Tackling Wicked Policy Problems

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Equality, Diversity and Sustainability

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This short book contributes to accelerating the process of recognition of governance studies as a heuristically powerful field of study in two distinct ways.

In Part I, it shows first how the governance approach has emerged in response to the limitations of the two main cosmologies that have dominated the 20th century scene – type-I liberalism rooted in the market and decentralization; and type-II liberalism rooted in statism and centralization. It proposes a better way to respond effectively to the challenges of effective coordination when power, resources and information are widely distributed into many hands and heads. This new approach has been criticized by the defenders of the ruling cosmologies, but it has evolved effective prototypes of inquiring systems capable of guiding the search for effective wayfinding and for the design of organizational arrangements ensuring effectiveness, resilience and innovation.

In Part II, it explores how the governance approach may help in tackling wicked policy problems where ends are neither well known nor agreed upon, and means-ends relationships are either poorly understood or unstable. Three somewhat different cases are discussed: equality where a dominant ideology of egalitarianism in democratic societies is challenged with great difficulty by a cosmology of equability; diversity where, in Canada, maximum diversity would appear to be regarded as optimal diversity, and multiculturalism is propagandized as the nec plus ultra response even though it may be shown to be toxic; and sustainability, where the problem definition and the general direction in which a viable organizational learning regime will emerge are unclear.

On both fronts, the book tries to bring a bit of subtlety, a taste for complexity, and some innovative ideas to debates that have wallowed, both at the conceptual and at the practical levels, in ideologically muddy waters.

Gilles Paquet is Professor Emeritus at the Telfer School of Management, a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre on Governance of the University of Ottawa, and Editor in Chief of www.optimumonline.ca, an electronic journal on public governance and management that reaches some 10,000 subscribers. For more information, visit his website www.gouvernance.ca.



Part I State of Play

Chapter 1 Slouching Toward a Relatively Stateless State

  • Introduction
  • Two reference points
  • The rise and evolution of the notion of governance
  • Experiments at the Centre on Governance
  • Conclusion

Chapter 2 Governance as Mythbuster

  • Introduction
  • The governance approach
  • Four key notions transformed in the small ‘g’ world
  • Persiflage about the governance approach
  • Some conjectures about the future of governance studies
  • Conclusion

Chapter 3 Wicked Problems and Social Learning

  • Introduction
  • The social learning response to the wicked problems challenge
  • The engine of social learning and wayfinding
  • Scoping design thinking
  • Design attitude: why, what and how
  • Shifting attitude
  • Conclusion

Part II Wicked Trans-scientific Policy Challenges

Chapter 4 Equality

  • Introduction
  • The Tocqueville mechanism
  • The dynamics of the entitlement revolution
  • Impacts of the entitlement revolution
  • The toxicity of the entitlement epidemic
  • The governance of equability
  • Modest general propositions
  • Conclusion

Chapter 5 Diversity

  • Introduction
  • The issue domain: a few stylized facts
  • The manufactured Canadian consensus
  • A fragile social fabric and its dilemmas
  • A primer on the governance of diversity
  • Intermediate cosmopolitanism as the way out
  • The journey to transculturalism
  • Conclusion
  • Annex

Chapter 6 Sustainability

  • Introduction
  • Sustainability as a weaselword
  • Governance
  • Blending, complex adaptive systems and bricolage
  • A plea for polycentric governance
  • Conclusion


  • Issues
  • Polyphonic organizations and hybrid forms of governance
  • Issue domains and wayfinding: mechanisms and representations
  • Two murky frontiers
  • In conclusion
  • References

Quality Paperback with tables, 5½×8½” 200 pg, Publication date: Oct 2013, ISBN 978-1-927465-08-0: $15.95

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Tackling Wicked Policy Problems

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