Edited by H. K. Colebatch and Robert Hoppe
Chapter 7: ‘Stage’ theories of the policy process
The policy sciences, a multidisciplinary movement initiated by Harold D. Lasswell and a group of collaborators including Myres S. McDougall, Abraham Kaplan, and Daniel Lerner, provided a new vision of the relation between the social sciences and policymaking. Few before Lasswell had combined multidisciplinary breadth with a pragmatic theory of knowledge that saw ideas as instruments of practical action. Policy decisions were the consequence of an abductive (not deductive or inductive) process of responding to the indeterminacy that Dewey called a problem situation. The response required, first, stating a desired future outcome, and then identifying the causal mechanisms necessary to achieve it. Although there had been prior efforts to develop multidisciplinary research based on various social science disciplines, only the policy sciences integrated multidisciplinarity with a pragmatic theory of knowledge and action. This pragmatist perspective, which has touched virtually every aspect of teaching and research in public policy, not only mandated the creation of knowledge about the policymaking process, but insisted that such knowledge be used to improve that process. Lasswell’s theory of the decision process, contrary to critics who see that theory as a linear or mono-cyclical “stages heuristic,” is a product of John Dewey’s functionalist theory of social and behavioral change, on one hand, and Chester Barnard’s concept of the decision as the basic unit of analysis in policymaking. Lasswell’s theory of the decision process, properly conceived, should be reinvented in these pragmatist and functionalist terms.
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