Comment: We have here a contribution to Edward Elgar’s Handbooks of Research on Public Policy series. This volume is edited by Michael Howlett and Ishani Mukherjee (2017). The publisher’s blurb (http://www.e-elgar.com/shop/handbook-of-policy-formulation) describes the book as a “pioneering effort to consolidate the state of knowledge on policy formulation”. The blurb also locates the book within what I describe elsewhere (see Analysing Policy, Pearson Education, 2009, p. 1) as a reactive approach to public policy in which governments are seen to be reacting to fixed and identifiable problems that are exogenous to (outside of) the policy process: “In attempting to resolve pressing public problems, governments devise, deploy and develop policy tools in many different ways in different sectors and jurisdictions”. It is of course this whole notion of exogenous problems that are purported to exist separate from policies that WPR is designed to challenge!
Chapter 5 in the Handbook by Arnost Veselý deals explicitly with “Problem delimitation in policy formulation”. Veselý (2017, p. 85) suggests that “scholars from all strands do not take policy problems as ‘objective entities’ that are to be found, but as constructs that are defined”, while acknowledging that authors differ in “how this construction should be understood”. He (2017, p. 83) draws a distinction between rational (positivist) approaches and interpretive (post-positivist) approaches to “problem structuration”, while acknowledging the contrasts I identify between post-structural perspectives and interpretivism, due to the latter’s focus on different actors’ problem definitions (see Bacchi The Turn to Problematization. Veselý (p. 92) sees promise in two recent conceptual developments in the field, “wicked problems” and “problematization”. Unfortunately, he has little to say about these developments (on these topics see Bacchi Problematizations Health Policy. Moreover, he concludes that “problematic situations” “must be labeled and clustered into sets of problems that can be subject to policy actions”, a proposition that appears to affirm the reactive stance of the Handbook (see above) with policy problems as simply existing and waiting to be solved – a disappointing conclusion.