The policy analysis toolkit and complexity

The graduate programs in policy analysis with which I was familiar had their master’s degree grounded in a core curriculum, with courses in: the politics of public policy; use and role of microeconomics in policy analysis; research methods including statistics; and course work on implementation, public management, or the law, among others. Call this, the toolkit (I know, I know, rebarbative to some). In practice, the core curricula varied and could also cover public finance, ethics, program evaluation, qualitative methods, and GIS, to name a few.

–At no point in my graduate training or career do I remember being told that a policy problem not amenable to the toolkit was intractable. The toolkit had space for new methods and approaches. Narrative analyses and triangulation via different methods and analytics were there as well in my practice.

The toolkit got smaller, however. Perhaps public policy analysis was not as interdisciplinary as professed at the get-go. Certainly, econo-speak and p-values took over the pages of house journals like the Journal of Public Policy Analysis and Management (with an impact factor rounding off to, now what, 4.714).

–In another sense, the toolkit was never really interdisciplinary enough to attract decisionmaker attention. Actual policy analyses might as well be the proverbial message in the bottle tossed out onto turbulent seas in hope that someone, someday, sooner preferably than later but no guarantees ever, grabs the bottle and treats its message seriously. This, however, is not for want of having tried to get their attention.

Over my policy analysis and management career, I witnessed the 20-page policy brief reduced to the five- page memo into a fifteen-minute PowerPoint presentation into the three-minute elevator speech into the tweet. Along the way came more and more graphics, and then memes, as in a picture is worth a thousand words. This, they said, was keeping it simple. What next on the syllabus: Telepathy? “The knowing look” in 10 seconds or less?

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