Making Policy in Theory and Practice

Making Policy in Theory and Practice

Making Policy in Theory and Practice (edited by Hugh Bochel and Sue Duncan) has just been published by The Policy Press.

I have a chapter in it looking at the potential for policy to become a learning experience. Putting together the chapter was certainly a challenge; the idea for the book was to take nine core ‘competencies’ identified in a government review titled ‘Professional Policy Making for the Twenty-First Century’ and turn each into a chapter for the book.

Unfortunately (for me), mine – capable of learning lessons – was the final of these core competencies and, on closer inspection, remarkably like the two that proceeded it – open to review and open to evaluation – as well as drawing much from the ‘outward looking’ competency. In fact, once these elements had been covered by my co-authors, there seemed to be remarkably little left to say, and certainly Professional Policy Making for the Twenty-First Century had little more than a few lines to say about my allocated topic! In fact, for the most part, it seemed to relegate lesson learning to the improved dissemination of evaluation findings.

With a little prod from some colleagues from within government assigned to offer some thoughts to help shape the argument, the chapter ended up in the (some would say) murky realms of complexity theory, posing some rather difficult questions about what learning might mean in a (non-linear) policy context, particularly when evaluation is often so tightly linked to quantitatively measured performance targets.

The temptation that governments often give into when undertaking reviews of policy making processes (and one that some of the academic policy analysis literature gives into also) is to prescribe tighter and tighter control of the policy making ‘machine’ in order allow for the more efficient delivery of policy makers’ ideas. However, the ‘machine’ is an illusion and ‘control’ impossible. Learning that adopts such overly simplistic views of the policy process risks being too narrow… or so the chapter argues!