The Analycentric Turn in Policy Analysis

As noted above, tools have always had a special place in the history of policy analysis. Modern policy analysis is often held to have developed in earnest from the 1940s onwards (DeLeon 2006). Harold Lasswell's (1971) 'policy sciences of democracy' provided a vision of analysis that drew together different academic disciplines as well as different actors in the policy formulation process - academic, bureaucrat and the person in the street - to address public problems. This was a multidisciplinary endeavour that sought to solve problems in an applied fashion (Dunn 2004, p. 41). While departments of public administration and politics were supposed to supply an understanding of how political and administrative systems operated, the assumption was that the tools of analysis would be produced by technical experts in economics, operations and systems analysis (Dunn 2004, p. 41).

The 1950s and 1960s saw the rise of the professional policy analyst, providing specialist input to policy, and institutions for formalizing such input like the Systems Analysis Unit in the US Defense Department (Radin 2013, p. 14) and, later in the UK, the Central Policy Review Staff, both staffed by experts in the latest tools and methods. The Systems Analysis Unit was charged with implementing one of the very first (and most controversial) systematic policy formulation tools, known as the Programme Planning and Budgeting System (PPBS) (Schultze 1970). The PPBS sought to integrate budgeting and policy development in the quest for greater efficiency and hence more rational decisions.

These tool-driven or 'analycentric' approaches (Schick 1977) initially developed in the fields of defence and budgeting, but from the late 1960s, as the reach of governmental action spread further into fields such as education, health and social care, the scope of analytical activities also expanded (Parsons 1995; Radin 2013, pp. 17-22; DeLeon 2006) almost as a corollary. As Schick (1977, p. 258) observed: 'whenever positive government action has been extended to a new sphere, analytic activity has been sure to follow'. Crucially, the increasingly forceful turn towards analycentric tools and methods embedded a linear-rational approach to analysis of policy problems, in which - to put it simplistically - problems were to be identified and then 'solved' using analytical tools. In his manifesto for the new policy analysis community, Dror (1971, p. 232) famously declared that the 'aim of policy analysis is to permit improvements in decision making and policymaking by allowing a fuller consideration of a broader set of alternatives, with a wider context, with the help of more systematic tools'.

Tools, in other words, were absolutely central to the rapidly emerging field of policy analysis, and were to be taken forward by a new cadre of policy analysts, who operated in small policy analysis units like the Central Policy Review Staff based at the very apex of government. A direct consequence of these developments was a major effort to integrate analytical tools into policy formulation, an activity which until then had, as noted above, been dominated by generalists and those with a legal background (Radin 2013, p. 14). These tools initially drew on techniques from operational research and economic analysis, including methods for assessing the costs and benefits of different policy alternatives, and analysis of interacting parts of complex systems. Tools such as cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and computer models were to be found in the analycentric 'backroom' (Self 1981, p. 222), where political 'irrationalities' could be tempered and policy made more 'rational'. These tools and tool-utilizing skills had originally been developed and honed during the Second World War, but as Radin (2013, p. 14) puts it rather nicely, 'the energy of Americans that had been concentrated on making war in a more rational manner now sought new directions'. The tool specialists found a willing audience amongst politicians and policymakers who were anxious to embark upon new endeavours.

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