By Hamid Bohloli on 12 Aug. 2009
John (1998) in this prominent book; “Analysing Public Policy” has offered an alternative classification of theories, including `macro socio-economic’ approaches, on the one hand and with procedure of policy process e.g. `Stages Approaches’ on the other with adding five `Political Science Approaches’ such as “Institutionalism”, “New institutionalism”, “Ideas based”, “Group and network” and “Rational choice theory”. Ultimately he introduces a new “Cultural Evolution” approach labelled “Synthesis through evolution”‘. John’s approach is based on “usage” and “applicability” as well as “explanatory power”‘ for analysis and interpretation of public policy processes as a building, judged by four main criteria. Two criteria are conditions of “stability” and “change” and two others allocated to “sector” and “country” all assessable by qualitative ranking from poor to good. In other words, he opens a new window on policy research to understand what are the capabilities in regard to each theory and where they would be more applicable. In ranking based on poor, fair and good capability to interpret policy making process John (1998) draws a conclusion about two groups of the above mentioned theories but he is surprisingly silent about stages approach group theories enclose rationalism, incrementalism and implementation theory.
By reviewing John’s published documents in the contexts of evolutionary theory in public policy study and their criticisms it becomes evident that he is concerned with synthesis theory besides trying to introduce the potentiality of the new version of evolutionary theory in public policy study arena. He attempts to clarify the previous works of pioneers such as Kingdon, Baumgartner and Sabatier. Moreover streams in John’s opinion are not as clear as Kingdon’s multi-stream approach and selection mechanism has been left by just mention to its important role in predestination of policy process. In brief John’s “Analysing Public Policy” is a text for theory reviewing of course with contribution of introducing a new theory classification based on explanatory power in change and stability status. Usually John’s latter papers in subject turn around to justify this book. However he not only has brought evolutionary theory on the scene of public policy successfully but also has made a reasonable connection between evolutionism and memetics.
John (1998) stresses that `It is important to be careful in using the process of evolution in discussions about public policy, as the term draws its original meaning from the Darwinian idea of a competitive struggle for the fittest and from the Victorian notion of progress’ (p.183). He reiterates Dawkins’ idea that a modern account of evolution, both in science and, more controversially, for societies and political systems, does not assume there is a competitive struggle between organisms or social and political actors. The various elements interact and modify their behaviour either by competing or by cooperating to achieve the survival of their gene or idea (Dawkins 1976). John says in addition that `They compete or cooperate in various contexts that may be very different, but what makes the process evolutionary is the process of selection at work whereby some genes or mimemes [memes] fail and others succeed’ (John 1998, p.183).
John believes that the evolutionary mechanism could to make clear the interaction of the numerous ideas-interests as competitors, in the institutional, cultural, and socio-economic environments. In ending John emphasises that changing of the policy environment could play a significant role on its interactive mechanism and concludes that evolutionary approach is more appropriate to explain change than stability when he writes following sentences.
There is no automatic process whereby some ideas and interests are favoured, and others are not. It depends on continual interaction and the changing nature of the policy environment. Evolutionary theory is not functionalist because it does not assume that policy-making and implementation are good for the political system as a whole. Evolution does not create stability’ (John 1998, p.187).
As a result could be said that the evolutionary theory after modification and modernising is going to be returned as an influential approach of public policy process due to its capability to map out the casual- interactive mechanisms of public policy-making process as well as having sensible explanatory power to read between the lines of main social factors on policy change.
MD., MPH., MRes, PhD.