Handbook of American Public Administration
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Handbook of American Public Administration

Edited by Edmund C. Stazyk and H. G. Frederickson

The Handbook of American Public Administration draws on the expertise of established and emerging scholars to provide national and international audiences a comprehensive review of the current state and future direction of theory and practice in US public administration. The authors provide a cross-disciplinary, holistic review of the field and pave an agenda for future research.
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Chapter 29: Theoretical foundations and design principles to improve policy and program implementation

Jodi R. Sandfort

Abstract

There is a deep paradox within public management scholarship. While there is a fundamental belief about a pragmatist orientation that provides rigorous research to help answer relevant questions for public and nonprofit managers, conventions of social science often pulls scholars away from these commitments. This chapter explores the use of a design-based, intervention approach as an alternative. Applying lessons from complex systems, organizational learning, and public engagement, it moves beyond conventional “translation” exercises and illustrates how a design-based approach leverages contextual knowledge of the setting. It considers a fundamental question: what might be learned from the application of repeated interventions, or ‘probes’ into a complex system to create change? The theoretical foundation for this approach is the strategic action field framework for implementation research which offers an explanation for the variations within implementation systems not explained by predictive social science.

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