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The Anatomy of Public Problems: Building a Methodology of Policy Analysis

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Oakerson, Ronald J.
Date: 1980
Agency: Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN Series:Working Paper, No. W80-21
Series:
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/4467
Sector: Theory
Region:
Subject(s): Workshop
institutional analysis--IAD framework
public policy
policy analysis
public goods and bads
Ostrom, Vincent
Abstract: From p. 1: Public policy analysis is rich in methods and poor in methodology. As the number and sophistication of methods continue to increase, the failure to build an integral mode of analysis becomes the more apparent. A wealth of technique does not yield a systematic way of proceeding with the analysis of a problem--a theory of how to proceed and why. the missing ingredient is methodological; a logic-of doing policy analysis..." From pp. 3-5: Ostrom challenged the preoccupation of scholarship in American public administration with (1) descriptive work focused upon singular 'organizations' based on hierarchical principles and (2) prescriptive work advocating the perfection of hierarchy as a universal approach to solving public problems. Drawing upon both modern political economists and classic political theorists, he went on to sketch an alternative paradigm of publica administration, taking account of the limits and possibilities of various organizational arrangements. Rather than dichotomizing policy and administration, as in the orthodox view, Ostrom treats various forms of organization as alternative instruments of public policy. In this context the essential problem of organization theory, he writes (1974:55) is to: 1)anticipate the consequences which follow when 2) self-interested individuals choose maximizing strategies within 3)particular organization arrangements when applied to 4) particular structures of events. These are the basic elements and relationships involved in the use of organization as an instrument of policy. Ostrom's principal concerns in this piece of work are to demonstrate both the potential variety of organization arrangements and the necessary conditions of general democratic organization to realize the full advantage of that potential variety. This leads to a reconsideration of the principles of constitutionalism and federalism, as developed both by Madison and Hamilton and by Tocqueville, viewed now as a theory of 'democratic administration,' in contrast to the tenets of 'bureaucratic administration' which have come to dominate American administrative thought in this century..." Methodologically, applied policy analysis is a problem of selecting, collecting, sorting, sifting, and otherwise organizing bits and pieces of information in order to reconstruct the logic of a situation. Public problems, like all genuine problems, are surrounded by confusion. To develop an understanding of a problem--to make sense out of it--requires that one deal with a situation on its own terms. Thus information, as the empirical component of analysis, is essential. Yet information is more than data. As Wildavsky (1974:231) has made the distinction, information is 'data collected according to a theory. . .' The emprical component depends upon a theoretical component. 'Analysis' denotes the use of theory to interpret data in order to produce information. The basic tool, therefore, in a methodology of policy analysis is a model which facilitates this information- building process. Ostrom identified the four basic elements of such a model: (1) the structure of events, (2) decision making (or organization) arrangements, (3) individual choice of strategies, and (4) outcomes or consequences."

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