University of Tasmania
whole_AdamsDavidW1996_thesis.pdf (16.04 MB)

Ideas in public policy

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posted on 2023-05-27, 07:56 authored by Adams, DW
This thesis examines the extent to which ideas play a role in policy activity and, if so, how. Mainstream policy studies paradigms focus on either the decision making processes or the formal goals and authoritative structures underpinning policy activity to understand the process and outcomes. However, like other work in the emerging 'post-positivist' policy studies literature, this thesis questions the traditional 'rationality' of the conventional paradigms and demonstrates that argumentation, ideas, interpretation and learning within policy networks are also key factors in understanding how and why policy happens. In this approach, focusing on the ideas in play is crucial. So are the policy networks which provide the sites of argumentation and the hustle and bustle of everyday policy work. So is the idea of policy learning in order to understand the circumstances under which ideas emerge, cluster and change. Ideas are classified in the thesis by level of abstraction ranging from macro ideas (eg. social justice, liberalism) to meso-level ideas (eg. merit, charging for public goods) to more concrete, micro-level ideas (eg. a seniors card for the ageing). As becomes evident in the analysis, meso level proximate ideas are central - ideas that link abstract and largely ideological ideas with concrete manifestations in particular cases. Moreover, as proximate ideas become institutionalised and legitimated within the workings of policy networks and the policy process, their influence significantly increases. To examine the role of ideas in policy activity this thesis presents four case studies: equal employment opportunity; social justice; concessions in social policy; and charging for public services. The range of ideas present in each case is examined, as is their emergence, the role of policy networks, and the conditions under which particular ideas or clusters of ideas become more or least influential. The EEO case reveals how central ideas regarding justice, equality, compensation for prior harm and structural efficiency are essentially political resources which are constituted and employed variously by actors in policy networks to manage and shape the process of policy argumentation. the social justice case - examined in relation to the Labor/Green Accord in Tasmania - reveals how, while social justice may be symbolically central to some settings, it was strategically challenged and weakened by more powerful proximate ideas based around economic rationalism, the case of user charging for entry to national parks reveals how some 12 ideas were marshalled against user charging, but that these alternate ideas lacked policy network organisation or institutional consolidation and were therefore ineffectual in competing with the proximate idea of user charging. In the case of concessions reform in social policy the analysis demonstrates how, in the absence of proximate ideas and associated active networks, change is likely to be incremental and uncertain. The central arguments emerging from the analysis are, first, that ideas do play a central role in policy processes and outcomes and that the emergent post positivist approach to policy studies - unlike the traditional paradigms - is able to grasp and reveal that role. Second, it is clear from the case studies that ideas which are given proximate form - made objective, institutionalised and legitimated - are far more likely than others to be influential in the policy process. Third, it is also clear that the manner in which actors in policy networks, learn about, interpret and use these ideas in their relations with other policy networks is also crucial. Integrating these types of arguments with those emerging from research into policy networks and policy learning will contribute to further understanding policy activity and outcomes.


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Copyright 1996 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Includes bibliographical references. Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1996

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