This book is a response to the crisis of design in public policy. It comes from the authors’ and contributors’ outrage at injustice, incompetence and the imposition of policy solutions, but also recognition of the inability of current policy design to deal with many of the complex problems that face modern societies. The writers involved in this book feel compelled to make this timely intervention, to reconsider how policy is conventionally made but also to draw attention to the work of policy makers, researchers, practitioners and activists who are actively engaged in doing policy making differently. An argument is made for a radically democratic alternative form of policy design: co-production.
Commentators have noted that the remarkable thing about public policy failures is how unremarkable they are. ‘Policy scientists have documented time and again’ (Bovens, t’Hart and Peters, 2001, p. 7) how prone the policy process is to making, ‘large-scale, avoidable policy mistakes’ (Dunleavy, 1995, p. 52). This book is written in the footsteps of analyses of policy failures, fiascos (Bovens and t’Hart, 1996) and other failures of great expectations of policy (Pressman and Wildavsky, 1979).
It is easy to name some of the numerous and high profile policy disasters in recent memory in most advanced democracies. For example, in the UK, the start of a list might include the ‘poll tax’ (Butler, Adonis and Travers, 1994); the ongoing chaos of reform of the health service (Dunleavy, 1995); poorly managed and handled public health disasters such as ‘mad cow disease’ or BSE (Grant, 1997). Other examples spring to mind, such as the debacle of the Child Support Agency, an organisation designed to collect child maintenance money from absent parents, as well as the spiralling costs of the private finance initiative (PFI) for the London Underground (King and Crewe, 2013). Some of these policy disasters were not disastrous for all of the parties involved; policy is not failing everyone equally. Recurring public policy ‘scandals’, such as tax avoidance by large corporations, or accusations of public sector contracts awarded to unfit or suspect organisations, all contribute to a sense that the odds are stacked against those with least formal power.