Reinvigorating the Australian Project




Leigh, Andrew

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Blackwell Publishing Ltd


A number of theorists have recently proposed versions of the 'policy cycle' as a framework for understanding contemporary public policy processes. This has provoked critical responses from writers who dismiss the policy cycle as an inaccurate general description of public policy and an impractical normative model for decision making. In this article, I use an historical and interpretative method to explore the senses in which a policy cycle coheres with the experiences and values of policy analysts working in contemporary bureaucratic contexts. Drawing on Radin's notion of post-Machiavellian policy analysis, I suggest that the policy cycle has the potential to capture some of the fundamental features of current policy formulation, including the existence of numerous decision makers, the high degree of competition and contestability among sources of policy advice, and the substantial impact of previous policies on new efforts. Through interviews with senior Australian public servants, I argue that the model should not be interpreted as a rigorous, formulistic guide to the policy process. I also suggest that writers must be careful to distinguish between normative and descriptive uses of the policy cycle, and that more needs to be done to clarify how the policy cycle can improve policy making in contexts where political representatives do not give bureaucrats room to undertake good analytical work.





Australian Journal of Public Administration


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