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Does Policy Analysis Still Matter?

New Book from Professor Lee Friedman and Goldman School Alumni

Does Policy Analysis Matter? Exploring Its Effectiveness in Theory and Practice, edited by Lee S. Friedman, was released by University of California Press in February 2017. In addition to Professor Friedman, chapter contributors include John A. Hird (MPP '86/PhD '88), Eric M. Patashnik (MPP '89) and Justin Peck, and M. Suzanne Donovan (MPP '81/PhD '87 ). All proceeds from the sale of the book will support the Wildavsky Forum, sponsored annually by the Goldman School in memory of Aaron Wildavsky, GSPP's founding dean. Below is an interview with Lee S. Friedman, now a Professor of the Graduate School and Professor Emeritus of Public Policy.

The genesis of this book was the 2014 Wildavsky Forum. What about that gathering made it seem like the time was right for this project?

It was the 20th anniversary of the Wildavsky Forum, and we thought it was a fitting way to honor GSPP’s founding dean by considering what we have learned about the impact of the policy analysis profession that he helped to start. It also seemed fitting to have most of the speakers be the “intellectual arm” of the policy analysis profession, the public policy PhDs, who may be the ones that care most about this. Suzanne Donovan and John Hird have both substantive interests in the question “does policy analysis matter?” and hold PhDs from the Goldman School. Eric Patashnik, the other invited speaker, has an MPP from GSPP and a PhD from Berkeley’s Political Science department. We did not know at the time we were arranging the Forum that we would later decide to make a book that built upon the Forum presentations, but I think the excitement that we felt about the ideas caused us to develop them further into the book.

The book seems prescient of current political times—in a world of “alternative facts,” why *does* policy analysis still matter?

Great question! One answer is that policy analysis is used around the world, and the temporary ascendance of “alternative facts” to the top level of the US federal government does not imply it’s ascendance anywhere else, or even within the US in states like California that still have a highly respected Legislative Analyst’s Office. But a more direct answer can be seen right within the US federal government, with the fate of the failed effort to overturn the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Policy analysis itself is neutral about whether or not Obamacare can be replaced with some different policy that better serves the public interest. But in the case of the legislation introduced by Ryan and supported by the Administration, the supporters’ hopes were repudiated by policy analysis—a report from the Congressional Budget Office that concluded the legislation would cause substantial numbers of US citizens to lose insurance. This analysis convinced enough factually-oriented moderates that they could not support the legislation, and the effort to pass it fell apart. Even in a world where “alternative facts” are too popular, policy analysis matters!

You collaborated with several GSPP alumni. What was it like to collaborate with folks who were once your students?

It was an absolute joy to work with them. For all of us, the GSPP years were a critical formative experience in our lives: they affect how we think today about public policies and public policy-making—it is a strong bond to share. My collaborators are incredibly interesting, thoughtful, careful, creative and responsible individuals who rose to the intellectual challenge of assessing whether and how policy analysis matters. They are also independent thinkers, each drawing upon different research areas and different experiences that provided grist for our thinking about this project. Each chapter is quite different from the others, and each examines a different “slice” of the policy-analytic world to assess whether, when and how it matters. This makes the product intellectually exciting. 

Why did you and all the other contributors decide that the proceeds of this book would go toward the Wildavsky Forum?

I cannot really answer this for the other contributors, but I think we all feel that GSPP is a special place that is truly deserving of support for so many of its activities. The Wildavsky Forum is one of those activities, and it both generates intellectual excitement and intellectual community. Many years ago when I was acting dean and Aaron had just passed away (and the School had no development team) I worked to create the Forum and its endowment in his honor. So perhaps I'm especially pleased with its 20+ years of success, and I wanted to contribute to its healthy future. It would be great if the Forum could do even more of what it has been doing so well, but to do this it needs a bigger endowment. Maybe other GSPP-connected scholars will feel the same and do something similar.