Policy design: Its enduring appeal in a complex world and how to think it differently

Published date01 October 2018
Date01 October 2018
Subject MatterSpecial Issue Articles
Special Issue: Questioning Policy Design
Policy design: Its
enduring appeal in a
complex world and how
to think it differently
Nick Turnbull
School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, UK
Policy design has re-appeared on the scholarly agenda. This special issue investigates the
assumptions of the policy design concept, questioning its theoretical coherence and
relevance for practitioners. The conventional idea of policy design implies an instru-
mental-rational theoretical model which is out of place in contemporary governance
arrangements. While the concept appeals to academic sensibilities, it has less utility in
practice. It can also become caught up in the political aspect of policymaking by being
used to generate legitimacy for the actions of public managers via rationalising accounts.
Contributors to this issue argue that the design idea should be reconsidered from the
ground up. An alternative orientation is put forward, which regards policy design as
something that emerges from policymaking practice.
Instrumental-rational model, policy design, policy science, process model
The idea of policy design has appeared once more on the scholarly research agenda
(see, e.g. Howlett, 2011; Howlett and Lejano, 2012; Howlett et al., 2015; Peters,
2015). Advocates of a research programme based on a ‘new design orientation’
claim that, in the context of complex problems, policymakers are seeking innova-
tive solutions via the ‘intelligent design’ of policies (Howlett et al., 2015). They
suggest a rebirth of policy design studies (Howlett et al., 2015), not least for the aim
of assisting policymakers deal with the many ‘wicked problems’ facing govern-
ments today (Peters, 2015). But what does it mean to ‘design’ a policy, why is it
more intelligent, and why is ‘design’ something in which we should be interested?
Public Policy and Administration
2018, Vol. 33(4) 357–364
!The Author(s) 2017
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0952076717709522
Corresponding author:
Nick Turnbull, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK.
Email: nick.turnbull@manchester.ac.uk

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