Institutional change and social learning are at the heart of my research. No matter whether I have looked at health care, the environment, welfare state reform, or transport policy, I have always wanted to understand the way we go about solving the problems we face. I have been particularly drawn to a specific class of policy problems. It includes issues such as climate change, demographic ageing or global health governance. These problems have proven particularly resistant to resolution. No sooner as some someone declares the problem solved, it seems to worm its way back onto policy agendas in new, often even more challenging forms. These types of problems are inherently complex in that they involve a wide range of actors and factors in unpredictable ways. These policy problems are also uncertain because even though we have armies of scientists looking into them, there are still considerable gaps in our knowledge. More than that, what we do know about problems such as climate change or ageing often does not readily lend itself to policy-making.
My book with EarthScan suggests that complex and uncertain policy challenges, which we can also call “messy” policy problems, generate dilemmas for policy-making.
At one level, the uncertainties of messy issues give rise to intractable policy conflicts about how best to solve them. At another level, the success of solving simple social problems (such as effective transport infrastructure, basic health care, welfare coverage, etc.) has not only generated messy challenges (demographic ageing, the global health crisis, or climate change) it has also left policy actors poorly equipped for dealing with complex and uncertain issues. Despite attempts at “integrated” or “joined-up” policy-making, the specialized policy communities that characterise contemporary policy-making continue to generate partial solutions to messy problems.
And yet, today is also a time unprecedented opportunity for innovation. Policy-making has not only become more complex, it has also become more pluralist. Today a wide range of different policy actors -- including government agencies, firms, knowledge producers, professionals, charities, NGOs, or political parties -- participate in the formulation and implementation of solutions to social problems. What is more, in many places of the world, citizens are better equipped -- primarily through better education -- to take an active part in innovative problem-solving processes
My research, then, wants to find out how to overcome these barriers and make the best of the opportunities.