chapter  1
12 Pages

Introduction: The multidimensional world of policy dynamics


What is fascinating, and also sometimes deeply frustrating, for scholars involved in the field of public policy, is the structural ambiguity of the object of analysis. Public policy is not a self-evident term: it is an analytical construct the meaning and content of which is designed by researchers and policy actors (Heclo, 1972). The intrinsic subjectivity of public policy means the definition of what policy actually is can vary substantially from one scholar to another (and from one policy-maker to another as well). Defining ‘policy’ is a fundamental task in all areas of the social sciences, and in the public policy field it is of paramount importance. If you tell someone that you are studying the legislative behaviour of the Italian or Canadian parliament, or coalitions dynamics in Danish governments, or the structure of the French party-system, that person may well instinctively understand what are you doing, even if they are not a political scientist, simply because the topic of your analysis is ‘visible’, that is, part of it at least is immediately perceivable. If, on the other hand, you mention that you are studying agenda setting within environmental policy or higher education, from a comparative perspective, you are going to leave your listener in some doubt about what you are really doing. Public policy is potentially more inclusive and elusive than other areas of political science. It is more inclusive in that it requires the explanation of a great many social and political features. It is more elusive in that it continuously escapes definition.1