The development of public policy has always been a combination of art and science. There is no doubt that medical researchers, sociologists and climate scientists have played an important role in highlighting the existence of policy problems and that economists, lawyers and political scientists have played an important role in developing solutions. But there is also no doubt that well organised lobby groups, well written press releases and well researched campaign slogans have had a similarly powerful effect.
The policy process in Australia, as in all developed countries, is full of grand visions, grand theories and grand gestures. It is also replete with contradictions, inherent tensions and wicked problems. It has ever been thus.
While the grand vision and the day-to-day politics may attract the most attention, the hard work of identifying emerging problems, developing innovative solutions and building support for change carries on relentlessly. Tens of thousands of public servants, academics, community groups, industry bodies and lobbyists work full time on aspects of the policy process as diverse as collecting field data to drafting new pieces of legislation. This book is aimed at those who seek a deeper understanding of the theory of policy, the practice of policy and, most importantly, the links between the two.
Like scientific knowledge, policy capacity is a scarce and valuable commodity. If Australia is to tackle the problems of the 21st century it will need to develop its policy capacity, both through increasing the number of people involved and deepening the understanding of those already there.