The provision of policy advice has underpinned governing since earliest times, however, the practice is much changed in the contemporary era. Advice and the context in which it is delivered have broadened, with more diverse sources of advice, more diverse settings for generating it and many more complex means of influencing state action. Policy advising is an activity that supports decision-making by analysing problems and proposing solutions (Halligan, 1995), however, advice has always varied, as has the preparedness of governments to listen to it. The literature has focused recently on ‘policy advisory systems’ (PASs) both descriptively (see Seymour-Ure, 1987; Halligan, 1995; Prasser, 2006) and in terms of their dynamics (Craft and Howlett, 2013; Craft and Halligan, 2017) and subsystems (Craft and Wilder, 2017). Advice is well understood, but PASs are less so, despite having much in common with policy networks.
We have seen in previous chapters that the modern state and its operations are complex, with policy boundaries now multi-layered, and partnering within and beyond government a more common approach to problem-solving. Policy advising needs to be understood within this context. Traditional, largely internal advising is alive and well, whether as political judgement, or impartial analysis, however, new forms of advisory activity are common. There has always been a systematic approach to the generation and uptake of advice in politicoadministrative terms, but the broadening of the advisory landscape has complicated this in terms of more complex systems. However, such complexity, while challenging in traditional policy-making terms, is commonly argued to be well suited to collaborative efforts at tackling more complex problems (Scott and Baehler, 2010: 6).
There are a range of reasons for this. Firstly, wicked, or persistent, problems have long been recognised as requiring complex, deliberatively generated solutions that are appropriate in any case in an era of heightened social reflexivity. Expert knowledge alone very often does not suffice (Rittel and Webber, 1973). Secondly, liberal democratic states that have experienced neo-liberal downsizing now already augment their policy and problem-solving capacity by broadening their advisory sources. Thirdly, issues have grown more complex and their resolution has increasingly required, not only a broadened range of insight, but also the mediation of competing and contested values, beliefs and knowledge bases (Ney, 2009).