Policy Design or Organizational Design: On the Relevance of the Study of Public Policy and Administration

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Published in Public Administration, online 31 May 2020


Whether the relevance and usefulness of a scientific discipline should be a major concern seems contested. To some, scientific research is dedicated to knowledge per se and a human spirit of inquiry. Nevertheless, the relevance topic is an enduring theme, so also in political science where it occasionally is set explicitly on the research agenda (e.g. Holmberg and Rothstein, 2012; Stoker et al., 2015). However, arguably, relevance relates to both providing “pure knowledge” on polity, politics and policy and to providing instruments for practical problem solving in the political sphere. It could be wise to separate between the two: In my view, the relevance of the discipline is indisputable regarding the first concern. Since political order probably constitutes the most important societal component in our lives, it should be rather obvious that citizens in general need research-based knowledge about its organization, recruitment, decision-making and outputs. In particular, this holds for professions like politicians, public bureaucrats, political journalists, lobbyists and schoolteachers in social science. The second concern, however, whether the discipline provides tools for practical problem solving, seems far more contested: to what extent is the discipline equipped to deal with trivial as well as serious challenges such as climate change, migration or pandemics (like Covid-19)? In the following, I will discuss two approaches that both aim at providing such tools, namely a policy design focus and an organizational design focus. Both approaches mainly belong to the sub-discipline Public Policy and Administration (PPA). I argue, inter alia, that the dominance of a policy design focus is highly surprising since the dependent variables (effects to be achieved) in this case tend to be located outside the core area of PPA research.


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Published July 3, 2020 11:45 AM - Last modified May 31, 2021 3:42 PM