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Gene A. Brewer

Discover Your Public Service Identity


Brewer, Selden, and Facer, in a shockingly under-discussed academic article published in 2000, contributed to theories of public-service motivation by identifying four individual orientations. It helps to think of them as four different do-good personality types: samaritans, communitarians, patriots, and humanitarians.

If you’re a samaritan, then civic duty and public service are central to your identity. Samaritans feel good as a result of giving to others. They empathize with the underprivileged, and expect those that they help to exert effort on their own behalf. They are deeply compassionate and caring.

If you’re a communitarian, then you are dedicated to giving back to society, and especially your community. Communitarians and samaritans are most likely to help others, even when they are not paid to do so. Unlike samaritans, however, communitarians feel no special connection to the disadvantaged, and aim to give back to the community as a whole. Communitarians have high standards of public officials, and believe that the greater good means elevating entire groups of people who are in need.

If you’re a patriot
, then you are fiercely loyal, and you stick to what you see needs to be done. Patriots would risk significant personal loss in the name of what they believe to be the greater good, and are drawn to problems that are much bigger than themselves. Patriots risk self-sacrifice for their beliefs and feel a strong sense of duty to the public and to themselves.

If you’re a humanitarian
, then social justice is central to motivating you and you tend to think about the big picture. Humanitarians are focused more on what they consider to be fair and right. They are very responsible, and making a difference in greater society is important to them. Humanitarians have a knack for building connections and inspiring others, but are not as likely to work without compensation as a Samaritan or a Communitarian.


For fun– and justified by the fact that the Myer-Briggs Personality Test was actually created by an ordinary housewife who was trying to understand her son-in-law– I’ve put together an unscientific personality test to help you identify your public-service motivation identity according to Brewer, Selden and Facer. This test assumes that you are motivated by ideals of public service. If you are taking this test and none of these answers apply to you, chances are you do not run strongly on public service motivation.

Count how many S, C, P, and Hs with which you identify:

1) If you were a superhero, you’d consider yourself to be the guardian of:
A) the community (C)
B) the greater good (P)
C) social justice (H)
D) the underprivileged (S)

2) You are most driven by the thought of making positive changes for:
A) all of mankind (H)
B) the nation as a whole (P)
C) entire communities (C)
D) other individuals (S)

3. Would you continue to serve citizens if you were not compensated?

A) Absolutely. I know that even one person can make a difference– and I’m going to do it. (S)
B) Yes. Giving back is very important to me. (C)
C) Maybe. To work without payment, I’d have to be 100% dedicated to the cause. (P)
D) Probably not. It takes a lot of resources to contribute in the way that I want to. I also need to make sure my basic needs are met in order to be most innovative. (H)

4) Which of these projects sounds most interesting to you:
A) developing a network of contacts to seek assistance for a variety of social causes. These contacts will help spearhead a food pantry, winter coat distribution, and a school bus safety check. (H)
B) after losing a loved one to a brutal murder, you’d start a nonprofit to provide emotional support and advocacy for victims of crime. Your service would help make changes in laws that have give victims a stronger presence in the legal process. (P)
C) personally making shoes for the homeless and getting your friends to help, too. Together you can help out over 1200 homeless men and women! (S)
D) Turning around a community that is in shambles. You’ll work to establish after school and off-site tutoring, culture, and sports initiatives and work with the state to establish the county’s first special programs for at risk students. (C)

5) Which of these public servants do you most admire?
A) Mother Teresa (S)
B) Martin Luther King Jr (P)
C) Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey (H)
D) Abraham Lincoln (C)

Mostly S- You’re a samaritan.

Mostly C- You’re a communitarian.

Mostly P- You’re a patriot.

Mostly H- You’re a humanitarian


Please feel free to share your public service identity in the comments section. It would be interesting to get a sense of which is the most/least common orientation among contemporary leaders. (I am a communitarian).


Note: The information in this post relies heavily on information from these three academic articles.


Posted on by colleendilen in Leadership, Lessons Learned, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change 2 Comments