Arts and Humanities Postgraduate Conference - 14th-15th June 2021
Professor Paul Cairney
Paul Cairney is the Professor of Politics and Public Policy at the University of Stirling, UK (@CairneyPaul). His research interests are in comparative public policy and his research spans comparisons of policy theories (Understanding Public Policy, 2020), and co-authored accounts of methods associated with key theories (Handbook of Complexity and Public Policy, 2015), international policy processes (Global Tobacco Control, 2012), and comparisons of UK and devolved policymaking (Why Isn’t Government More Preventive?, 2020). He uses these insights to explain the use of evidence in policy and policymaking, in one book (The Politics of Evidence-Based Policy Making, 2016), several articles, and many, many blog posts. If you only have time for one article, make it How to communicate effectively with policymakers.
Keynote abstract: Uncertainty vs Ambiguity in Policy
In policy studies, there is a profound difference between uncertainty and ambiguity:
Uncertainty describes a lack of knowledge or a worrying lack of confidence in one’s knowledge.
Ambiguity describes the ability to entertain more than one interpretation of a policy problem.
Both concepts relate to ‘bounded rationality’: policymakers do not have the ability to process all information relevant to policy problems. Instead, they employ two kinds of shortcut:
‘Rational’. Pursuing clear goals and prioritizing certain sources of information.
‘Irrational’. Drawing on emotions, gut feelings, deeply held beliefs, and habits.
This presentation will propose an artificially binary distinction, uncertain versus ambiguous, and relate it to another binary, rational versus irrational, to point out the pitfalls of focusing too much on one aspect of the policy process.