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Article

In the early 1970s, Rittel and Webber asserted that conventional approaches to scientific analysis and rational planning were inadequate for guiding practitioners and researchers who were tackling complex and contested social problems—which they termed “wicked” problems. The full implications of this challenging critique of rational policy planning were not elaborated at that time, but the underlying issues have attracted increasing attention and debate in later decades. Policy analysts, academic researchers, and planning practitioners have continued to grapple with the claim that conventional scientific-technical approaches might be insufficient and even misleading as a basis for understanding and responding to complex social issues. This is paradoxical in the modern era, which has been attracted to notions of evidence-based policymaking, policy evaluation, and performance-based public management. Scholarly discussion has continued to evolve concerning methods for addressing highly contested arenas of policy and planning. One key proposition is that citizens and key stakeholders tend to have conflicting perceptions about the nature of particular social “problems” and will thus have different views about appropriate responses or “solutions.” A related proposition is that these disputes are anchored in differing values and perceptions, which are not able to be adjudicated and settled by empirical science, but require inclusive processes of argumentation and conflict resolution among stakeholders. Hence, several kinds of knowledge—lay and expert, civic and professional—need to be brought together in order to develop transdisciplinary “usable knowledge.” As the research literature produces a richer array of comparative case analyses, it may become feasible to construct a more nuanced understanding of the conditions underlying various kinds of wicked problems in social policy and planning. In the meantime, generalized and indiscriminate use of the term wicked problems is not helpful for delineating the nature of the challenges faced and appropriate remedial actions.

Article

Patrik Marier

We frequently employ analogies such as a leaking roof or finishing last in a ranking to illustrate that there is a serious problem requiring attention. Unfortunately, policy realities are far more complex and less obvious since policymakers do not benefit from objective measures or clear signals akin to having water dripping over their head to indicate the presence of a problem. In fact, they face a plethora of policy actors constantly engaged in defining policy problems for them based on competing frames of references. The term “policy problems” evokes questions of what makes a social issue a policy problem, but it also raises questions regarding whether problems can actually be solved via a public response and how. Policy problems occupy a crucial role in policy studies, if not for the simple reason that political authorities are unlikely to alter or create policies without the presence of problems. As such, policy problems occupy an important place in popular theoretical frameworks frequently employed in the field of public policy. The formulation of policy problems is at the heart of the punctuated-equilibrium theory since these can result in the creation of new political coalitions seeking transformative policy change. In the social construction of target populations approach, the ways in which the public perceives particular subgroups or subpopulations dictate our understanding of policy problems and the types of instruments to deploy. Frameworks for policy feedback assume that current policies structure the formulation of policy problems along the lines of altering existing policies. In the multiple-streams theoretical framework, policy problems are part of a toolkit used to validate the use of already made solutions by policy entrepreneurs seeking the right opportunity for implementation. A thorough treatment and analysis of policy problems exist within the policy design literature. Scholars operating within this tradition have emphasized the individual characteristics of policy problems and, as importantly, how these matter when it is time to enact solutions. Characteristics of problems, such as causality and severity, are key elements in the identification and formulation of policy problems and their likelihood to feature prominently in the policy agenda of governmental actors. Additional elements, such as the divisibility of policy problems and the extent to which these problems can be monetarized, matter in assessing the possibility of enacting solutions. This raises the fundamental question of whether policy problems can actually be resolved. Mature policies are the norm in industrialized countries, and these are increasingly subject to international agreements. Consequently, there are, for example, many more interdependencies, which have led to the reemergence of wicked-problems analyses. However, a substantial number of contributions have associated complexity with wicked problems, raising questions surrounding their intrinsic qualities and the danger of conceptual stretching.

Article

Philip Moniz and Christopher Wlezien

Salience refers to the extent to which people cognitively and behaviorally engage with a political issue (or other object), although it has meant different things to different scholars studying different phenomena. The word originally was used in the social sciences to refer to the importance of political issues to individuals’ vote choice. It also has been used to designate attention being paid to issues by policy makers and the news media, yet it can pertain to voters as well. Thus, salience sometimes refers to importance and other times to attention—two related but distinct concepts—and is applied to different actors. The large and growing body of research on the subject has produced real knowledge about policies and policy, but the understanding is limited in several ways. First, the conceptualization of salience is not always clear, which is of obvious relevance to theorizing and limits assessment of how (even whether) research builds on and extends existing literature. Second, the match between conceptualization and measurement is not always clear, which is of consequence for analysis and impacts the contribution research makes. Third, partly by implication, but also because the connections between research in different areas—the public, the media, and policy—are not always clear, the consequences of salience for representative democracy remain unsettled.

Article

Erik Baekkeskov, Olivier Rubin, Louise Munkholm, and Wesal Zaman

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health crisis estimated to be responsible for 700,000 yearly deaths worldwide. Since the World Health Assembly adopted a Global Action Plan on AMR in 2015, national governments in more than 120 countries have developed national action plans. Notwithstanding this progress, AMR still has limited political commitment, and existing global efforts may be too slow to counter its rise. The article presents five characteristics of the global AMR health crisis that complicate the translation from global attention to effective global initiatives. AMR is (a) a transboundary crisis that suffers from collective action problems, (b) a super wicked and creeping crisis, (c) the product of trying to solve other global threats, (d) suffering from lack of advocacy, and (e) producing distributional and ethical dilemmas. Applying these five different crisis lenses, the article reviews central global initiatives, including the Global Action Plan on AMR and the recommendations of the Interagency Coordination Group on AMR. It argues that the five crisis lenses offer useful entry points for social science analyses that further nuance the existing global governance debate of AMR as a global health crisis.

Article

A wide range of issues in moral, political, and legal philosophy fall under the heading of “intergenerational justice,” such as questions of justice between the young and the old, obligations to more-or-less distant past and future generations, generational sovereignty, and the boundaries of democratic decision-making. These issues deserve our attention first because they are of great social importance. Solving the challenges raised by aging, stable pension funding, and increasing healthcare costs, for example, requires a view on what justice between age groups demands. Climate change, resource depletion, environmental degradation, population growth, and the like, raise serious concerns about the conditions under which future people will have to live. What kind of world should we bequest to future generations? Second, this debate has theoretical significance. Questions of intergenerational justice force reconsideration of the fundamental commitments (on scope, pattern, site, and currency) of existing moral and political theories. The age-group debate has led to fundamental questions about the pattern of distributive justice: Should we care about people’s lives considered as whole being equally good? This has implausible implications. Can existing accounts be modified to avoid such problematic consequences? Justice between nonoverlapping generations raises a different set of questions. One important worry is about the pattern of intergenerational justice—are future generations owed equality, or should intergenerational justice be cast in terms of sufficiency? Another issue is the currency of intergenerational justice: what kind of goods should be transferred? Perhaps the most puzzling worry resulting from this debate translates into a worry about scope: do obligations of justice extend to future people? Most conventional views on the scope of justice—those that focus on shared coercive institutions, a common culture, a cooperative scheme for mutual advantage—cannot easily be extended to include future generations. Even humanity-based views, which seem most hospitable to the inclusion of future generations, are confronted with what Parfit called the nonidentity problem, which results from the fact that future people are mostly possible people: because of the lack of a fixed identity of future people, it is often impossible to harm them in the comparative sense.

Article

According to the World Health Organization, between 2010 and 2015 there were an estimated 582 million cases of 22 different foodborne enteric diseases. Over 40% people suffering from enteric diseases caused by contaminated food were children aged under five years. Highly industrialized livestock production processes have brought along antibiotic resistances that could soon result in an era in which common infections and minor injuries that have been treatable for decades can once again kill. Unsafe food also poses major economic risks. For example, Germany’s E. coli outbreak in 2011 reportedly caused US$1.3 billion in losses for farmers and industries. Food safety policy ensures that food does not endanger human health—along the entire food chain through which food is produced, stored, transported, processed, and prepared. In an interdependent world of globalized trade and health risks, food safety is an extraordinarily complex policy issue situated at the intersection of trade, agricultural, and health policies. Although traditionally considered a domestic issue, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and other major food safety crises before and around the turn of the millennium highlighted the need for transnational regulation and coordination to ensure food safety in regional and global markets. As a result, food safety has received ample scholarly attention as a critical case of the transboundary regulation of often uncertain risks. The global architecture of food production also gives food safety policy an international and interactive character. Some countries or regions, for example, the European Union, act as standard setters, whereas newly industrialized countries, such as China, struggle to “do their homework,” and the poorest regions of the world strive for market access. Although national regulatory approaches differ considerably in the degree to which they rely on self-regulation by the market, overall, the sheer extent of the underlying policy problem makes it impossible to tackle food safety solely through public regulation. Therefore, private regulation and co-regulation play an influential role in the standard setting, implementation, and enforcement of food safety policy. The entanglement of several interrelated policy sectors, the need for coordination and action at multiple—global, regional, national, local—levels, and the involvement of actors from the public and private, for-profit and nonprofit fields, are the reasons why the governance of food safety policy is characterized by considerable hybridity and also requires both vertical and horizontal policy integration. Scholarship has increasingly scrutinized how the resulting multiple, sometimes conflicting, actor rationalities and the overlap of several regulatory roles affect effectiveness and legitimacy in the decision-making and implementation of food safety policy. By highlighting issues such as regulatory capture and deficient enforcement systems, this research suggests another implication of the hybridization of food safety governance, namely, that the latter increasingly shares the characteristics of a wicked problem. Next to complexity and both high and notoriously uncertain risks, the multiple actors involved often diverge in their very definitions of the problem and strategic intentions. The major task ahead lies in designing recipes for integrated, context-sensitive, and resilient policy responses.

Article

Mark Souva

A large body of theoretical work posits that power shifts or expected power shifts cause war. Power transition theory, cyclic theories of war, preventive war arguments, and the bargaining model of war are discussed in this article. Indeed, shifting power is one of the most popular and venerable explanations for war. Its origins go at least as far back as Thucydides, who famously wrote, “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear this caused in Sparta.” Two major points must be discussed. First, there is an impressive correlation between major power war and shifting power, a correlation consistent with the arguments of several systemic theories of war. Second, much of the empirical research examining power shifts and war suffers from endogeneity and model specification concerns. Regarding endogeneity, more effort should be placed on identifying valid instruments and conducting experiments. Regarding model specification, more attention needs to be paid to scope conditions. Shifting power is not expected to cause war in all contexts. Precisely defining the relevant contexts and modeling them empirically is necessary to evaluate the shifting power and war hypothesis.

Article

Once ended, a significant number of civil wars recur. One influential empirical international relations theory on which scholars have drawn in an effort to provide an explanation for this phenomenon is the bargaining model of war. Devised initially for the study of interstate war, the theory posits that bargaining problems may prevent belligerents from reaching a deal that enables them to avoid a costly war. Bargaining problems also have been identified as contributing to the recurrence of armed intrastate conflict. Working within the framework of bargaining theory, a number of scholars have claimed that the most effective way to inhibit a return to civil war is to end the conflict via military victory as such an outcome is thought to help solve key bargaining problems. However, a growing number of empirical tests cast doubt on this proposition. An analysis of the results of these tests as well as new scholarship on civil war termination highlight some of the limitations inherent in employing a theory devised for the study of interstate war to analyze questions related to civil wars.

Article

Military intervention into interstate and civil wars is both common and important. It lengthens wars, makes them more severe, and shapes how they are fought. Even the mere possibility of intervention can alter the course of a war as belligerent powers alter their strategies to either encourage or dissuade potential interveners. These effects of military intervention are found in both civil and interstate wars. Yet, is state intervention into interstate and civil wars essentially one phenomenon or are they distinct phenomena? By looking at which states are likely to intervene, why and when they intervene, and which wars are most likely to experience intervention, it becomes clear the similarities between state military intervention into civil and interstate wars are more significant than are the differences. In other words, despite some important differences, they are subsets of the same phenomenon. In both types of wars, allies, geographically proximate states, and great powers are more likely to intervene. Also, information revealed by events within both types of wars prompts intervention and explains its timing. Last, wars in which international organizations become involved, both civil and interstate, are more likely to experience intervention. There are, however, important differences notably in the areas of cross-border ethnic ties, the presence of great powers in the war, the use of non-state proxies, and wars caused by commitment problems.

Article

Rational choice theory builds from a very simple foundation. To wit: individuals are presumed to pursue goal-oriented behavior stemming from rational preferences. Rational choice theory benefits from the very precise formulations of its assumptions. Individual-level rationality is generally defined as having complete and transitive preferences. Both completeness and transitivity have precise, formal definitions. From complete and transitive preferences, one can develop utility function presentations reflecting those preferences. Utility functions have the advantage of establishing a measure and allowing one to assess attitudes toward risk. That is, utility functions can reflect risk acceptance, risk neutrality, or risk aversion. Although some rational choice theorists focus on individual-level decision making, most rational choice theorists consider the ways in which individuals’ decisions are aggregated into some sort of social outcome or social preference order. The aggregation of individuals’ preferences occurs in both social choice and game theoretic models. Arrow’s theorem is the best-known result in social choice theory. Arrow showed that the rationality of individuals’ preferences could not be readily preserved at the group level when those individuals’ preferences were aggregated. That is, individual-level rationality does not ensure group-level rationality. Put slightly differently, irrationality at the group level cannot impugn rationality at the individual level. Other examples highlighting the difficulty of aggregating individuals’ preferences into a collective outcome abound. For instance, game theoretic presentations of the collective action problem highlight how individually rational decisions can lead to suboptimal outcomes. Rational choice models have been used to model interactions in a wide array of political institutions. Rational choice models have been developed to tackle some of the most challenging concepts in the social sciences, even in areas long thought impenetrable to rational choice theorizing. For instance, concepts such as ideology or personal identification have typically been used as preestablished descriptors. In contrast to treating those concepts as extant descriptors, rational choice theorists have modeled the endogenous development of ideologies and personal identification. Given the complexity of social phenomena, the relative parsimony and the clarity of rational choice models can be particularly helpful. The usefulness of rational choice models stems from their parsimony and their applicability to a wide range of settings.