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Jenny Stewart1 Public Policy as Information A research agenda Professor Jenny Stewart Visiting Fellow, School of Business, ADFA 9 April 2009.

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Presentation on theme: "Jenny Stewart1 Public Policy as Information A research agenda Professor Jenny Stewart Visiting Fellow, School of Business, ADFA 9 April 2009."— Presentation transcript:

1 Jenny Stewart1 Public Policy as Information A research agenda Professor Jenny Stewart Visiting Fellow, School of Business, ADFA 9 April 2009

2 Jenny Stewart2 My aims for today  To outline a major research project that will (I hope) change the way we think about public policy  To explore (from my perspective) where some of the ideas might go  To invite reactions from the School

3 Jenny Stewart3 My proposition  We can significantly improve the effectiveness of public policy by understanding its content and processes as a form of information.

4 Jenny Stewart4 I see implications for  Policy learning and evaluation  Implementation  Instrument choice  Policy design  As well as work in networks, communicative theories of public policy

5 Jenny Stewart5 My background  Escaped public servant; academic from 1993  As a public servant, struck by the futility of much that we did  How to connect with the problems that we saw?

6 Jenny Stewart6 Some examples  Reports, submissions and briefs that were never read by Ministers, let alone acted upon  Promising ideas that could not be ‘sold’ up the line  Simplistic solutions that became entrenched, not because they were good, but because they were convenient

7 Jenny Stewart7 My intuition was..  Bureaucratic hierarchy was a poor way of making policy  Our attempts at control often made matters worse  We needed new ways of conceptualising public policy

8 Jenny Stewart8 The academic view (Dryzek)  Policy capacity constantly tested (response to global financial crisis one of many problems)  Conventional ways of ‘doing’ policy (ie through centralised politics and bureaucracy) may have reached their limits  New approaches (eg deliberative governance) needed but remain undeveloped

9 Jenny Stewart9 Further examples of the problem  Unintended consequences when linkages overlooked or misunderstood (eg effects of privatisation on training)  Misdirected interventions because we misunderstand the system (eg r & d incentives)  Clumsy interventions because policy instruments too coarse (eg Commonwealth’s relationship to universities)

10 Jenny Stewart10 What’s information  Reduction of uncertainty  More nuanced understandings of info eg Kenneth Boulding: information is ‘form’ or ‘pattern’ that conveys meaning  The act of communication builds meaning (contrast with information as commodity to be bought and sold)

11 Jenny Stewart11 What’s policy?  Two key models Rational model (policy cycle) Structured interaction (see Colebatch 2002)  Both have a role for information  Rational model: collect information about the world; analyse it; then use it within a causal model.

12 Jenny Stewart12 Interaction models  Information is produced and used in many ways  It is the process that shapes the outcome  Hierarchy, markets and networks

13 Jenny Stewart13 Hierarchy  Information flows upwards for decision, and downwards (and outwards) for implementation  Information is generated in functionally distinct parts of organisations

14 Jenny Stewart14 Networks  Networks loose mechanisms for cooperation/collaboration  They can be ‘managed’ in various ways  Information flows are less constrained, less stylised than in the hierarchical bureaucracy

15 Jenny Stewart15 Markets  Information most decentralised here.  Prices are formed in ways that reflect the information in people’s heads  But this information moves, and is used, in ways that are not controlled by any one mind (Hayek 1974)

16 Jenny Stewart16 Public policies  Use all these modalities  But often, not very well  There is a fundamental problem Accountability versus flexibility  If we allow public servants more freedom to respond to problems, we cannot also expect to retain highly centralised forms of decision-making

17 Jenny Stewart17 A way forward?  To what extent do existing theories of public policy help us resolve this problem?  Systems theories (Easton, Luhmann)  Communicative theories (Fischer)  Networking theories (Kickert; Provan and Milward)  Governance-related theories (Dryzek)

18 Jenny Stewart18 Systems theory  Systems theory – the theory that died in policy science?  Eastman: simple model of the political system  Luhmann (theory of social differentiation thru reflexivity of systems)  Checkland (‘soft’ systems theory – understanding organisational processes)

19 Jenny Stewart19 Luhmann  Systems theory Luhmann: self-structuring properties of networks Actors don’t know the full possibilities of what they are doing: they emerge as communication develops  Increasing social complexity implies increasing complexity in government  But where does public policy fit in?

20 Jenny Stewart20 If we start with policy  Can we see public policy in general as a form of information?  Yes – policy systems respond to signals that something is wrong (eg when regulation fails to work, we get a strong signal that we need better regulation)  Public policy is an attempt to structure complexity and manage risk (eg when we create a system of public education; or when we make superannuation compulsory)

21 Jenny Stewart21 Processes that produce signals  Media commentary  Informal communication  Performance measurement  Audit  Evaluation  Consultation

22 Jenny Stewart22 Processes that produce systems  Implementing activities Eg Creating new organisations  Coordinating activities Eg specifying decision points  Resourcing activities Eg executing budgets  Motivating activities Eg incentives and regulations

23 Jenny Stewart23 In more specific terms  Policy is all about information flow  When we talk about networks, we are trying to capture this aspect of policy  An information-based model of policy might, therefore, try to understand the costs and benefits of different kinds of organisational connections in terms of signalling, response and action.

24 Jenny Stewart24 Policy Agency A Policy Agency B Management Agency A Management Agency B Clients Other agencies Coordination Fig 1 Relationships in conventional policy

25 Jenny Stewart25 A B C D E Clients Fig 2 Networking model Network shape determined by problem area Agencies

26 Jenny Stewart26 Network Node agency A Network Node agency A ‘vertical’ accountability axis Network Node agency B ‘outwards’ accountability Information flows Other links Agency A Agency B Figure 3 Polycentric nodality ‘vertical’ axis agency B

27 Jenny Stewart27 Where to next?  I am hoping that I have the beginnings of a theory here  Or maybe a way of re-interpreting existing theory  Or maybe a ‘thought-starter’ - a way of stimulating new work on a variety of fronts

28 Jenny Stewart28 References  Colebatch (2002) Policy (2 nd ed) Open University Press  Checkland (1999) Systems theory, systems practice, Wiley  Dryzek (1987) Rational Ecology, OUP  Easton (1965) A systems analysis of political life, Uni of Chicago Press  Hayek (1974) Nobel Memorial Lecture  Kickert (1997) Management of Complex Networks, Sage  Luhmann (1982) Differentiation of Society, Columbia  Provan and Milward (2000) ‘Governing the hollow state’ Public Admin Research and Theory, 10(2)


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