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B. Guy Peters

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B. Guy Peters

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B. Guy Peters

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B. Guy Peters

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B. Guy Peters

The political appeal of policy transfer is obvious. The attempts to diffuse the ideas of the new public management have offered a useful laboratory for learning about large-scale policy diffusion, but the lessons do not appear to have been learned as well as they might. These ideas were tried in many Central and Eastern European countries, but with, at best, minimal success. Building on previous chapters, this chapter provides a summary of how to learn from the experiences of other countries, and how to borrow in the context of the intersecting processes of experimentation and indigenization.

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B. Guy Peters

Public policy can be considered a design science. It involves identifying relevant problems, selecting instruments to address the problem, developing institutions for managing the intervention, and creating means of assessing the design. Policy design has become an increasingly challenging task, given the emergence of numerous ‘wicked’ and complex problems. Much of policy design has adopted a technocratic and engineering approach, but there is an emerging literature that builds on a more collaborative and prospective approach to design. This book will discuss these issues in policy design and present alternative approaches to design.
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B. Guy Peters

Scholars and the individuals involved in making public policy use a variety of words to describe how they actually arrive at the content of those policies. Perhaps the most commonly used word is “formulation” (see Jordan and Turnpenny, 2015), but words such as creation, innovation, and development are also used to describe the process of finding some form of intervention to confront a policy problem. The hope is always that the policy that is formulated or created will be able to “solve” the problem, and that government (and citizens) can go on to cope with the next problem that arises. When Herbert Simon (1996, 111) wrote that “everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”, the definition was somewhat generic but was definitely speaking to policy design. Although thinking about policy design has become more common in policy studies, it should be considered as a significant alternative to more casual ways of thinking about policy formulation. As Jan Tinbergen (1958, 3), a Nobel laureate in economics argued, design (in particular design for development policy) was an alternative to “decisions taken on the basis of a general idea of progress and often somewhat haphazardly”. That haphazard style of making policies persists in many countries and in many policy areas. Therefore, careful consideration of design strategies is important for both academic students of policy and policymakers in the “real world” of government.

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B. Guy Peters

There is an old saying that a problem well put is half solved. This much is obvious. What is not so obvious is how to put the problem well. (Churchman et al., 1957) A policy problem is an unrealized need, value, or opportunity for improvement (Dunn, 2016). Public policymaking is ultimately about solving, or at least attempting to solve, policy problems. That is easy to say, but much harder to do. One of the first barriers encountered when attempting to solve problems is being able to define problems in any meaningful way that can facilitate designing adequate solutions for those problems. As noted in the previous chapter, one of the basic requirements for policy design is having a theory of causation, and that theory is fundamentally related to the definition of the policy problem. While we may be able to attach a convenient label to any problems identified within society, we need to understand more fundamentally the causes of those problems and the dynamics through which they emerge. Understanding the dynamics of the targets of the problem (Kiviniemi, 1986) will help design effective policies as well as prevent waste and unintended consequences. As we will address in greater detail in this chapter, if there were a single understanding of a problem the resolution of that problem would be simple. However, unfortunately for both academic analysts and practitioners, the world of policymaking is rarely that simple. Almost any policy problem of any consequence can be conceptualized in a variety of ways, and those alternative views of policy can produce very different ideas about how best to intervene to affect the issue. As I will be arguing throughout this and the following chapters, this conceptualization of policymaking means that the definition of policy problems is a political process, and not a technical exercise (see Hoppe, 2010). That political process of defining the problem, and through that process attempting to understand the possible means of solving the problem, is as political, albeit perhaps not so overtly so, as the processes of formulating and legitimating a solution to the problem.

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B. Guy Peters

Making public policy is difficult. Richard Coyne (2005) argues that confronting ill-defined and awkward problems that are, in essence, wicked problems is the norm for policymaking, and that being able to deal with well-defined and rational policymaking is the exception. If that is at all an accurate depiction of the nature of contemporary policymaking then we need to invest heavily in understanding these problems if we are going to be able to cope with policy design, whether as academics or as practitioners. The preceding chapter provided a discussion of policy problems from a somewhat general perspective. In this chapter I will focus on a particular class of problems that have been referred to as “wicked”, “messy”, “complex”, or “intractable”. While, as Coyne points out, decision-makers should be careful in expecting any policy problem to be simple, or “tame”, clearly some problems are still more difficult than others. While many of the same principles of design may be applied to wicked problems, they also require some very careful attention and differentiated strategies if policy designers are to be effective in coping with them.