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Policy sciences contributions to analysis to promote sustainability

  • Special Feature: Editorial
  • Policy sciences for sustainable development
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The policy sciences, in offering the most comprehensive approach to policy analysis and the sociopolitical processes that shape policy outcomes, is particularly appropriate for guiding the analysis required to promote sustainability. This article presents the main components of the policy sciences framework and demonstrates its potency in the crucial task of deepening the problem definitions required to select and enact policies to promote sustainability. As such, it provides background for the policy sciences articles of this special feature.

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  1. Examples of the policy sciences framework as applied to issues of sustainability, particularly conservation and environmental protection, can be found in Brunner (1983), Brunner and Klein (1999), Brunner et al. (2002), Clark (2002), and Healy and Ascher (1995).

  2. See Bardach (1981), Bardach (2000), Dery (2000), and Schon (1979, p. 261).

  3. These value categories are wealth, well-being, skill, enlightenment, power, affection, respect, and rectitude (Lasswell 1971, p. 18).

  4. The classic example is the finding that genetics explains more of the variance in accounting for health outcomes than interventions that individuals and policies can accomplish.

  5. See Lasswell (1971, p. 98).

  6. The standard version, associated with the policy sciences pioneer, Harold D. Lasswell, enumerates the functions of intelligence, promotion, prescription, invocation, application, termination, and appraisal.

  7. The importance of the bottom-up approach to problem definition is the insight that Brewer and Kakalik (1979) used so effectively in assessing the problems of United States handicapped children’s policy in the 1970s. By going first to the parents of handicapped children, the researchers discovered that the major obstacle was not the inefficiency of each agency in fulfilling its mandate to address children with a particular single disability but, rather, the parents’ difficulty in securing the appropriate services, particularly for children with multiple handicaps. This revealed that the conventional functional division among the agencies was defective and that none of the agencies was providing the essential referral services. Brewer and Kakalik’s recommendations for filling these gaps were adopted first through prototypes and later led to major restructuring of handicapped services in the United States.

  8. See Lasswell (1971, p. 16), and Lasswell and McDougal (1992, pp. 368–372). The postulate can actually be extended to all living creatures; natural selection would weed out organisms whose behavior does not tend toward improving conditions.

  9. See World Commission on the Environment and Development (1987).

  10. See Erikson (1982).

  11. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1995, Sect. 8.2), cited by Brunner and Klein (1999, p. 135).

  12. See National Research Council (2003).

  13. Godoy et al. (2001) report that rural people in the Bolivian lowlands do care about the long-term sustainability of their families’ status but are induced to clear the forests because of their expectation that cleared land will reinforce their property claims.

  14. See Brunner (1983) for an overview of the rationales and methodology of case-wise analysis, as well as an application to the issue of energy pricing.

  15. See Brewer (1970) for one of the earliest and most trenchant analyses of this difficulty. See also Healy and Ascher (1995) for a consideration of the tension between quantitative and qualitative information as applied to conservation issues.

  16. See Brunner and Klein (1999).

  17. See, for example, Enters and Durst (2004).

  18. See Melnick (1983).

  19. See Lasswell and Kaplan (1950, p. xiii), Lasswell et al. (1977).

  20. SEE Montgomery and Carroll (1998).

  21. see Andersen (2004) and Rondinelli and Cheema (2003).


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Ascher, W. Policy sciences contributions to analysis to promote sustainability. Sustain Sci 2, 141–149 (2007).

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