technology - Local government administrators need to understand emerging trends in electronic systems used to compile, store, and analyze information and data. They need to be sufficiently expert in the use of such systems to understand when and how to manage such technologies, interpret the results of their use, and optimize the community's benefit from their use.

7. Organization, Analysis, and Evaluation of Information - Local administrators must be able to review and assess quickly large volumes of information and to structure and disseminate the information in a way that is comprehensible and usable in policy deliberations by local officials and community residents.

8. Acquisition of Resources - Today, local government administrators need to be especially adept at securing external funding and support from organizations and foundations as well as funds from state and federal governments.

9. Marketing - As local governments increasingly become suppliers of a broader range of public services, with some directed to specific portions of their constituencies, they need to become more proficient at the marketing or dissemination of public information regarding those services and the benefits afforded to potential users.

10. The local government management education should draw upon the curriculum of courses offered by other professional and graduate programs in the university, and especially from the insights offered by programs in law, human and social services, civil engineering, labor relations, planning, and transportation as well as fields traditionally included in the study of public administration such as political science and business administration.

A matrix suggesting how these curriculum suggestions can be integrated into a curriculum designed according to NASPAA standards is provided in Appendix A.

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A curriculum for local government administrators requires a programmatic outlook that focuses on the management of local government. Appropriate faculty input into such a program can be obtained from academics who have developed a special expertise in local government management, from those who interact regularly and professionally with local government managers, from faculty drawn from a variety of professional and academic specializations whose courses incorporate local government examples, as well as from persons with professional experience as local government administrators.

A faculty teaching local government administration should meet the standards set forth for graduate public administration programs by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration. To fully meet the needs of local government management education, such a faculty should also meet the following criteria:

1. The local government management faculty should represent a diverse mix of individuals. It should blend full-time faculty from such disciplines as public administration, political science, planning, sociology, and economics with full-time administrators who can lend a continuing perspective on current urban community characteristics, needs, and operations. Both perspectives are important. Students should grasp and understand the value of each and appreciate the dialectic between them. Elected officials and leaders of citizen organizations should also be routinely included in the program as visiting speakers and resource persons.

2. Full-time faculty are the key elements of the teaching program. Ideally, such faculty members should be professionally involved in local government. They should be regularly engaged in research and publication on local government management and related topics, and they should be personally involved working with local government administrators. Faculty members should also be aware of the practical and ethical problems posed by personal involvement in local electoral politics. Such activity is not a substitute for professional interaction with professional local government managers and it may serve as an impediment to effective rapport with both professional administrators and elected officials.

3. Part-time, adjunct faculty also play a critically important role. In addition to the perspectives afforded by their offices and experiences, they provide a mentor function that is crucial to student development. However, it is important that such faculty be closely supervised and monitored, receive needed pedagogical advice and assistance, and be encouraged to develop expectations and place demands upon students consistent with those established by the program faculty.

4. Local governments ultimately serve all elements of the population. Local government managers thus must be able to relate professionally to, and interact with, men and women of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Local government management faculties can best promote such abilities by exposing students to a diverse mix of professional persons serving as teachers, lecturers, internship supervisors, and mentors. It is thus imperative that local government management programs undertake recruitment and selection programs that will provide students with exposure to such a diversity of persons in all aspects of their educational programs. To achieve this end, local government programs must make an active effort to attract women and minority candidates to their faculty applicant pools and to provide an attractive, supportive campus environment for diverse faculty to pursue their careers. Toward this end, the NASPAA Diversity Guidelines, developed to supplement and augment the NASPAA Standards, need to be rigorously applied in local government education programs.

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Internships -


An internship that integrates the student as an operating member of a management staff is a critical component of the local government management education of pre-service students. The suggestions herein for pre-service internships are more demanding than the regular NASPAA requirements. Local administrators often have a broader range of responsibilities earlier in their careers than administrators at other levels of government. They are required to blend and put into practice more rapidly the broad range of knowledge and skills while experiencing greater scrutiny and pressure from elected officials and the public. The internship, which can be either of a general management or specific administrative function orientation, provides the critical opportunity to test and expand classroom learning under the guidance and teaching of a practitioner supervisor.

For in-service, mid-career students, an internship can also be a valuable experience. It can broaden their perspective, introduce them to new approaches to management and administration, and provide those without administrative experience a practical, working introduction to the profession.

The internship experience is, first and foremost, an educational experience. Both the faculty internship coordinator and the internship supervisor in the administrative agency must function as educators in their dealings with the intern. In particular, supervisors should be informed of their educator role and should assume responsibility for teaching the intern through accepted practicum instruction practices (i.e. application of theoretical knowledge from the classroom to real world situations, demonstration of how knowledge affects problem-solving, interpersonal interactions, communications, and task achievement).

An internship should be a required component of the professional education of pre-service students, and should be made available to mid-career students who can benefit from one.


To fulfill their intended educational purpose, internships should be:

    1. A long-term experience, preferably at least six months full-time or one year part-time. Shorter experiences fail to give the student a sufficient range of experience in observing and participating in diverse activities; they provide too little time for the student to grasp adequately the organizational and political cultures of the employing local government. They also fail to capture the seasonal variations that comprise the administrative year. Interns with long- term appointments are more likely to become operating members of an administrative staff rather than short-term visitors assigned a specific task or project.

    2. Positions with diverse responsibilities. Management interns should be exposed to a broad range of management problems; given diverse work assignments; expected to perform daily management task responsibilities as well as long-term research and report preparation; required to interact with other professionals, inside and outside the local government, and with constituents; given exposure to political meetings and processes; and provided opportunities for interaction in professional association activities. Internships that focus on a particular project or narrow task assignment are not well suited to the development of broad-based professional managers.

    3. Paid positions. Organizations that contribute financially to the support of the internship are more likely, over time, to make more meaningful use of the intern, to provide the intern with more supervision, and to demand more from the intern in terms of professional productivity.

    4. Exclusively graduate in nature. Internship opportunities that mix undergraduate and graduate interns are less likely to provide the kind of administrative experience essential to a professional educational program.

Internship programs can follow several different models. The following are illustrative:

    1. The one-year, full-time model in which the intern spends full time in an internship following a year or more of academic study (University of Kansas model).

    2. The one-year or longer, part-time model in which the intern serves with the government agency while concurrently pursuing a program of graduate study (Northern Illinois University model).

    3. The rotation internship in which, during the course of the internship year, the student is assigned to a number of different administrative offices within a local government (Phoenix, Arizona, model).

    4. The multiple agency model in which the student follows a planned progression, spending some time with two or more different government agencies over the course of a year (Palm Springs, California, model).

    5. The in-service internship model designed to provide administrative experience for in-service students whose work activities have not provided such experience or who want administrative experience in a different setting (University of Delaware model).

Detailed explanations of these models, together with a discussion of their advantages and disadvantages, is contained in Appendix B.

The Mix of Pre-Service and In-Service Graduate Students

The optimum instructional situation is achieved when pre-service and in- service graduate students are mixed in the same classes. Each can learn from the other. The mix creates an atmosphere conducive to a wider exchange of views and perspectives.

Undergraduate Education

Specialized, professional education for local government management should be provided only at the graduate or master's level. Appropriate professional education is best served by combining a broad background of undergraduate studies with a specific, professionally focused graduate program.

Undergraduate education for persons planning to enter the local government management profession should:

    1. Be drawn from a wide variety of undergraduate academic disciplines, including political science, economics, sociology, literature, philosophy, accounting, and engineering. Such a diversity provides both strength for the profession and a richer variety of perspectives in the graduate classroom.

    2. Be supported by an undergraduate program of study which is based heavily in the liberal arts in order to emphasize the study of people and cultures as well as the study of technical subjects and competencies.

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