Monday, May 7, 2012

MBR: Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making

I decided I was going to read a book a week for a year, here's a quick review of this week's book.  You can see the ongoing list here.

Basic Info

Why I read it

It was recommended to me as essential reading by a friend of mine; hell, he even lent it to me!

How it connects to the Public Sector

The book is straight out of a university course on public administration; it deals with everything from multiple understandings of equity to the purposeful use symbols and numbers to define a given issue.

What I got out of reading it

The real mark of this book is its ability to expand your breadth in a structured way without sounding as though it is prescribing policy solutions on either side of the typical left/right spectrum; after all its not often you can pick up a policy book that isn't prescriptive.

Here are a couple of choice quotations, first from the chapter on Efficiency:
"Efficiency is always a contestable concept. Everyone supports the general idea of getting the most out of something, but to go beyond the vague slogans and apply the concept to a concrete policy choice requires making assumptions about who and what counts as important. There are no correct answers to these questions to be found outside the political process. The answers built into supposedly technical analyses of efficiency are nothing more than political claims." (p65, Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making by Deborah Stone)
And now from the chapter on Symbols:
The strategy of focusing on a part of the problem, particularly one that can dramatized as a horror story, thus is likely to lead to skewed policy. Yet is is often a politically useful strategy. It is a good organizing tool, because it can make a problem concrete, allow people to identify with someone else, and mobilize anger. It also reduces the scope of the problem and makes it more manageable. (p147-148, Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making by Deborah Stone).
Now, I'd be lying if I said I was done this book yet. As it stands I am only about half way through, but in my defence its a bit thick and there is a lot of meat on the bone. I'll finish it up this week and review the second half next week, but so far I think that Policy Paradox is good reading for anyone interested in public policy (though if you already have a political science degree as I do, some of it may be review).

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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