Putting More Public in Policy Analysis

By Walters, Lawrence C.; Aydelotte, James et al. | Public Administration Review, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Putting More Public in Policy Analysis


Walters, Lawrence C., Aydelotte, James, Miller, Jessica, Public Administration Review


Introduction

One of the persistent criticisms of policy analysis is that it undermines basic democratic institutions and processes by replacing public participation and debate with esoteric expert analysis. As the criticism goes, policy analysts, decision makers, and other experts hold one or more of the following views regarding public participation in policy discussions:

* Officials and experts see today's problems as too complex for the public to understand (Bell 1973; Brzezinski 1976; Fischer 1995, 12, 190; Prewitt 1983, 51; Mathews 1994, 73). Consider the following observation: "I've heard many times that although democracy is an imperfect system, we somehow always muddle through. The message I want to give you, after long and hard reflection, is that ... it is no longer possible to muddle through. The issues we deal with do not lend themselves to that kind of treatment.... Jeffersonian democracy can not work in the [contemporary] world--the world has become too complex" (John Kemeny [1980], former chairperson of the presidential commission appointed to investigate the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, as quoted in Fischer 1995, 257).

* Technical experts see the incremental decision making characteristic of democracy as irrational (Sternberg 1989).

* Officials view the public as either uninterested (Mathews 1994, 72), or as pursuing their self-interest rather than the public interest (Fischer 1995, 44; Rein 1976, 98).

* Rational decision making and democratic decision making have different goals, and there is a fundamental tension between the rational pursuit of efficiency and the democratic pursuit of participation (Fischer 1995, 224; Heineman et al. 1997, 25; Rein 1976, 98-101).

* Greater citizen involvement means redefining public officials' roles in the decision making process, an uncomfortable process rejected by many officials. Sharing power is often not appealing to officials (Walsh 1997, 19; Thomas 1995, 5).

* Officials oppose citizen participation because it is more time consuming, expensive, complicated, and emotionally draining (Creighton 1981, 13).

In opposition to these views, those who advocate greater discourse and public participation assert that traditional, scientific, or expert views should no longer be afforded privileged status, allowing a broader range of views and treatments to be considered in decision making (Farmer 1995, 236-7). Others claim that analysts and decision makers have forgotten why the Founders paired rational administration with democratic government. Administration has now become the end rather than the means (Saul 1992, 234). Ultimately, these authors argue that reliance on administrative discretion in decision making is not consistent with democracy or pluralism (Reich 1988).

To be sure, this debate embodies some fundamental differences of opinion. To the extent that decision makers do not wish to open the decision-making process or share power, there is little more to be said. But it appears that many analysts and decision makers shun broader participation due to the cost, uncertainty, and delay often associated with public involvement. Our purpose in writing this article is to suggest that such concerns may be somewhat overblown. We have the sense that decision makers are frequently required to involve the public without incurring additional costs or inefficiency, but do not know how to do so (Thomas 1995). The purpose of this article is to propose a model for the systematic inclusion of public input into relatively complex public policy decisions.

We begin with an overview of two cases from recent Utah history that involved extensive citizen participation. We present a framework for seeking public input and apply it to the two cases as we identify two determinants of success in public participation efforts: the purpose for public involvement and the nature of the issue. Finally, we present a purpose-issue matrix that illustrates appropriate participation techniques given the purpose for including the public and the nature of the issue. …

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