The Ambitions of Policy Design

John S. Dryzek, Brian Ripley


Public policy is concerned with solving or ameliorating social problems. Public policy design involves conscious invention, development, and application ofpatterns of action in problem resolution. Contemporary perceptions of widespread (if not wholesale) failure in purposive public policy should warn us that would-be policy designers face no easy task. Certainly, there has been no shortage of cautions against excessive ambition in consciously- pursued public policy. Our contention is that these critics have missed the target. Based on a correction of their aim, we will suggest there is little reason to eschew ambition in policy design, provided only that one attends closely to the conditions of policy formation. This is not to say that ambition should be pursued for its own sake, or that it is always appropriate, merely that fear of ambition should not act as a constraint. We warn the reader in advance that our survey of the critics is brief, in order to provide space for fuller articulation of our own position.


Policy Design

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@Annual Review of Policy Design ISSN: ISSN 2291-6989