Complexity, Institutions and Public Policy
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Complexity, Institutions and Public Policy

Agile Decision-Making in a Turbulent World

Graham Room

Graham Room argues that conventional approaches to the conceptualisation and measurement of social and economic change are unsatisfactory. As a result, researchers are ill-equipped to offer policy advice. This book offers a new analytical approach, combining complexity science and institutionalism.
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Chapter 14: Agile Policy-Making

Graham Room


14.1 INTRODUCTION As argued in Chapter 1, conventional approaches to the conceptualisation and measurement of dynamic change are weak. Policy researchers are therefore ill-equipped to provide critical illumination and advice for policy-makers and the wider public. What is needed is a new policy analytics: tools to illuminate the world of public policy-makers and the interventions they make on complex and turbulent landscapes. We saw in that same introductory chapter that policy-makers are being exhorted to base their decisions on sound evidence. This cannot but appeal to any social scientist concerned to promote rational argument and enlightened politics; indeed, it would seem to be an obvious area of common interest and fruitful collaboration across the policy-science divide (Goldthorpe, 2004). Nevertheless, as we also saw, much of the argument for evidence-based policy-making takes for granted a rather stable and linear world. How to cope with complex and turbulent terrains is not at all clear. There is a view that this complexity is being reduced world-wide, as markets are extended and common rules established for a widening range of interactions. In Thomas Friedman’s phrase, globalisation makes for a flat world (Friedman, 2006). Our analysis suggests otherwise. The extension and intensification of global rules and interactions, abrading against domestic institutional path dependencies and local political choices, are  more likely to produce turbulence. Once we recognise the human world as a complex adaptive system driven by the struggle for positional advantage, we abandon such simple prognostications and face up to the hard policy choices of...

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