Alas, the extensive body of literature in the field of public policy offers no consensus on a standard of methodology. Most texts provide a brief introduction to the field, then turn to a ephemeral and arbitrary examination of case studies such as economic policy, crime, environment, health, etc. Methodology will be discussed in the next chapter, How to Study Public Policy, and in the first part of Policy Formulation: Analysis. However, several distinct attributes make The Public Policy Cycle Web Site unique, which are explained below. Presumptions lie hidden at the foundation of any text. Rather than presupposing, I will call attention to some of these here:

1. We Take A Critical Outlook Toward Public Policy

We must bring a critical outlook to our analysis of public policy, not taking for granted the public policy process as it appears. The critical perspective transcends party, ideology, and current political regime. Public policy must be regarded as essentially a political process which does not reveal itself as itself. Rather, public policy hides, distorts, and disguises itself so as to maintain its systemic legitimacy and to continue and expand its popular support.

Critical thinking must be consistently applied to all aspects of public policy. We remain skeptical here concerning the nature of public policy. What does this mean? That means that you can demonstrate that you can reflect upon and question prevailing belief systems and that you can clarify the assumptions underlying your knowledge, perspectives, and opinions.

The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary provides two meanings of skepticism, both of which apply here:

  1. The condition of questioning or doubting accepted opinion;

  2. A philosophy which denies the possibility of knowledge, or even rational belief, in certain fields.

Public policy must be regarded as intensely political in nature. Those who intend to impose a presumption of some version of rationality on U.S. public policy will likely be disappointed. A critical outlook requires us to doubt both accepted opinion and the regimes that promote its supporting orthodoxy. We must, at a minimum, be especially incredulous about what we are told about public policy through a compliant media. There is much chatter ricocheting all around us, even as public problems cry out for thoughtful analysis and prudent remedy.

This might trouble us, as well it should. We will go further, to question the entire rationality project which has provided the core belief behind the professionalization of the field of public policy. Until proven otherwise, skepticism in the philosophical sense should be adopted toward public policy here. Candidly, public policy tends to camouflage itself, exhibiting a perfidious capacity to disguise its true nature, intent, and outcomes. Thus, critical thought and a skeptical inclination must be engaged in this enterprise.

Put another way, public policy tends to obscure its intentions, to bewilder the public, and to distort our assessment of its efficacy. Systematic doubt of what appears as legitimate public policy must pervade our entire discourse.

2. The Historical Context Must Always be Considered

Since the New Deal of the 1930s, the scope of public policy has expanded, as has its cost to the taxpayer. The locus of public policy has concentrated within the burgeoning Federal Government over the last seventy years.

Now, however, the complexities and openness of global dynamics intrude conspicuously. Some even suggest that the nation-state's ability to determine effective national policy has withered with the emergence of economic globalization since 1980 or so. The global stage has rendered nations less potent as policy-making instruments. The principal business of public policy is then only to maintain the economic competitiveness of the nation, to promote its export industries, and to make its resources attractive to investors who know no geographic boundaries. Many nations have recently operated under the auspices of the Structural Adjustment Programs of key global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, an austerity now spreading to the wealthy European nations and to states within the U.S.

Further, latent cultural animosities have collided with the sheer turbulence of globalization. Terrorism and militarism have become primary global issues that feed on each other. Indeed, globalization and the sheer pace of social change present a formidable demand on practitioners and students of public policy as we enter the 21st century. Are you ready for the challenge?

3. The Public Policy Cycle Helps Us Understand

Public policy can be understood as a process whose dynamics are situated within the public policy cycle. However, this cycle is not posited as simplistic abstraction of what might actually be a gerry-rigged hodgepodge. Rather, the cycle model can help us understand how public policy is not working to the satisfaction of the American people. The cycle provides a sequence within which aspects of public policy can be orderly presented and a flexible, dynamic framework guiding a comprehensive understanding. The public policy cycle might provide a container within which a dynamic outlook can be put forward.

The Public Policy Cycle Web Site | Page: © Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. | ™ ProfWork |
Initialized: May 22, 2001 | Last Update: May 25, 2011