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Learning from policy fiascos in the public sector : the role of interpretation by top management in the civil service

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posted on 15.12.2014, 10:29 by Brian Cawley
This is a study of policy fiascos in the public sector, how they are interpreted, and how we learn from them. 'Policy fiasco' is a term that has been coined by policy analysts to describe high profile events arising from certain actions or inactions of public agencies that have been negatively evaluated by the public and other stakeholders. Despite the frequently serious consequences of such events it would appear that frequently in their aftermath learning is limited or ineffective, and there is evidence that similar problems recur with costly consequences. From an academic perspective this research study will shed further light on the process of learning from policy fiasco, an issue that is of increasing importance, and yet has received relatively little attention in the research literature to date. It is my thesis that policy fiascos are primarily socially and politically constructed events, and that there are multiple interpretations of what occurred. Therefore learning from such events is critically dependent on how key stakeholders, in this case top civil servants in Ireland, interpret the events, and interpret the lessons to be drawn from them. The study will demonstrate the limitations of rational, objective approaches to analysis of, and learning from, policy fiascos, and in particular the limitations of approaches typically adopted by official inquiries into these events. It adds to our knowledge by providing new insights into the process of learning from policy fiasco by adopting an interpretative framework, and through the use of a recent 'iconic' case study of policy fiasco and interviews with the group of top civil servants in Ireland, sheds new light on the reasons why learning in the aftermath of policy fiascos is particularly complex and difficult.


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Labour market studies

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University of Leicester

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