Interrogating Public Policy Theory
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Interrogating Public Policy Theory

A Political Values Perspective

Linda C. Botterill and Alan Fenna

This book questions the way policy making has been distanced from politics in prevailing theories of the policy process, and highlights the frequently overlooked ubiquity of values and values conflicts in politics and policy. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of current theories, reviews the illusions of rationalism in politics, and explores the way values are implicated throughout the democratic process, from voter choice to policy decisions. It argues that our understanding of public policy is enhanced by recognizing its intrinsically political and value-laden nature.
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Chapter 4: Rationalism and its critics

Linda C. Botterill and Alan Fenna


One of the most persistent themes in the public policy literature has centred around the aspiration of a rational process of policy development that draws on the best available human knowledge. The policy sciences as laid out by Harold Lasswell were based on a very optimistic, positivist view of the relationship between knowledge and the policy process. The aspiration of rationality attracted a strong critique from Charles Lindblom who argued that strategic approaches to policy analysis, such as incrementalism, were more realistic and more effective given the resource, time and cognitive limitations facing the real world decision maker. Herbert Simon’s concept of bounded rationality suggested that some form of rationality could be achieved but within limits.

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