3 Most accounts, old and new: Examine the amount of control from the ‘centre’, either as a single decision-maker or a ‘core-executive’Attempt to explain stability and change in the policy processBreak down large complex systems into more manageable, discrete sectionsDissatisfaction with artificial distinctions leads to rejection in favour of something newBut the aim of explanation stays the same
4 Comprehensive Rationality - relevance to policy analysis There are still plenty of attempts to appear rational in government or to make issues look technical (to be solved by experts)e.g. Comprehensive Spending Reviews (used for marginal change/ political pressure), CBA (M74?), major policy inquiriesRationality conditions are therefore a good point of departure, to examine the power of the ‘centre’ or explain why policy may not change as intended
5 Rationality and incrementalism “Comprehensive rationality” often set up as an ideal (in 2 senses) or a strawman of decision-making procedures effecting policy changeDifferent models – incrementalism, bounded rationality – presented as a more realistic description (with some debate over the prescriptive use of these terms)Key prescriptive difference may be in the assumption of a central/ single decision-maker
6 What is comprehensive rationality? An ideal description or prescription of decision-making behaviour:Policy aims or ends are identified in terms of the values of the policy makerAll means to achieve those ends are identifiedThe best means are selectedAnalysis of the decision-making context is comprehensive – i.e. all relevant factors/ possibilities have been consideredAre there assumptions – central decision-maker or coherent organisation? Everyone gets what they want subject to resource constraints?
7 John (1999: 33):“Put simply, the rational actor model conceives policy to be a logical, reasoned and neutral way organizations assess problems, propose solutions, then choose and carry out courses of action. The model has several assumptions … there are clear cut stages to decision-making. Organizations can make decisions when they are faced with choices. They rank the decisions and one emerges as a clear winner. When organizations make their choices, the preference rankings between them are consistent. Every participant in the policy process gets what they want, subject to the constraint of resources”.
8 Similar to rational choice? Same use of ideal types – perfect information, unlimited resources …But not generally used as an aid to predictionRather, used as a point of departure:Bounded rationality and ‘satisficing’ (implying comprehensive is the ideal)Incrementalism
9 Bounded rationality Incomplete knowledge and information Uncertainty over current situation and consequences of policy “solution”Inability to consider every possible solutionUnwillingness to consider all solutionsDifficult to separate of facts and valuesAlso note the distinction between individual and organisational rationality (is there such a thing as organisational rationality?)Simon’s solution relates to “satisficing” or seeking solutions which are “good enough”Focus on e.g. training to minimise problems
10 Similar discussion by Jones Searches for knowledge are incompleteOrganisations do not have the capacity or inclination to seek every available solutionThe means or solutions to achieve ends do not just exist – they have to be producedPolicy problems are subject to definitionSolutions often exist before problemsA choice may be consistent with goal A but not goal B
11 Jones’ factors 3-5:Have obvious links with agenda setting literature (later lecture)Problems are subject to definition or “framing”Competition between policy actors (link to lectures on power)Solutions before problems associated with KingdonSolutions creating problems?
12 Incrementalism – problems with comprehensive rationality: Cognitive/ problem-solving abilityAvailable information – especially of future consequences and future conditionsThe cost of researchThe inability to distinguish between facts and valuesThe dynamics of the policy process and the way in which issues arise (decision-makers may need to react to events much more than devoting time to policy planning)
13 Solution is “successive limited comparisons” based on: A recognition that values and empirical analysis are intertwinedThere is no widespread agreement on the cause and hence the solution of the problem (or the way to implement the solution)A rejection of means/ ends in favour of agreement/ negotiation between pressure participants and decision-makersLimited analysis of policies not already in placeBig focus on solving problems of existing policySuccess measured as the level of agreement of those involved
14 Benefits of incrementalism - descriptive When decisions are made, the starting point is not a blank sheet of paperWe cannot ignore:the extent of existing commitmentsthe effort invested by decision-makers and powerful groups into achieving previous agreements on policy.
15 Expressed similarly in other accounts Inheritance before choice in public policy:Most policy based on existing legislation. Most day-to-day policy has no ministerial input.Attention to one aspect of public policy means ignoring 99 others.
16 2. Policy successionSize and scope of government means that any “new” policy is likely to be a revision of an old one“New” policies often there only to solve problems caused by old policy
17 3. Lack of Policy Termination Few policies terminated, even fewer not replacedTermination has costs (financial, political) and may smack of failure without replacementTermination opposed by vested interestsTermination undermined by organisations operating under relative anonymity or seeking new ways to justify their existence
18 4. Path DependenceWhen commitment to a policy has been established and resources are devoted to it, over time it becomes increasingly or relatively costly to choose a different policyExamples in the UK include:Responsibilities in Scotland and Wales after devolutionNHS or education “reconfiguration”
19 Benefits of incrementalism - prescriptive More focussed on the problem at hand?Based on trials and error/ past decisions?Less costly or more efficient use of resources?Less disruptive? I.e. each actor will be more likely to accept decisions.In other words, no need to reinvent the wheelAssumes good reason for past decisions
20 Criticisms of incrementalism - prescriptive Assumption that previous policies are adequate?Does not address the “grand issues”?What happens when society is predisposed towards significant change?Assumption of pluralism/ dispersal of power?E.g. focus on “mutual adjustment” rather than coercion or dominance (e.g. tobacco)US-centric? Assumption of checks/ balances?
21 Leads to alternatives: Dror and meta-policy (deciding how to make policy)Incrementalism is accurate descriptionPrescription of highlighting areas where incrementalism appropriate and other areas where bold steps are requiredEtzioni and mixed scanning –Applies also to descriptionMore focus needed and apparent on “fundamental” decisions such as declaring war(Yet even entering into war can be incremental process)
22 Criticisms of incrementalism – descriptive (Jones) Does not explain examples of profound policy change when decision-makers shift their attentionLong periods of stability are interrupted by short but intense periods of rapid change.Interesting that the basis for Jones’ argument is also the limit to rationalityLimited resources (time, knowledge, attention)Cannot deal with full range of ideas/ problemsIgnore most and lift few to the top of the agendaResult is profound change in a small number of areas
23 Intractable debate?Much of the debate comes down to the size of the incrementCan radical change happen in a series of small steps?Distinction between incremental politics and adequacy of incremental approach to analysis?If the debate is intractable we can still extract basic points on stability/ change – description is qualified or constrained policy change?Difference by policy area?
24 Links to other lectures Policy transfer – key critique that literature assumes rational processAgenda setting and policy monopolies (Jones)MLG – undermines the idea of a central decision-maker (a key feature of the incrementalist criticism of rationality?).Smoking –example of UK suggests strong political rather than “rational“ explanationWas change incremental or fundamental (see articles on Scottish and UK examples)?Also clear links to power lectures. Note the assumption of pluralism in early Lindblom, assumptions around the dispersal of power in both accounts