Lesson-Drawing in Public Policy: A Guide to Learning across Time and Space

Lesson-Drawing in Public Policy: A Guide to Learning across Time and Space

Lesson-Drawing in Public Policy: A Guide to Learning across Time and Space

Lesson-Drawing in Public Policy: A Guide to Learning across Time and Space

Synopsis

Lesson-drawing in Public Policy introduces readers to a novel way of thinking about the familiar problems of public policy. It sets out the crucial questions that must be asked in order to draw logical and empirically sound conclusions from observing experiences in the past, or in other places.

Excerpt

Students of public policy usually learn lessons by reading books; policymakers usually learn lessons from experience. Learning from books is usually considered theoretical, and learning from experience, practical. Even though the two modes of learning are very different, the one need not exclude the other, for theories can lead to practical prescriptions, and maxims drawn from experience can epitomize the message of a theory. Lesson-drawing is practical; it is concerned with making policy prescriptions that can be put into effect. Lessons are not learned in order to pass examinations; they are tools for action. Politicians know what they would like to achieve, but the existence of a political majority for a goal is no assurance that politicians will know how to design a program that achieves this goal. Borrowing a program that is effective elsewhere is no guarantee of success. Understanding under what circumstances and to what extent programs effective elsewhere will work here is an essential element in lesson- drawing.

Lessons can be positive, leading to prescriptions about what ought to be done. As health policy analystAlain C. Enthoven (1990. 58) explains, "The really interesting questions are how to identify and design politically feasible incremental changes in each country that have a reasonably good chance of making things better. Each country can get useful ideas from others about how to do this." Lessons can also be negative; examples of failure identify what not to emulate. As Mikhail Gorbachev said after the collapse of Soviet communism, "That model has failed which was brought about in our country. And I hope that this is a lesson not only for our people but for all peoples" (quoted in Lichfield, 1990).

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