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About this book

Success and failure are key to any consideration of public policy but there have been remarkably few attempts to assess systematically the various dimensions and complex nature of policy success. This important new text fills the gap by developing a systematic framework and offering an entirely new way of introducing students to policy analysis.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Thorny Topic of Policy Success

Abstract
The thorny topic of policy success permeates public policies. In recent years, countries ranging from Australia and Singapore to France, Sweden, Germany, Canada, the US and the UK have debated the successes and failures of public policies, such as Internet censorship, bailing out of banks, welfare cutbacks, privatization of utilities, deployment of troops overseas, removal of ‘at risk’ children from families, public-private infrastructure projects, subsidies to the arts, pollution controls, capital punishment, health and safety in the workplace, classification of certain drugs as illegal, and measures to tackle homelessness. One of the highest profile examples is policies to tackle climate change — epitomizing often polarized debate on whether policy initiatives are succeeding or failing. For example, the US and UK governments portrayed the outcome of the December 2009 Copenhagen summit on climate change as a pragmatic success story, given the complexity of reaching any deal at all. The Chinese authorities likewise perceived the outcome as highly successful in relation to China’s perceived national interests. But other participants viewed it as an abject failure, with Lumumba Di-Aping, chairman of the G77 group of 130 poor countries, going so far as to say it was ‘asking Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact in order to maintain the economic dependence of a few countries. It’s a solution based on values that funnelled six million people in Europe into furnaces’ (Guardian 2009).
Allan McConnell

Chapter 1. Perspectives on Success: The State of the Discipline

Abstract
There have been very few studies of what constitutes policy success, yet understanding the nature of policy success matters more than ever before. The slow decline of partisan politics and class voting patterns in many countries, coupled with the growth of the world-wide-web and the rapid availability of facts, arguments and policy stories, means that citizens (and the media) are scrutinizing and judging policies to an unprecedented degree. Claims of policy success and counterclaims of policy failure have become a key currency of political competition. Later chapters will help fill the gap in our understanding of policy success, but we should not assume that the paucity of literature on the topic renders existing writings of no interest. The opposite is the case. There is much that can be learned from several diverse sets of public policy-related literature focusing on what constitutes good and valuable policy, as well as literature that focuses on failure. Many of the assumptions about what constitutes success are implicit rather than explicit. The goal of this chapter is to draw out a set of issues that can be taken forward in subsequent chapters in terms of identifying, measuring and sustaining policy success. As will be seen, many similar themes run through disparate groups of literature.
Allan McConnell

Chapter 2. Policy Success: Definitions and Dimensions

Abstract
Claims of policy success are in abundance. They permeate political life and emerge in forums ranging from local councils to parliamentary assemblies and global forums. Yet, as was shown in Chapter 1, the academic world has barely begun to dig beneath the surface of this key policy phenomenon and the rhetoric that surrounds it. When it does — either directly through the ‘success’ literature, or indirectly through examination of public value, policy improvement and so on — it tends to be based on loose assumptions of what are desirable characteristics of public policy. With the exception the work of Bovens et al. (2001a), the phenomenon of policy success is rarely tackled directly and systematically. As Law (2004) argues, it seems that the world is messy and our attempts to understand it only serve to compound the mess.
Allan McConnell

Chapter 3. Dissecting Success: The Spectrum from Success to Failure

Abstract
The previous chapter divided success into process, programme and political dimensions. These are analytically convenient categories, as well as helping capture the dynamics of different dimensions of public policy. However, one vital part of the equation has still to be considered; namely, the fact that success (whether in the realms of processes, programmes or politics) is not an ‘all or nothing’ phenomenon. Policies have multiple process, programme and political goals, all of which can be met (or not) to a greater or lesser degree. Total policy success is uncommon, as is total policy failure. How, therefore, is it possible to comprehend bundles of complex outcomes between the polar extremes of success and failure, as well as factoring in the role of varying perceptions? This current chapter tackles these issues head-on. First, it maps out a spectrum of outcomes, ranging from policy success, through to policy failure, including ‘grey areas’ in between. Second, it uses this framework to examine in greater detail, different types of successes and failures across the process, programme and political dimensions of policy. Finally, it examines contradictions between different forms of success, including what is known colloquially as ‘good politics but bad policy’.
Allan McConnell

Chapter 4. Complexity: The Problems of Identifying and Measuring Success

Abstract
Chapter 2 identified three main forms of success: process, programmatic and political. These form the bedrock for the analysis in this book. Chapter 3 developed this framework by introducing a number of typologies that allow us to conceive of a spectrum from success to failure along each of these three dimensions, with many policies residing somewhere in between. A key message was that the nature of policy success is far more complex than headline grabbing term ‘success’, or its polar opposite ‘failure’. Yet, understanding policy success is complex for many more reasons than simply the success-failure spectrum. This chapter amalgamates and expands on additional complexity issues — some of which have been flagged in previous chapters. It explores the issues of ‘success for whom?’; partial achievement of goals; weighing-up multiple objectives; reconciling conflicting objectives; dealing with unintended consequences; success being greater than planned; the difficulty of isolating the policy effect; dealing with hidden agendas and lack of evidence; assessing short-term impact versus assessing long-term impact; factoring-in spatial conflict; and weighing-up the importance of differing outcomes in the success of the process, programmatic and political aspects of policy. A central theme of the chapter is that assessments of success require judgements and choices to be made relating to the significance we give to factors such as target shortfalls, ambiguities and unintended consequences.
Allan McConnell

Chapter 5. Framing Success: Claims, Counter-Claims and Agenda Impact

Abstract
One of the central themes of this book is that success is, to some extent, constructed. I cannot envisage success being nothing but an objective fact, simply because perceptions will vary on the desirability or otherwise of a government’s ways of producing policy, its programmes, values and political trajectory. The importance of perceptions of success permeated the literature review in Chapter 1. Disagreements about what constituted success cut across writings from those on public value to policy improvement and Machiavellian politics.
Allan McConnell

Chapter 6. Strategies for Policy-Making Success: Understanding Opportunities and Risks

Abstract
Public policy-makers want to be successful in achieving their goals. Rational choice theory would place motivations and preferences at the core of any understanding of policy (Mueller 2003; Hindmoor 2006). However, as Chapter 1 argued in its discussion of Machiavellian politics and political survival, one does not need to be a rational choice theorist to recognize that strategy and calculation can be an important driver of political behaviour. Additionally, it seems reasonable to suggest that policy-makers seek some form of ‘success’. After all, what policy-maker would want to fail, except as an interim measure in the pursuit of a longer-term success? Yet, where public policy becomes particularly complicated is that, for policy-makers, there are often conflicting goals to pursue (process, programme and political). Either consciously or unconsciously, policy-makers must engage in a difficult balancing act, striving to achieve success in these three spheres, but often making tradeoffs between them.
Allan McConnell

Chapter 7. Strategies for Evaluating Success: Understanding Pay-Offs and itfalls

Abstract
The logic of societies based on plural politics is that policy programmes are examined to assess if they are ‘working’. If they are, then government seems to have been successful in achieving its goals. If not, programmes are refined through a process of adjustment and learning. This is the classic logic of the policy-cycle, fitting with the aspirations of Lasswell (1956) and others in the early post-war and cold war periods, as well as (even today) the public face of public policies. Policy-makers speak regularly of processes of examination and reflection, based on the language of rationality, accountability and democracy.
Allan McConnell

Chapter 8. Reflections: Cultivating, Sustaining, Learning from and Predicting Success

Abstract
We have come a long way in understanding the nature of policy success accompanying political discourse, and the feasibility of strategies for achieving and evaluating success. We now need to go further and locate the nature of success within broader societal trends and tendencies. Hence, the current chapter picks up on many of the themes in previous chapters and develops them further into ‘bigger picture’ thinking on success. It contains explicit arguments in the interests of generating debate, although it attempts to be even-handed in putting forward and critiquing a number of different positions. It deals with issues to which academic theory has, at least in some instances, paid virtually no attention, yet the issues themselves crop up in the real world of politics. It deals with competing perspectives on:
  • the transferability of conditions for success to other sectors and jurisdictions.
  • the capacity of successful programmes to be enduring
  • whether we are more liable to learn from successes or failures
  • our ability to predict success.
Allan McConnell

Conclusion: Rethinking Public Policy and Shining a Light in Dark Corners

Abstract
I have taught many officials and public/civil servants over the past twenty years or so, and a regular message in my conversations with them is that the political world often seems to be chaotic and irrational, or dominated by ‘quick fixes’ and policies that are incapable of dealing effectively with the problem, despite the upbeat talk of their political masters. The more I developed the policy success heuristic, the more convinced I became that it is the key to unravelling many aspects of real politik that public policy theories rarely, or even never, write about. Indeed, in doing so, the success heuristic can also add value to virtually any broader policy analysis perspective.
Allan McConnell
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