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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Fourth link

Christopher Pollitt


In this final link I will review Part III, Chapters 15 to 21 (well, I will not comment on Chapter 21 because to review my own chapter seems unduly narcissistic, as well as highly likely to be biased). As in previous links, I will seek to connect the ideas in individual chapters with those in other chapters, and with the broader literatures of public policy and administration. Erik-Hans Klijn and his colleagues have tried to do some of what Isabella Proeller was asking for in her chapter on methods. They have defined and operationalized context (among other variables) and then conducted statistical tests to establish how much influence context has on performance. They have done this internationally, comparing three countries. The conclusion they arrive at is that network performance has been more influenced by management strategies (forms of agency, in our earlier discussions) than by the contextual characteristics of the networks in question. This finding held for all three countries compared – the Netherlands, Spain and Taiwan. This is, then, a particularly valuable element in the book because it offers a full working example of what might be called ‘normal science’ – hypotheses, data collection based on pre-defined variables, statistical testing, findings. At the same time, however, the chapter illustrates some of the great difficulties of doing this kind of work really well.

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