Making Sense of Public Policy Innovation in a Fragmented World: The Search for Solutions and the Limits of Learning
Pp. 269-286 (18)
John Fenwick and Janice McMillan
This chapter considers learning, change and innovation in a public sector
where the certainties of ‘New Public Management’ (NPM) have been replaced by
uncertainty and flux. In this setting, policy actors may resort either to innovation or
retrenchment. New solutions to policy problems may be generated or actors may revert
to foundational approaches. This impacts upon practice as stakeholders search for
meaning and engage in sense-making. Drawing from the authors’ research within the
UK public sector, this theoretical paper argues that rapid change and the failure of old
solutions (for instance, to the global financial crisis) do not necessarily generate positive
innovation. There may indeed be a retreat to previous failed responses, with entrenched
learning producing negative results. The chapter concludes that innovation requires the
core component of creativity if it is to be of value. As the modernist conception of
gradual mastery of the world has fallen away, different theoretical tools are needed in
understanding this changed policy environment. It is suggested that established
governance and network theories are of limited assistance. It is more useful to adopt an
anti-foundationalist position, using sense-making perspectives informed by both
Weberian and critical approaches while avoiding grand meta-narrative.
New Public Management, active learning, sense-making, creativity,
street level and high-level policy.
Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.