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Ideas in public policy

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Adams, DW (1996) Ideas in public policy. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

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.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Social policy, Civil service, Discrimination in employment
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

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).

Additional Information:

Includes bibliographical references. Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1996

Date Deposited: 25 Nov 2014 00:46
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2017 03:06
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