Making Sense of Public Policy in a Fragmented World: the Search for Solutions and the Limits of Learning

Fenwick, John and McMillan, Janice (2012) Making Sense of Public Policy in a Fragmented World: the Search for Solutions and the Limits of Learning. In: RUC Sunrise Conference - Transforming Governance, Enhancing Innovation, 29-31 October 2012, Roskilde University, Denmark.

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This paper explores innovation, learning and change in an environment where the historical moment of ‘New Public Management’ (NPM) has given way to unprecedented fluidity in public policy and decision making. To begin, we examine key elements of the post-NPM environment, where foundational approaches (in theory and practice) can be challenged either by innovation or by default to previous positions: both trends are evident in the incoherence of policy responses to the global economic crisis. We then consider the search for meaning and sense-making by policy actors who seek new solutions to cope with intractable problems. This can generate innovative responses, including the growth of Third Sector (voluntary organisation) involvement in public policy and public services, or the rediscovery of a public service ethic amidst the banking crisis, including citizen withdrawal from multi-national banks in favour of ethical or mutual providers. We will then suggest that although there is a certain inevitability to the process of change in an era which has moved beyond modernist and foundationalist solutions, this does not necessarily generate positive and desirable innovation. Change may instead involve a retreat to failed responses of a previous era. It is as though a familiar script is still recited by policy actors even though the overall storyline has fundamentally changed. In this sense, entrenched learning may produce negative results even though ‘reverse organisational learning’ (ie organisational amnesia) may accord a superficial appearance of novelty. This may be readily illustrated by examples from recent European public policy. Finally, in an era where the modernist conception of gradual mastery (of the world, and of theory) has fallen away, the discussion considers the kind of analytical tools that may assist in the theoretical understanding of a changed public policy environment.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: N100 Business studies
Department: Faculties > Business and Law > Newcastle Business School
Depositing User: John Fenwick
Date Deposited: 28 Mar 2013 15:50
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2023 15:49

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