Author: P. Zittoun Genre:

P. Zittoun, Between Order and Disorder in the Policy Process: Interpreting the Implicit Agenda, APSA Annual Meeting Paper, 2010

The question of Politics is one of the most difficult to answer in the practice of contemporary policy analysis. There are various cases in which analysts, whilst examining the policy process, face difficulty in uncovering the implicit political agenda. In some cases, they observe policymakers, who reflect the influence of expertise and reveal aspects of the bureaucratic system of the group of interest, but at times conclude that political actors are missing as a result of their analysis. In other cases, the focus of the analysis is on policy dynamics without any causal link with other political phenomena. Do we conclude then that the policy process is apolitical and policy analysis not a political science?

In this paper, we would first like to defend the hypothesis that, if most of policy analysis is not focused on situating politics inside policy, it is not because policy is apolitical. Rather, it is because policy analysts transform policy into an object and a pay the price of this transformation, which would be the depoliticization of policy, in order to observe and model the policy-making process and to draw relevant conclusions. In producing their own scientific discourse on and for the policy-making process, policy analysts strip policy of all the discourses which link it to each participant and as a result lose all the political dimensions of policy.

To develop this hypothesis, we would like to observe the movement of policy analysts who seek to compare political science to natural science and regard policy as an object and science as a process of modeling. Since the 1950s, the quest to model the policy-making process and/or the decision-making process became the driving force behind the development of policy analysis. As policy analysts developed empirical studies to produce models, the models they created seemed to not grasp reality, as the models became increasingly complex. The disorder that empirical studies have shown (as illustrated by the “muddling through” of participants) and the order that models proposed became more and more irreconcilable. Within the complexity of this development, the initial political question disappeared.

In the second part of this paper, we would like to observe how policy analysts often want to develop recommendations for the policy-making process while at the same time they seek to build descriptive models of this process. The challenge posed by this second aspect is whether it is compatible with the first aspect. All of the proposed models do not take into account that recommendations can change policy. Firstly, the descriptive model is also a predictable model and supposes that the dynamics of change cannot be really influenced. Secondly, the models do not integrate the process of convincing others of one’s recommendations (e.g. a scientific recommendation), which is a subjective and discursive process, nor the idea that recommendations can influence policy change.

In a third part, we would like to develop the idea that if policy analysis cannot produce a “science of muddling through”, which is an unsolvable paradox, it can focus on how policymakers attempt to solve this paradox and produce a science of the science and the art of muddling through. We would like to argue that one of the most important activities of policymakers is to analyze policy. Policymakers at all times are identifying problems, stating goals, drawing the public’s attention, explaining how a policy can be a good solution to a problem, envisioning a policy model, convincing the public that their solution is a good solution, sharing their solution with other participants, and justifying their decision when they make it. All these activities, which produce order through discourse, are nothing more than a political activity.