July 12, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 19

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    Lynn’s book proposes ‘a logic of governance’ for public policy practitioners

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office

    Laurence Lynn Jr., the Sidney Stein Jr. Professor of Public Management in the School of Social Service Administration and the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, argues in a new book that the rigorous theories, models and methods of the social sciences can provide valuable insights for public administrators.

    The book, Improving Governance: A New Logic for Empirical Research, (Georgetown University Press) was written by Lynn and co-authors Carolyn Heinrich (Ph.D., ’95), who teaches public policy analysis at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Carolyn Hill, a doctoral candidate in the Harris School and a graduate fellow at the Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research. Lynn and Heinrich edited a companion volume of essays, also recently published by Georgetown, titled Governance and Performance: New Perspectives.

    “Government at every level is far more complicated than in the past. Our goal was to suggest a way to evaluate governmental effectiveness systematically with quantitative research that would be useful to both scholars and practitioners,” Lynn said. The authors demonstrate their method through examples of policies, programs and agencies that provide such human services as public assistance, child protection and public education. The book proposes, said Lynn, “a logic of governance” that enables investigators to relate their specific questions and issues to a bigger picture.

    Lynn and his co-authors provide a methodology to develop the propositions for theoretical and empirical models, design frameworks to test hypotheses, define key concepts, create methods for data collection, and extract convincing and appropriate findings. “We want to reduce the intellectual challenge to manageable proportions,” Lynn said. “We want to help those who study governmental effectiveness to ask the right questions and select events, variables and other measurable factors that will be relevant across different levels of governance.” The approach is central to the training of public policy practitioners at the Harris School and contrasts sharply with the generally anecdotal method employed in other schools of public policy.

    “The field has been dominated by the use of cases, and this has received far more popularity than its effectiveness merits,” Lynn said. “Deconstructing cases to establish ‘best practices’ only goes so far. And it is too easy to find cases that fit the desired answers. Good social science cannot come from broad generalizations.”

    The authors stress that qualitative studies should always supplement quantitative research for theoretical and practical credibility. However, they argue that the complex problems of public management should be addressed with well-designed research that transcends the particular context from which the data are collected.

    “There must be a clearly developed theoretical model,” Lynn said. “And the results must help improve the performance of the system as a whole and provide fundamental and durable knowledge that can be applied elsewhere.”