Knowledge and Policy

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 40-60

First online:

Coping with intractable controversies: The case for problem structuring in policy design and analysis

  • Matthijs HisschemöllerAffiliated withthe Institute for Environmental Studies of the Free University
  • , Rob HoppeAffiliated withthe University at Amsterdam

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Intractable controversies and other types of policy disagreements correspond to policy problems with a different structure. The more structured a problem is, the more consensus there is about which values and information are at stake in the process of problem solving. Policymakers like to treat problems in as structured a way as possible. Three policy strategies are described to move away from the unstructured to the more structured problem type. However, policymakers run the risk of oversimplifying an ill-structured problem, which means that elements of the problem situation relevant to other actors are overlooked or denied. Hence, policy controversies may become intractable. The remedy is a fourth strategy, characterised by problem structuring. This strategy requires political participation of actors with different views on the problem, and an argued political problem choice.