Tales From the Crypt: The Rise and Fall (and Rebirth?) of Policy Design

Michael Howlett, Raul P. Lejano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Policy design is an area of study in the field of public policy with a curious intellectual history. It engendered a large literature in the 1980s and 1990s oriented to understanding design as both a process and an outcome with prominent figures in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia such as Lester Salamon, Patricia Ingraham, Malcolm Goggin, John Dryzek, Hans Bressers, Helen Ingram and Anne Schneider, G. B. Doern, Stephen Linder and B. Guy Peters, Renate Mayntz, Christopher Hood, Eugene Bardach, Evert Vedung, Peter May, Frans van Nispen, and Michael Trebilock writing extensively on policy formulation, policy instrument choice, and the idea of designing policy outcomes. After the early 1990s, however, this literature tailed off, and although some writings on policy design have continued to flourish in specific fields such as economics and environmental studies, in the fields of public administration and public policy, the idea of "design" was largely replaced by the study of institutional forms and decentralized governance arrangements. This article traces this decline to two related hypotheses about the changing nature of society and policy responses-the "government to governance" and "globalization" narratives-which it is argued crowded out more nuanced analyses of state options in the policy-making process in favor of decentralized market and "third" or "fourth" sector collaborative network mechanisms. Importantly, these latter designs are often seen as inevitable and "natural," obviating the need for reflective studies of design and metadesign processes and outcomes. We argue that the denouement of design research has, in fact, hurt the scholarship on governance and institutions and call for a renewal of the notion of policy design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-381
Number of pages25
JournalAdministration and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • globalization
  • governance
  • policy design
  • policy making

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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