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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Third link

Christopher Pollitt


Only one chapter has gone by since my second link, and readers may be wondering why I need to put fingers to keys again so soon. The short answer is that Isabella Proeller’s chapter was an unusual and pivotal one in the sequence of this book. Cold showers, though a bit of a shock at first, are said to be very good for the health. Proeller’s chapter served, inter alia, as a bit of a cold shower, since it brought us down from the realms of high theory to face the practical questions most social science researchers have to face – how do I design my research; how do I define my key concepts; how do I measure them; what kind of relationships (strong/weak; one-directional/ two directional; and so on) exist between them? In short, this was the first chapter to focus primarily on methodology. Not only that, but the conclusions Proeller arrived at are fairly critical: much public management research is sloppy (my word) about defining context, doing it inductively in the course of the argument rather than defining it as part of a model at the outset. Most research designs (if they deserve to be called ‘designs’ at all) are indeterminate, and inference and strength of relationships cannot be formally tested.

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