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The Good Society 11.1 (2002) 55-60

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Rethinking Policy Analysis:
Citizens, Community, and the Restructuring of Public Services

Steven Rathgeb Smith and Helen Ingram

In the last 25 years, the role of government and the relationship between citizens and their government has undergone dramatic change in the United States. Attacks from both the left and the right on large-scale bureaucracy for its inefficiency, lack of accountability, inequitable service, and deprivation of individual rights, have led to fundamental changes in policy design. Instead of policies delivered from the top down by federal agencies, policies today rely heavily upon lower-level governmental and nongovernmental agencies. A wide variety of policy tools are employed which include contracting with private nonprofit and for-profit organizations, tax credits, vouchers, loans, and loan guarantees, to name just a few.

At the same time, government itself has been "reinvented." Public agencies (and their private contractors) are encouraged to compete with other agencies. Much more emphasis is now placed on "customer" service, being responsive to users of public services, and performance measurement (Behn, 2001; Cohen and Eimecke, 1998; Feldman and Khademian, 2000). Clients and citizens are now encouraged to participate in agency decision making, often with formal decision-making roles on advisory boards, committees and boards of trustees. Public agencies are engaging in partnerships with local nonprofit and for-profit organizations to achieve public policy goals such as reducing the welfare rolls and improving job training systems. Many communities now have a multiplicity of community coalitions and partnerships representing a variety of diverse interests often with overlapping memberships. In line with the emphasis on reinvention, public and nonprofit agencies are encouraged to be innovative and entrepreneurial, taking advantage of new opportunities and devising new solutions to longstanding public problems (Cohen and Eimecke, 1998).

Part of the so-called "new public management" reflects the perception by many scholars and policy-makers that public and nonprofit managers have a lot to learn from the corporate world. The cutting edge texts on business management today emphasize vision, mission, strategy, empowering employees, teamwork, and continuous learning (See Kotter, 1996; Senge, 1990; Katzenbach and Smith, 1999; Collins and Porras, 1997). Indeed, many management scholars argue that effective organizations—whether for-profit, nonprofit, or public—are those organizations that look beyond the financials and include other measures of organizational performance. Moreover, employees throughout the organization are involved in the development of organizational performance measures and monitoring their implementation (Kaplan and Norton, 1996; Collins and Porras, 1997).

Both the new patterns of governance through policy tools such as contracting with private nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and new public management prescribe the building of multiple relationships of communication and trust. Decision-making is more open and participatory, and community and employee involvement is critical to solving problems. High levels of interaction must occur both within and among organizations and the ability to forge links among different networks is fundamental to success. Such relationships draw upon what Robert Putnam calls social capital—i.e., the networks of trust and cooperation in a community (1993a, 1993b). Social capital is both a necessary condition for and a product of new approaches in policy and management. While Putnam's work on social capital has many dimensions, one of his most important points is that the design of public policy can have very important effects on the social capital of a community (Putnam, 1993b). The converse is also crucial: that levels of social capital in a community may affect the success of policy implementation.

Given these developments in policy and management, we will make the following points. First, we need a rethinking of what constitutes good policy analysis. Second, we need to pay much more careful heed to the ways in which institutional design influences the analytic process and the capacity of affected groups to actively participate in the policy process. Third, we need to revamp the teaching of policy analysis so that more varied approaches to the study of policy are taught in our schools of public policy and administration...


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pp. 55-60
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