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Critical Policy Studies


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Harold lasswell's problem orientation


for the policy sciences
Nick Turnbull
a

a b

School of Social Science and Policy , University of New South Wales

Politics , The University of Manchester


Published online: 11 Mar 2010.

To cite this article: Nick Turnbull (2008) Harold lasswell's problem orientation for the policy
sciences, Critical Policy Studies, 2:1, 72-91, DOI: 10.1080/19460171.2008.9518532
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19460171.2008.9518532

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Harold Lasswell's
"Problem Orientation" for
the Policy Sciences
Nick Turnbull
School of Social Science and Policy, University of New South Wales and
Politics, The University of Manchester.

Abstract
Harold Lasswell's 'problem orientation' is the keystone in his concept of the 'policy
sciences'. However, many critics have since rejected his view of policymaking as a
problem solving science. I explain and critique Lasswell's problem orientation in a new
way, in terms of his scientific conception of problem and solution. Lasswell derived his
vision of the policy sciences from Dewey's conception of knowledge as problem solving.
Lasswell modified Dewey's pragmatism by proposing a policy sciences composed of
two separate poles, the scientific study of problems and policymaking around these
problems. These were synthesized in a larger scientific perspective, the 'problem
orientation'for the policy sciences. However, this synthesis is neither scientific in theory
nor in practice. The link between the two poles is contingent, rather than necessary.
Lasswell suppressed the problematic to cast policy science as a non-political politics.
The relationship between the two poles, and the problem orientation in general, should
be theorized as contingent and political.

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The American political scientist Harold Lasswell had a vision for the 'policy sciences' which
would bring togetherthe social sciences and practical policymaking to solve public problems.1
The concept of the 'problem orientation' was the keystone in this vision which, for many, still
animates the scholarly field of policy analysis. Contemporary writers both within and outside
the United States continue to draw on Lasswell's ideas and reiterate his key themes, particularly
his concern for public problems and democracy (Ascher and Hirschfelder-Ascher 2004; de
Leon, 1981;Dryzek, 1989; Dryzek and Torgerson, 1993; Fischer, 2003 ;Hajer and Wagenaar,
2003a; Torgerson, 1985,1995;WeissandWittrock, 1991). Lasswell explicitly framed his
vision as an adaptation of John Dewey's general approach to public policy (Lasswell, 1971:
pp. xiii-xiv).11 We seeDewey's problem solving logic at work in Lasswell's pragmatic vision
of the policy sciences. Torgerson outlines the strong influenceofDeweyihroughoutLasswell's
thought, noting that Dewey's How We Thinkwas Lasswell's point of departure forunderstanding
the policy process, his ideas reflecting Dewey's step-wise model of problem solving (Torgerson,
1995: p. 236). Lasswell was important in founding a key journal of the field, Policy Sciences,
and wrote of how the 'problem orientation' should animate the policy sciences as distinctive
from other forms of scholarship.
Lasswell is important to academic policy analysis for several reasons: heis the founder of
the'policy sciences' ideal;his work is one manifestation of the largermovement of science
against politics;hetried to formalise the relationship between social science and policymaking;
and he made problem solving the defining characteristic of policy analysis. However, the
problem solving ideal he espoused has come under considerable criticism. Among the telling
objections are that it presumes an inadequate, univocal definition of social problems (Lindblom
and Woodhouse, 1993: p. 21; Rose, 1977); excludes the symbolic dimension of policy
meanings (Yanow, 1996); pays insufficient attention to problem setting and problem framing
(Rein and Schon, 1977: pp. 236-9); and does not deal with political agenda setting (Kingdon,
1984). hi general, the problem solving view of policy science has been debunked as a 'myth'
(Rein and White, 1977). Since then, interpretative policy analysishas emerged as a broad
alternative to the 'policy sciences' vision (see, for example, Fischer 2003; Gottweis 2007;
Hajer and Wagenaar 2003a; Yanow 1996).m Interpretative researchers have drawn on
alternative epistemological perspectives which differ markedly from mainstream political science.
But while different, they also value Lasswell's interest in democracy and carry on his belief
that scholars should be concerned with policymaking in practice rather than in abstract theory.
I think it is worth returning to Lasswell's problem orientation to see where it went wrong in
constructing itself as science while also retaining what is of most value in itthe problem
orientation.1V While the specifics of my discussion only apply to Lasswell, his thought reflects
the broad hope for a science of politics. Through Lasswell we can consider the question of
how to relate science and politics and what this means for our conception of policy analysis as
a field of scholarly inquiry. This debate is not new, but in examining Lasswell's conception of
'problem' we can view the origin of the scientific approach in a new way, and also see how
to retain the problem concept and extract it from its scientific connotations. The advent of this
new journal, Critical Policy Analysis, affords us the opportunity to consider Lasswell in a

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Harold Lasswell's 'Problem Orientation' for the Policy Sciences

new light and reassert the value of his ideas for contemporary interpretative policy analysis.
Firstly, I describe how Lasswell extended upon Dewey's problem solving logic in his
vision of the policy sciences as a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving, made up of
two poles of one larger scientific rationality. Secondly, I review some of the critiques of this
construction by examining the literature on theuse of scientific knowledge in policymaking.
Thirdly, I discuss the policy sciences vision as an attempt to scientifically solve the problem of
politicsby suppressing problematicity. I concludeby arguing that Lasswell's two poles should
be rethought in political terms, groundedupon a contingent logic of questioning which accounts
for the interpretative and rhetorical relationship between the social scientific study of public
problems and the use of social science in policymaking around these problems. Such a logic
would overturn the problem solving (scientific) assumption and be consistent in posing this
relationship itself in terms of questioning.

1. Harold Lasswell: theorising the policy sciences


The social sciences have always been interwoven with politics and government but the idea to
construct a research programme specifically oriented towards policy emerged only in the
1940s and 1950s with Lasswell and hisfellow scholars in the United States (Wittrock, Wagner,
and Wollmann, 1991: p. 28,31; Lerner and Lasswell, 1951). Atypically modern idea, Lasswell
had a grand vision that the policy sciences would scientifically address fundamental problems
of employment, peace and equality (Wagner, Weiss, Wittrock and Wollmann, 1991b: p. 7).
While the term 'policy sciences'is not used universally, Wagner etal. (1991b: p. 4) define it
well as 'the tradition within the social sciences that seeks 'relevance to contemporary affairs'
The development of the policy sciences was itself very much a part of the increasing demand
for social science research as the state took on new functions, such as macroeconomic planning
and redistributing wealth (Gagnon, 1990: p. 1). The social sciences at large developed with
the success of the natural sciences in mind, seeking control of the social environment just as
science commanded the natural one (Fay, 1975: p. 19). From the Enlightenment notion of a
world of puzzles to be solved, the policy sciences developed as the desire for knowledgeable
governance (Parsons, 1995: p. 17). Scientific politic s would provide technical arguments to
reach mutually acceptable answers, and disagreements based on values would drop away, as
would rhetoric and concern for power and position (Fay, 1975: p. 22). Wolin describes the
depth and extent of the assumption that social phenomena could be rationally understood and
society advanced by scientific means (1961: pp. 35 8-60). The last two centuries saw a long
termmovement against politics and political philosophy in favour of science that even extended
beyond positivists to reactionary theocrats (1961: pp. 358-60). All of them saw facts as
central to questions of policy and government, and all of them utilised 'necessity' as a bridge
for smuggling facts into the territory of norms (1961: p. 360). As such, the social sciences
depicted a model of society which left no room either for politics and the practice of the
political art, orfor a distinctively political theory (1961: p. 360). But even where policymaking
was not explicitly theorised as a science, scientific ideas about policy and politics were
widespread and elements persist in contemporary policy theory (Hajer and Wagenaar, 2003b:
p. 18).

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/. Policy science as problem solving


Lasswell derived his vision of the policy sciences from Dewey's conception of knowledge as
problem solving. Dewey contended that problem solving pertained only to experience, therefore
to the problems of the public, an idea reflected in LassweU's dream of the policy sciences of
democracy (1951a: p. 10). Lasswell shared Dewey's rejection of private abstract thought in
the form of metaphysics and theology, citing the philosopher's focus on social institutions as
exemplary of the pragmatist attitude (195 la: p. 12). The 'problem orientation' was to be the
distinctive outlook of the practical policy sciences (1970,1971). Lasswell adopted Dewey's
definition of problems and solutions in terms of experience: by definition a problem is a perceived
discrepancy between goals and an actual or anticipated stateof affairs (1971: p. 56). Lasswell
tried to develop policy science as a distinct field, a 'policy orientation' distinguishable by its
particular focus on problems (195 la). These problems were to be addressed with the goal of
realising human dignity (Lasswell, 1951a: p. 15; 1951b: p. 5; 1971: p. 41). The problem
orientation of the policy sciences combined the twin questions of knowledge of the world and
the best modeof democracy (Lasswell, 1971: p. 4). The policy sciences were 'the policy
sciences of democracy' (195 la) because the problem orientation was the regulative criterion
which would integrate scientific inquiry with solving the problems of the public. Lasswell's
support for democracy, scientific inquiry, and practical policymaking are not in dispute: it is
theform of this integration that is in question here.
Lasswell and his colleagues favoured a scientific approach to solving policy problems.
DespiteDewey's concern to distinguish practical science from abstract science, Lasswell saw
that policy sciencevhad much in common with the logical positivism of Carnap and that it
could be of great benefit, for example in developing indexes of social attitudes (1951 a: p. 12).
It is important to note that early writers in the policy sciences did not propose a simple
mechanistic interpretation of social action. In the seminal edited collection The Policy Sciences
(Lerner and Lasswell, 1951), Hilgard and Lerner noted the great changes to social theory
brought about by Darwin, Marx and Freud, all of whom recognised greater social flux and
individual autonomy against perfect predictability (1951: pp. 17-18). Policy science was
both a symptom of, and a response to, the new problems of social coordination that arrived
with modernity. But while acknowledging the impossibility of predicting human behaviour and
making scientific generalisations about the future, Lasswell said that such projections should
still be appraised in a scientific frame of reference (195 lb: p. 28).
Policy science was to be an interdisciplinary science to address social changeby improving
policymaking (Hilgard and Lerner, 1951: pp. 42-3). HenceLernerandLasswell's (1951)
inaugural volume The Policy Sciences not only discussed policymaking but also included
chapters by social scientists such as Margaret Mead and Edward Shils. The five chapters on
research methods in this same volume (notably by Kenneth Arrow and Paul Lazarsfeld) reflect
the methodological bent of policy science's origins. The idea was not simply to apply scientific
knowledge to policy problems. They supposed that ideal rationality was scientific rationality
and that decision making could also be conducted according to scientific methods and principles.
The empirical criterion marked the distinction between science and non-science, and the

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emphasis on decision making marked the difference between policy science and other
disciplines (Lasswell, 1971: p. 1).
Despite his scientific outlook, Lasswell and the positivists differed regarding the question
of values, a position he shared with Dewey. Dewey criticised other forms of empiricism for
separating questions of fact and value (Moore, 1961: p. 266). Hebelieved that philosophy
oriented towards practical action overcame scientific elitism and demanded that inquiry be
directed towards practical measures in line with fundamental human values. Lasswell also
dealt with the problem of values and was keen to indicate how important they wereforthe
policy orientation.vm He argued that practical science does involve values because the goals
of policymaking should produce the type of human relations we find most desirable (1951 a:
p. 9). He defined value instrumentally as "a category of preferred events,' such as peace
rather than war, high levels of productive employment rather than mass unemployment' and so
forth (195 la: pp. 9 -10). Although values introduce an element of subjectivity to science,
Lasswell argued that this does not totally undermine scientific objectivity since non-objective
values could be considered in advance when determining the goals of policy inquiry, after
which 'the scholar proceeds with maximum objectivity and uses all available methods' (195 la:
p. 11).
Although Lasswell included values in the choice of problems, he separated them from the
rational process of scientific policymaking, which required 'scrupulous objectivity and maximum
technical ingenuity in executing the projects undertaken' (Lasswell, 1951a: p. 14). Setting
value questions comprises an entirely different process than the scientific procedure that solves
them in experience. We see this division elsewhere in Lasswell's writing when he described
clarifying goal values as a preliminary step to selecting hypotheses (195 lb: p. 5). So, he did
think values important, however in suggesting such a separation in the process of thinking,
Lasswell divided rationality and limited the flexibility of reason in order to support a
methodological, staged model of policymaking. The question here is whether we can divide
rationality in such a way. Is it possible to fix social values, or do they change with the very
process of inquiry regardless of the goals we set? Even if we could establish clear values,
would policy prescriptions which are consistent with those values automatically follow ?
Lasswell's vision was distinct from the specialist sciences becausehe saw policy science
not as just another new science nor as just another term for social science. All scientific
knowledge is relevant to public problems so the disparate sciences would come together in
the policy sciences. Thus there is no singular policy science but policy sciences in the plural
(1951a). Lasswell stressed that the policy sciences should investigate the most important,
fundamental problems, and that policy scientists should not become distracted from this by
attending onlyto the urgent issues of theday (1951a: p. 8). It is the orientation towards these
important problems that is different about the policy sciences, since they are a fraction of the
issues which fall under the purview of a range of sciences (Lasswell, 1951a: p. 4). This
encompassed both the social and natural sciences since any item of knowledge whether
about social attitudes or the range of weaponswas potentially u seful for policy (1951 a: p.
3). Lasswell identified two main forces driving the need for interdisciplinary inquiry. Firstly,

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social problems are complex and a great variety of scientific information is relevant to complex
problems. Understanding such problems required a way to integrate different types of
knowledge for decision making (Lasswell, 1951a: p. 14;seealsoMertonandLerner, 1951:
p. 300). Secondly,he understood thatweencounter problems and solutions in context. He
sought to overcome the fragmentation characteristic of the sciences through his attention to
context, multi-method inquiry, and practical problem solving (1971: pp. xiii, 8,13-15). He
argued that this integrative impetus constituted 'a reversal of nineteenth- and early twentiethcentury trends toward specialisation' (1971: p. 8).

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//. The two poles of the policy sciences


Lasswell formalised his vision through the twofold orientation of the policy sciences: 1) 'the
development of a science of policy forming and execution' using social and psychological
inquiry, and 2) improving 'the concrete content of the information and the interpretations
available to policy makers' (1951a: p. 3). Helaterrephrasedthisas 'the policy sciences are
concerned with knowledge ofand in the decision processes of the public and civic order'
(1971: p. 1). Knowledge o/the decision process is achieved by 'systematic, empirical studies
of how policies are made and put into effect', while knowledge in the decision process draws
upon the various scientific disciplines to increase the stock of knowledge relevant to public
policy (1971: pp. 1-2). Since the policy orientation includes many existing disciplines, he had
to identify for it a distinguishing characteristic; integrating science with the decision process
(1971: p. 1). That is, synthesising scientific decision making and scientific knowledge via the
common focus on policy problems produces a larger, unique policy orientation. Policy science
advances knowledge 'whenever the methods are sharpened by which authentic information
and responsible interpretations can be integrated with judgment' (Lasswell, 195 la: p. 4). Just
as Dewey wished to redress the denigration of applied knowledge, Lasswell stressed that
while policy sciencehad practical importance it was not simply an applied science, that is, of
less value than pure science (195 la: p. 4; see also, in the same volume, Hilgard and Lerner,
1951: p. 42).1X He insisted that focusing on how policy is made and executed 'identifies a
unique frame of reference', whilealso utilising other pre-existing sciences (1971: p. 1). The
orientation towards public problems followed directly from Dewey's pragmatism, but it is the
synthesis of Lasswell's two poles that establishes the distinct nature and identity of the policy
sciences; science encompasses both in an overall problem orientation.
To digress for a moment to the important, subtle distinction between Lassw ell's policy
science and other versions of policy science inspired by logical empiricism, Torgerson has
interpreted Lasswell'suse of the term 'judgment' as closer to political prudence (phronesis),
than technocratic policy science (1995: pp. 238-9). He sees Lasswell's work as very different
from positivist policy theory, resonating with the contemporary revival of Aristotelian practice
as a postpositivist alternative (Torgerson, 1995; on phronesis see Fischer, 2003: p. 133; for
an example, seeFlyvbjerg, 2001). Thisinvolves emphasising Lasswell's concern for context
and improving public deliberation, distinct from a purely technocratic policy science (Fischer,
2003: p. 221). Lasswell's and Dewey's pragmatism differed from positivism in important

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respects but I do not think it has been established that their approach was logically different;
they both shared an underlying 'scientific' problem solving rationality. Lasswell did say that
the yardsticks for analysis used by the policy scientist and the decision maker must be
distinguished, since decision makers mighthavetobe satisfied with achieving less (1951b: p.
16). Taking account of political circumstances and other constraints requires some degree of
intuition over pure empiricism. Even so, Lasswell's theory is still scientific at its root and
employs scientific method in devising and implementing solutions to problems. His pragmatist
heritage is different from positivismin valuing practical action as the primary goal of knowledge,
however this is a normative criterion. The underlying logic of both is to resolve questions by
reference to experience, which is, and only is, what counts as knowledge in the end (on the
primacy of experience, see Dewey 1938: pp. 105-6; 1958: pp. 8,11; 1971: p. 236; and on
knowledge as the elimination of questions via experience seeDewey 1938: pp. 104-5; 1958:
p. 7; 1971: p. 100). Authentic interpretation and decision making eliminates questions
apodictically by referring to experience and therefore the most rigorous and sophisticated
policymaking integrates scientific knowledge with a scientific decision making procedure.
Whatever similarities and differences there were between positivism and pragmatism, in
elaborating the policy sciences Lasswell moved qualitatively away from practical reason and
further towards science. Dewey acknowledged that inquiry could conclude with a directive
for action rather than definitive problem solving action. However, his main idea was that
knowledge shouldhave instrumental, practical consequences, and these were not to be
distinguished from the process of inquiry itself (Dewey 1938: pp. 118,120-1,499). Rather
than seeing practical reason as necessarily concluding with action, Lasswell formulated the
practical stage as a different but related question, subsuming the two under a larger synthesis
true to Dewey's 'problem orientation'. Indeed, even apodictic judgements about the world
do not necessarily entail only one possible way to achieve our ends in practice (see Hintikka,
1974: pp. 80-97), so there is always a choice when it comes to the mechanisms for bringing
about policy prescriptions. Therefore we can say Lasswell correctly divided policymaking
into two dimensions. He acknowledged that scientific inquiry can produce knowledge without
necessarily making directives for action. It can do, and one could suppose that perhaps scientists
should be civic-minded, but it is not necessarily in the nature of inquiry to do so. Lasswell saw
that a synthesis of the two poles of the policy sciences was necessary to bring science together
with an orientation towards solving public problems.
In sum, Lasswell divided what was for pragmatism a singular questioning process into a
dual questioning process. He transformed a holistic procedure that moves us from problem to
solution as practical effect into two inquiries; one into the nature of the problem and another
into how best to effectit. Lasswell's two poles of the policy sciences divided scientific findings
from the practical methods of bringing them about. He moved beyond the Deweyan model
and established a distinction between science and scientific politics, even though he did not
think that policymaking was logically different from scientific inquiry. To me, Lasswell's
approach seems right insofar as he identified a conceptual limitation of Dewey's pragmatism
although arguments about the nature of practical reason are complex and far from settled.

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Whatever the case, at the same time as Lasswell explicated Dewey's program in the form of
a policy sciences that would draw science and policymaking together, we see a fragmentation
of the theoretical model despite his attempts to establish a unified field. Science still encompassed
the dual questioning process overall but separating these questions made explicit what was at
stake and allowed us to see the distinction between science and policymaking, a distinction
that became the source of later critiques.
The question we must now ask is this: is Lasswell's synthesis of the two poles of the policy
orientation itself scientific? Without even considering whether policymaking can be conducted
scientifically, for Lasswell's vision to be consistent the relationship between the two poles
must itself be scientific. However, it is not. A scientific verification would draw on the empirical
as the criterion of judgment but Lasswell made this conclusion theoretically, without reference
to experience. His synthesis of the two poles is not scientific at all. It is based on a normative
view that policymaking should be 'rational' (where rationality equals problem solving) and
that science is the most rational logic for researching and practically solving public problems.
Therefore the construction of the policy sciences is not consistent with the criterion for scientific
problem solving he proposes. We now need to examine the literature to find examples which
will allow us toftiitherunravelLasswell's theoretical synthesis of social science and policymaking.

Questioning the scientific model


/. The use of scientific knowledge
Lasswell's formulation of the two poles of the policy sciences raises thequestion of how one
pole relates to the other, how scientific knowledgeis used in policymaking. Why is theuse of
knowledgein policymaking important? The link between scientific theory and practical control
was essential to positivist science (Fay, 1975: pp. 2948) even where it was not theorised in
quite this way. The policy sciences ideal supposes that the two poles of social scientific research
and practical political action can be subsumed under a singular rational process.
I noted above that the theoretical relationship between Lasswell's two poles is not scientific.
Empirical research has also shown the progress of knowledge between the two poles of the
policy sciences to be far from continuous. Scientific information is often used in policymaking
in a manner that is neither objective nor goal-directed (Weiss, 1991). Indeed, in The Policy
Sciences Merton and Lerner (1951) pointed to the insidious possibilities for policy makers to
use scientific research forulterior purposes. They noted that decision makers sometimes
commission scientific studies on problems upon which they do not wish to act so as to delay
action and allay criticism against them (1951: p. 299). Hence they distinguished between two
types ofknowledgeused in policymaking. The first type, they argue, conductedby groups
with self-interest in mind, is more likely to be exploited for propaganda, to justify a
predetermined decision, and the research findings less likely 'to be subjected to the test of
experience' (1951: p. 299). The second type of research, research for action, is subjected to
the test of experience by scientists and is therefore a genuine response to a problem (1951: p.
299). We must admit the possibility that knowledge can beused for other than instrumental

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purposes, no matter how undesirable this might be.


What has been the experience in practice? Over the last few decades many scholars have
examined theuse of scientific knowledge in policymaking (see Brooks and Gagnon, 1990;
Wagner et al., 1991 a; Weiss, 1977). Despite the great volume of social science developed
for policymaking many researchers have concluded that social sciencehas had mixed or even
little success in influencing policy solutions (Jenkins-Smith, 1990: p. 47; Rein and Schon,
1977: p. 235). The idea that analysis is used to solve problems has been debunked as a
'problem solving myth'(Rein and White, 1977: p. 262). Weiss, for example, outlines the
many disappointments of social scientists: research findings were not as influential on policy as
scholars had hoped; scientists naively failed to appreciatehow important ideology and interests
are in politics; research was more likely to influence how policy makers conceptualised problems
than provide solutions, or it was used to move issues higher or lower on the public agenda;
and policy makers often used research as an argument to advocate for a favoured position
(1991: pp. 311-14). The ways science and the state interact continue to be an important
research area, and the sociology of knowledge is now an established theme of policy studies.
Because scientific knowledgeis notused consistently in the two poles of the policy sciences
Lasswell's synthesis is not coherent. At the end of the volume by Wagner et al. (1991a),
Weiss and Wittrock (1991) review the Lasswellian vision of the policy sciences in light of the
relationship between social science and policy in practice. They emphasise that policy theorists
must move away from a simplistic understanding of theuse of scientific research in policymaking,
stressing how historical forces and institutional structures impact upon the relationship between
social science and the state (1991: p. 356). They call for a re-examination of Lasswell's
programme, saying we should pay particular attention to its historicity, epistemology, and
ontology and that, importantly, we must account for human agency (1991: pp. 366-7). They
state that this is not a call 'for abstruse philosophising', but say that social science will only be
relevant to human concerns if it accounts for how social structures condition those concerns,
and how we can act independently of them (1991: p. 367).
Weiss and Wittrock rightly move away from a naive scientific view and locate the source
of the difficulties in understanding policy in fundamental philosophical questions. But their
qualification about philosophy illustrates their keen awareness of how difficult it is to broach
such questions within such a practically-oriented concern as policy analysis. If the problems
underlying the policy sciences concept stem from fundamental questions of knowledge and
human nature then why not return to philosophy to see what it can offerus? Such an inquiry is
beyond the scope of this paper, but for now I would simply note that the use of research for
a variety of purposes other than problem solving in the policy arena confirms the conceptual
break between social scientific knowledge and problem solving action envisioned by both
Dewey and Lasswell.

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//. Reconsidering the relationship between science and policy


Understanding the relationship between social science and policy, Wittrock says, 'ultimately
rests on an assumption about the analogy between the operational modes of the realms of
research and of policy' (1991: p. 336). If policymaking deploys scientific knowledge to varying
effect and for non- scientific purposes then we cannot maintain that the two poles of the policy
sciences fall under one larger, scientific rationality3. Wittrock examines this relationship anew
by considering the logical assumptions behind the various theories of how social scienceand
policy interact (1991: pp. 337-9). Firstly, the enlightenment model sees social science as
identifying problems ratherthan solving them, i.e., supplying general orientations and concepts
which filter into public consciousness. Secondly, the engineering model is utilitarian and
subordinates research to the demands of policy. Third is the technocratic model, where
research is primary and to which policy is subordinated. Finally, the classical bureaucratic
model gives primacy to politics and administration. From these he identifies two separate
logics; the enlightenment model and the classical bureaucratic model suppose that the research
and policymaking/administration domains operate according to distinct logics, whereas the
technocratic and engineering models suppose a unitary logic in which the only perceivable
obstacles are practical and organisational (1991: pp. 339,341).
Both these logics are paradoxical. If science and politics operate according to entirely
different logics then it is difficult to see how enlightenment could occur (1991: p. 344). That is,
were the two domains distinctly different epistemologies it would be impossible to translate
knowledge from one to the other. But were we to accept the contrary, that the two realms
operate according to a unitary logic, it would be embarrassing to admit that the planned
interaction rarely happens and that the technical and engineering models rarely seem to apply
(1991: p. 344). Despite this, Wittrock argues that the domains are 'roughly analogous and
compatible'ifnotidentical(1991:p. 344). He proposes an alternative theory, describing the
two logics as 'strongly analogous and continuous' and 'weakly analogous and discontinuous'
respectively (1991: p. 344). He goes on to examinehow other policy theorists conceive of
the relationship between the two domains, concluding in favour of an interactive depiction
whichhe describes as 'discourse structuration' (1991: p. 351). This takes the historical and
institutional context of political activity into account while still allocating an important role to
the agency of the political actors involved (1991: pp. 350-1). The two processes feed back
upon each other to create policy discourse. Wittrock's final, interactional model best
characterises the two-way process in which policy makers utilise scientific knowledge and
how they also influence scientific research; it is not a unified logic but nor is it necessarily an
entirely political process in which evidence plays no part at all.
From this critique, what should we conclude about the relationship between the two poles
of social science for policy and policymaking in practice? Such studies of how scientific
knowledge is used in policy have 'problematised' the idea of a direct, logical connection
between the two poles of the policy sciences. That is, they questioned the relationship between
social science and policy and showed the link to be contingent rather than necessary. In
logical terms, this link is not scientific but rhetorical and political. The two domains interact,

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but knowledge flows between them in variable ways and for variable ends, without being
confined to a singular meaning orusageby the larger problem solving criterion. Politics cannot
be entirely removed in policymaking nor from scientific research/or policy, despite attempts
to quarantine policy science from political contamination. The overall rationality of the policy
sciences has fragmented. Colebatch points out that the scientific model of policymaking is not
so much an accurate theory as an idealistic view of how people think policy shouldbe made
(2002: p. 125). In reality, official versions of the policy process are often only rationalisations,
rhetorical constructions that touch up a chaotic process with a rational gloss (2002: p. 129).
This forces us to reconsider both the nature of politics and its distinctiveness from science in
order to understand the relationship between the two. If we do not bring politics into the
frame of rationality then we allow science to be the standard by default. This entails creating a
space for the problematicity of politics, where problem setting is as important as problem
solving and where solutions are only arguments rather than problem dissolving solutions. While
problem solving is the unquestioned standard of rationality we will not establish a place for
political discourse nor be able to distinguish when it is manipulative from when it is sincere.
This is because politics is a far more problematic realm of rationality which appears inferiorto
science when judged bythe problem solving standard desired by Lasswell. The real interaction
between science and policy indicates that we need to thematise it as a non-necessary
relationship: thisrequires a logic of contingency.
How are we to theorise this difference between social science and a related but qualitatively
different policymaking domain? Given that ideology, interests and power are prevalent in
policymaking, we can say that it is political. How can we make sense of the political aspects
of policy and articulate its intricacies within a larger theory? Wittrock's discussion is productive
but wehave a new question for policy theory; how can it provide an overarching conceptual
framework that deals with the problematic relationship between science and politics without
separating them into incommensurate domains? We lack an interpretative schema which can
replace the problem solving model. It remains the standard, in principle, even though we all
acknowledge it is conditioned by other factors in practice. With problem solving science as
thebenchmark, the goal of replacing politics with policy science persists. Without articulating
a space for political rationality on its own terms it will be difficult to understand policymaking
outside the scientific framework.

3. Policy science as a solution to the problem of politics


Considering the extensive discussion of methods in Lerner and Lasswell's The Policy Sciences,
Wagner et al. (1991b: p. 9) are not surprised by the methodological focus of United States
public policy schools. This methodologismdidnot justreflect the fashion of theday butfollowed
from the idea that rational thought involves the methodological justification of solutions to
problems. The elimination of the problem is what counts as knowledge, an epistemology
which tends to exclude the social construction of problems and political rhetoric around
problems that have equally possible, multiple solutions. In general, Michel Meyernotes that
the scientific view of rationality does not deal with questioning as such but with hypotheses

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(1994: p. 136). In policy science, policy solutions are hypothetical conclusions which are
supposed to resolve social problems in practice.301 The question has already been partially
resolved into a hypothetical answer, the empirical or practical verification of which is all that
remains to convert the hypothesis into an independent result. For example, Campbell proposed
a scientific model of policymaking with his 'experimenting society'theory, derived in part from
Popper's philosophy (Campbell, 1988). Popperians viewed policies ashypotheses and policy
implementation as correspondent with scientific experiment (Dryzek, 1993: p. 219). Campbell
argued that testing policy hypotheses empirically, by trial and error, leads to the growth of
knowledge (Dunn, 1993: pp. 256-7). If problems cannot be resolved in the first instance, the
principle of falsification permits partial explanations to suffice as solutions until better ones can
befound (Dunn, 1993: p. 257).
This is not to say that policymaking does not sometimes proceed by trial and error, in
incremental steps (Lindblom), but simply thatfor policy theorythis is a limitation because
such a conception actually resolves its questions in advanceby converting them into hypotheses.
It tells us nothing about the process required to arrive at those hypotheses, particularly the
political dimensions of constructing social problems and arguing for solutions. The movement
frominitial question to answer-as-hypothesis does not appear because the problem is already
solved and presented as an autonomous judgment (Meyer, 1995: p. 103). The demand for
problem solving thus shifts the focus to the methodological treatment of hypothetical solutions,
emphasising the methodological validation orfalsification of hypotheses. The hypotheticodeducti ve method thus suppresses the initial questioning and becomes the whole of the process.
The initial questioning is lost, being either entirely suppressed or removed to a prior and
separate stage of discovery. Justification becomes the whole of rationality and science the
most rigorous and technically proficient form of justifying results. This is the source of the
methodologism we associate with science generally, and with the scientific conception of
policymaking in this particular case.
Policymaking is then judged by its decision processes, i.e., whether they were scientific,
by how well scientific techniques were applied to verifying policy solutions and action. Simon's
Administrative Behavior, for example, is a seminal work in the application of scientific
techniques to governance (1976). Policy scienceis an instrumental rationality that interprets
the world scientifically and employs scientific techniques to effect change. Even though this
might be practical, stipulating that the criterion for answering questions is the modification of
existence shifts the focus onto the methodby which we verify solutions. The pragmatic criterion
is a worthy one but the logic whereby problems are assumed to be known in advance
emphasises technological rigour as the measure of rationality even more than the efficacy of
the solution. We can point to some shortcomings of this idealised view in practice. Dunn notes
that different stakeholders in a policy area can hold conflicting interpretations at the same time
and in reality few ideals are shared around ill-structured or messy policy problems (1993: pp.
259-60; see also Rose, 1977). Furthermore, Dryzek points out that this view requires
normative schemes to remain fixed and closed to discussion, allowing for an impoverished
conception of politics which fails to take proper account of the context for policy implementation
(1993: p. 220).

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Applying scientific method to policymaking brackets out important qualities of the policy
process, including complexity and contextually-situated knowledge. At a more fundamental
level, Lindblom and Woodhouse describe this shift to science as 'a demand that seems to call
for a reduction of partisan political conflict, of political maneuvering, of power, of 'politics'
(1993: p. 6). Scientific problem solving would succeed in solving problems where politicshad
failed. Policy science thus comprised a general solution to the problems of the public, i. e.,
science was proposed as
ia general answer to the question of politics. To reiterate my discussion above, a major
theme of positivist social science was to replace subjective politics with rational social
engineering. Lasswell was clear on the benefits of science in this respect: 'What has eluded
scientific and policy attention is a large number of the human factors which prevent Ihe resolution
of these difficultiesby rational means' (Lasswell, 1951a: p. 8). He believed psychology, for
example, had great potential to change destructive human nature for instrumental ends,
concluding that treating policy problems scientifically provided thebasis 'for a profound
reconstruction of culture by continual study and emendation, and not by (or certainly not
alone by) the traditional means of political agitation' (195 la: p. 8). His cautionary parenthetical
remark here is just that: the grounding idea is to replace politics with scientific decision making.
Political problems in general aretoberesolvedby science, using scientific methods andby
recourse to experience. Scientific rationality would eliminate the humanand by implication,
irrationalpractice of political agitation. Lasswell's scientific theory of inquiry terminates in
an instrumental, scientific rationality which ideally seeks to replace politics altogether.
By excluding politics from the field of rationality Lasswell was also able to distinguish
between policy and politics. He wrote that '"policy" is free of many of the undesirable
connotations clustered about the word political,which is often believed to imply "partisanship"
or "corruption"' (1951a: p. 5).1 Science is 'disinterested', in contrast to self-interested,
partisan politics, so policy scienceis a non-political mode of finding solutions to public problems.
For Lasswell, policy science was firmly on the side of dispassionate rationality. The ideal of a
problem solving policy science survives for many today (see, for example, Johnson, 2004;
Lauder, Brown and Halsey, 2004). This is not to suggest that policy cannot solve problems,
only that understanding policy is more complex in theory and in practice. In other words, the
difficulty is not that we consider policymaking tobe scientific in practice but that our theoretical
basis for examining policy continues to be grounded in a problem solving rationality, of which
science is the most sophisticated expression.*" But even as an analogy the problem solving
framework has fundamental theoretical shortcomings.
In regard to the 'problem orientation,' what is important here is that science is a general
answerwhich artificially eliminates any constitutive role for questioning andfor'problematicity'
in general. I suggest that the incompatibility of science and politics arises from this suppression
of questioningor more particularly, in conceiving of questioning in only a scientific way, as
problem solving. This is exemplified in the way Lasswell constructed the problem orientation.
Despite the importance of questions and problems in policy theory, he located knowledge in
solutions and the means for obtaining them, not within the question-answer link. Certainly,

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solutions are important. But his approach excludes questions over the normative formulation
of problems and the political rhetoric necessary to justify policy in the event of differences of
opinion. ForLasswell, scientific rationality covered both the input of information to policymaking
and the process of decision making based on that information. He made scientific problem
solving encompass both poles of the policy sciences and, even if we allow for 'satisficing'
solutions (Simon, 1976), the contingencies of budgets, and other institutional and contextual
constraints on perfect decision making, the scientific rationality underlying the policy sciences
tends to marginalise the political by excluding the problematic. Scientific method relates back
to experience, the ultimate determinant of knowledge and that which eliminates questions a
priorihy suppressing the problematic. Method guarantees Ihe meaning of policy by constructing
an artificial, instrumental path from problem to solution, where the nature of the problem has
been decided in advance as also residing in experience. In fact, science is the answer to the
very question of politics, eliminating the latter as a mode of resolution because science dissolves
its questions in its answers. Politicswhich deals with opinion, values and a debatebetween
pro and con where questions remain open and solutions are partialis excluded from ideal
rationality a priori. All that remains is to eliminate the residual problematicity by devising
sufficiently sophisticated research methods and a technico-administrative regime to implement
the scientific program. But can wereally eliminate politics from policy? Attempting to establish
science as the supreme problem solver limits our view of policymaking and fragments our
theory of the policy process.

4. Conclusion: politicising the problem orientation


Lasswell's 'problem orientation' is a useful construct forthinking about the scholarly analysis
of policymaking as dealing with twin questions: the social scientific study of public problems
and policymaking in response to those problems. However, Lasswell sought to conceive of
both questions and the relationship between them in scientific terms. Instead, wehave theoretical
and empirical reasons to reconceptualisehow we think about these two poles of policy analysis.
Many critics have already pointed out that policymaking is far from a perfectly rational,
scientific enterprise. At the same time, social science is still extensively used by policymakers.
By problematising the problem orientation I wish to point out that we should think of the
relationship between these poles as being itself in question. We cannot subsume both poles
within a scientific frameof reference because this excludes what is political about policymaking
and theuse of knowledge in policymaking (not to mention the other direction of influence, the
politics of funding social scientific research). Instead, the relationship between science and
policymaking is contingent, not necessary (or causal). It poses a question because there is no
seamless logical path from scientific inquiry to policy solution. Knowledge can beused for
many different purposes in policymaking, and our theories should reflect this full range of
possibilities; from genuinely informing decisions, to being used to obfuscate and delay, to
justifying decisions already taken for other reasons. In short, by acknowledging that this
relationship is always in question, we seethe political dimension of theuse of knowledge in
politics. This overturns the presupposition that the problem of the two poles canbe solved by

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imposing a scientific framework. Most importantly, it renders the problem orientation consistent
at an epistemological level by conceptualising the relationship between the two poles in terms
of questioning. This opens up a political frame of reference for the entire problem orientation.
Furthermore, the emphasis on questioning shows that what knowledge is and how it is used
depends on interpretations of the problem and on the rhetorical purposes to which
knowledge is put, i.e., by political actors seeking to legitimate their positions. Hence the
problem orientation can be reconceptualisedinterpretativelyusinghermeneutics and rhetoric.
Important theoretical difficulties result from our inability to thematise problematicity in a
positive light because wehave assumed problem solving to be the standard. Dewey rejected
abstract metaphysics and construed knowledge as the dissolution of problems by practical
action, borrowing his model of resolution from science. Lasswell formalised this logic as the
policy sciences, emphasising the methodological treatment of problems for instrumental
outcomes. But the link between research and policy fails to conform to the scientific norm.
The general cynicismheld for politics and politicians is no reason to ignore the reality of
politics, no matter how much we might hope for sober and objective policymaking. Even if
only to critici se it more effectively, our task should be to understand the politic s of policymaking
for what it is and not as what obstructs the imposition of a scientific decision process. We
need to understand what is political about policy in order to reveal the differences between
sincere and manipulative uses of science. Neither science nor practical reason provide a
satisfactory theoretical response to the question of politics: an alternative answer is required,
one that does not seek to eliminate politic s altogether in answering it, but is rather an answer
which reflects what politics actually is, a mode of questioning defined by the problematic.

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Notes
i

Thanks to the anonymous referees for their helpful advice on improving the paper and to
Susan Keen for our many stimulating discussions on theuseof knowledge in policymaking.
ii
For a range of perspectives on Lasswell 's work see the edited collection by Rogow (1969).
In this volume, Eulau (1969) argues for the influence of A. N. Whitehead on Lasswell's
ideas; Smith (1969) points out Dewey and GH. Mead's influence on Lasswell along with
that of Whitehead and Merriam; and Janowitz (1969) also points to the influence of Dewey,
Mead and Thomas on Lasswell at the University of Chicago.
iii I do not deal with the UK strand of interpretivism here (for example, Bevir and Rhodes
2003) as Lasswell is not well known in the UK. However, it has much in common with
continental European and US interpreti vism and these various approaches could fruitfully
be brought together,
iv This article is a preliminary analysis which forms the basis of a reconstructed problem
orientation more appropriate to interpretative policy analysis, a reconstruction I havebegun
elsewhere (Turnbull 2006).
v From here on I will refer interchangeably to 'policy science' or 'the policy sciences' for
stylistic purposes, while noting that Lasswell used the plural sense to indicate an important
conceptual distinction, which I discuss later in this paper.
vi See Dryzek (1993: pp. 217-22) for the distinction between logical empiricism, positivism
and related concepts in policy analysis.
vii
Lasswell developed a stepwise, linearmodel of decision making consistent with this scientific
view (1971: pp. 56-7).
viii For a general discussion of values in policy analysis, see Fischer and Forester (1987); and
for a critique of the positivist separation of fact and value in policy science see Fischer
(1998) and Hawkesworth (1988).
ix Lasswell also noted that the popular conception of a division between science and its
application produced status problems forthe policy scientist. The scholar or scientist
involved in the policy realm may be perceived as a careeristby scientific colleagues and as
a half-hearted participant or as intellectually threatening to those operating primarily in the
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policy field (1971: pp. 120-1). Such a person appears to be 'a second class man of
knowledge and a second-class man of action' (1971: p. 120) or, more colloquially, a 'half
man, half brain' (1971: p. 121).
x
While the policy sciences referred to the natural sciences as well as the social sciences, it
is the latter that occupy much of the debate because these are directly relevant to the
question of the science of governing.
xi Although, Lasswell qualified this by noting that these hypotheses are not strictly scientific
because he did not hold a determinist view of social change(1951a: p. 11).
xii
Parsons (1995: pp. 13-16) provides a good discussion of the varying historical meanings
of the 'policy' concept. He notes the primarily Anglo-Saxon use of the word, as distinct
from 'politics' in other languages, and the post-Second World War association of policy
as a 'rational' plank upon which the legitimacy of the liberal democratic state is built.
xiii
Wolin (1961) describes a general theme in political theory of the 'sublimation' of politics.
For a broad discussion of the decline of traditional political theory in the face of political
science, see Gunnell (1979).
xiv
On rhetoric in policy analysis, see Gottweis (2006, 2007) and Turnbull (2005-06).

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