Policy Research in the Face of Complexity
In order to be pragmatically useful, the findings of interaction-oriented policy research should not only be case-specific and post hoc, in the sense in which that is true of historical research, but they should also allow lessons drawn from one case to be applied to others and, ideally, to produce lawlike generalizations with empirical validity. In the social sciences, however, this ideal is generally difficult to realize, and in interaction-oriented policy research it is nearly impossible.
The reason is straightforward: Policy is produced by human actors who are not merely driven by natural impulses or by the compulsion of external factors. Instead, public policies are the outcomes -- under external constraints -- of intentional action. Intentions, however, are subjective phenomena. They depend on the perceptions and preferences of the individuals involved. People act not on the basis of objective reality but on the basis of perceived reality and of assumed causeand-effect relationships operating in the world they perceive. And people act not only on the basis of objective needs but also on the basis of preferences reflecting their subjectively defined interests and valuations and their normative convictions of how it is right or good or appropriate to act under the circumstances. Intentional action, in other words, cannot be described and explained without reference to the subjective "meaning" that this action has for the actor in question.
For social science research this condition creates an obvious problem, since we cannot directly observe subjective phenomena but always depend on what is at best secondhand information. Moreover, to say that intentions are subjective also suggests the possibility that they may be idiosyncratic, varying from one individual to another and from one time and place to another. If this were all that we could count on, a social science that is searching for lawlike regularities and for theory-based explanations and predictions would be not merely difficult but impossible. All we could aspire to do would be to describe what happened in histor