Context in Public Policy and Management
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Context in Public Policy and Management

The Missing Link?

Edited by Christopher Pollitt

‘Putting into context’ is a very common phrase – both in the social sciences and beyond. But what exactly do we mean by this, and how do we do it? In this book, leading scholars in public policy and management tackle these issues. They show how ideas of context are central to a range of theories and explanations and use an international range of case studies to exemplify context-based explanation. The book uncovers the complexity that lies behind an apparently simple notion, and offers a variety of approaches to decipher that complexity. Context is indeed a missing link, which enables us to make sense of the vital relationship between the general and the particular.
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Christopher Pollitt


All evaluators may or may not understand this – other examples in Pawson’s excellent book make one think that actually not every evaluator is so enlightened. Certainly this ‘inconvenient truth’ has been ignored, defied, neglected or forgotten by many policymakers and public management reformers. In fact it is common for policymakers and management reformers to speak and write (and act) as though the particular solution they have chosen (performance management; Total Quality Management [TQM]; accruals accounting; a ‘nudge’; and so on) will be the solution more or less everywhere and for everyone. A recent example would be the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition government’s plans for reforming the UK civil service. During parliamentary hearings on the plans in January 2013 the Whitehall historian Lord Hennessy joined a line of doubting experts and suggested that the reform was ‘only a fragment of the picture. It needs context, background and synthesis and a proper discussion’ (Public Administration Select Committee, 2013). Other, more dramatic, cases would include those occasions when Western-style management reforms were pushed onto developing countries or, during the 1990s and early 2000s, onto Central and Eastern European states that were candidates for membership of the European Union (EU).

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