Practical policy studies and policy sciences methods

Hidenori Kobayashi
Professor of Policy Sciences and System Dynamics
Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University

1. Policy scientist manifesto

Policy sciences is the result of a series of debates on methods run in the first publication of the academic journal Policy Sciences in 1971. That was a response from academic circles to the following two facts.

The first was that the equation solving optimized problems with restricted conditions=rational decision-making, which was adopted in decision-making science throughout the 1960s, lacked demonstrative validity as a policy decision model reflected in real politics. The second was that positivist social science standards, which were adopted in social sciences, removed policy orientation=political intentions to form useful knowledge in order to improve policy decisions from science research programs.

Representative leaders of the policy sciences movement, Yehezkel Dror and Harold D. Lasswell, thought they could overcome these two impasses by establishing a new science which specialized in combining management science and behavioural science and knowledge in the policy decision process and knowledge of both processes.

The trend of the academic world for the past 40 years or so has been to strengthen its inclination toward management science as valid theory, make behavioural science their own policy orientation, and the introduction of computers into decision-making has refined the use of scientific knowledge in the policy decision process. On the other hand, policy sciences, which professes to be democratic, today, by categorizing public involvement, makes its post-positivist science intentions clear.

In this social context, in the early scheme, what decisively holds back the actualization is the knowledge formation about the policy process. Now those who preach for policy sciences must be prepared to publicize that they are responsible for research programs that empirically and theoretically clarify policy processes.



2. Putting policy study research into practice

The program I provide is based on the practicality of policy study research in the policy process. I would like to show an example of this below. I will present it in the order of (1)situation, (2)model analysis, (3)alternative solution and (4)social feedback.

(1) Account of the situation:
In Japan around the same time as the start of policy sciences (1972), the Tokyo governor proclaimed a War on Rubbish. It was the end of the period of rapid economic growth. Tokyo citizens had been enjoying the fully-matured consumer culture. The amount of waste was increasing and getting out of control, with waste incineration plant capacities unable to keep up with the increase and fears that waterfront final disposal sites would be prematurely filled to capacity. Opposition by citizens of regions planned for large-scale waste incineration plants proved a setback. Residents of streets near disposal sites, which were gridlocked with rubbish disposal trucks overflowing with unprocessed waste, resorted to force to block raw waste being brought in from other areas. The governor, who proclaimed a public commitment to governing Tokyo through talks, spent a long time in holding meetings for dialogue with residents, but the amount of waste continued to increase during that time. What could he do? This, to the governor, to the ruling and opposition parties in the Metropolitan Assembly, to residents of the affected areas, and to the general public, was certainly a policy issue. Because there was still no internet, this issue was raised daily through mass media such as newspapers and television.

(2) Model analysis:
Let’s think about the scenario where you must dispose of waste from daily consumption by yourself. You would need to install waste disposal equipment at home, but how much waste disposal capacity would you need? You want to buy many things in order to enjoy an affluent lifestyle. The more you consume, the more waste there is. In order to install equipment with a high waste disposal capacity, you will need to pay high installation costs. Your lifetime income is limited, so in order to effectively use that income to provide full satisfaction, one must seriously consider when and how much to consume, and when and how much to invest on equipment and draw up an optimum consumption plan. In this optimum consumption plan, the figures and time for both consumption and investment over the span of your life will be decided. At this time, the optimum amount of waste resulting from the optimum consumption and investment solution should be contained to the lowest level of waste coming from the same consumption. That is because, the smaller the capacity of the waste disposal equipment is, the less money you need to invest, resulting in more income being available for consumption, so in the optimum solution reached through serious consideration, rubbish should be contained to minimal levels. Let’s call this minimal level of rubbish accumulated by all individuals the optimum social waste amount.

By the way, in equipment such as waste disposal equipment, economies of scale are at work. Rather than having each individual house installed with a small unit, the total cost will be lower if several houses join together and set up a single waste disposal plant. However, in that case, you must take into consideration transport costs for getting the rubbish to the plant. Where and what size of plant will result in the lowest costs including transportation? This is called an optimum plant location problem, and becomes a good practice problem in mathematical programming.

Let’s believe that capable engineers have solved the optimum plant location problem. At this time, the total amount of rubbish disposed of at the optimum site is, for two reasons, a higher value than the optimum social waste amount. Why? First of all, because only the reduction in overall cost for waste disposal is the only part realized in economies of scale, that part results in an increase in spending and an increase in the amount of rubbish produced. The second reason is more serious. It is because the basis guaranteeing the optimality of the amount of waste coming from the same consumption being contained to the lowest level, which was achieved by solving the problem of the optimum consumption plan for each home’s disposal, has been completely lost in concentrated disposal. If we don’t achieve an amount of waste which has been minimized to the limit, the amount of waste created will always be higher. Because we need to make plans for plants capable of disposing of more than the optimum social waste amount, a plan showing a solution to the optimum location problem is excessive.

(3) Alternative solution proposal:
Because it’s a large-scale waste incineration plant with excessive capacity, having it built in my backyard is a problem. Because excessive waste is buried, premature wear and tear of final disposal sites is regrettable. An increase in waste collection costs from carrying excessive rubbish is unacceptable to the taxpayer.

Conversely, because the amount of rubbish produced is in excess, it can be controlled. In this manner, one solution can be reached: a solution to solving the rubbish problem can be attained by setting up basic measures to reduce the amount of rubbish.

(4) Social feedback:
At the time, a waste reduction solution, to waste disposal engineers trying to promote large-scale technology that skillfully disposes of large amounts of rubbish, was an unforgivable, conservative policy proposal, and taboo for specialists in the rubbish issue. More than anything, it would turn off Tokyo residents who enjoyed mass consumption as a virtue, and was unacceptable to politicians who were wary of approval ratings.

The following year in 1973, was the year of the first oil shock. The arrival of a series of adversities such as the collapse of the Plan for Remodeling the Japanese Archipelago, skyrocketing prices, and worldwide recession etc., took a direct hit on the consumption of Tokyo residents. The amount of rubbish reduced drastically, and the rubbish issue disappeared as if it never even existed. This event means that, as a conclusion from the previous model analysis shows that waste reduction is a solution to the rubbish problem, the oil shock is proof of that.

But it does not end here. 20 years later, increased spending in the bubble economy brought about a return of the rubbish issue. The Metropolitan Government made an appeal to the effect that final disposal sites would be exhausted within five years (although this prediction was exactly the same as that of the model analysis 20 years earlier), and with the new Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building, fittingly for the pioneering policies of the administration, a Waste Reduction Planning Room was set up, which was inevitably a matter of course, showing policy action. Since then, Tokyo has transferred jurisdiction of waste disposal activities to the wards, and that remains so today (actually, the merits of waste disposal in its own ward were included in the policy proposal 20 years earlier.)


3. Discussion

I have no objection to the series of operations of accurately restating a policy issue, adapting it to a model analysis, and creating an alternative solution proposal to the policy issue being called policy research. There is also a method of entrusting the solution to the markets without employing policy research. Frameworks would be prepared as if rubbish disposal services were to be supplied as consumer goods. There is a single reason why this method was not proposed in 1972. If this method was adopted, the result of illegally dumped rubbish overflowing onto the streets would have been visible.

It is important to continue piling up one-by-one solutions to policy issues like a businessman missing sales and a politician losing votes and serious work of policy research results as a case study that would take 30 years to know the particulars.

The consumer culture of Tokyo residents has greatly changed. This has brought about the difference in government action in two rubbish problems separated by 20 years. Policies do not change culture, but culture changes policies. Recording policy study research results and facts and having actual policy decision-makers always able to refer to them benefit the clarification of the policy process. Here, the policy decision-makers are none other than the citizens as a group. The mutual range of actions of the citizens as decision-makers creates an orderly public and civil decision-making process. There, policy sciences research programs which demonstratively clarify the actual policy process through the practice of participative policy study research will have grounds to be rightly defined.

Hidenori Kobayashi (2012): Formal Models for the Comparative Policy Process, the Japanese Journal of System Dynamics, System Dynamics, No.11 pp.1-16.
Takao Akiyoshi (2013): How has Academics Worked to Reform Policymaking Systems? Chuo Online, Educational Lecture, posted on June 27.
Hidenori Kobayashi (2013): Policy Process Modeling and Simulation, the Japanese Journal of System Dynamics, System Dynamics, No.12 pp.1-16.



Hidenori Kobayashi
Professor of Policy Sciences and System Dynamics,
Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University

Born in Yokosuka City in 1949. Completed doctoral program in the Graduate School of Commerce and Management, Hitotsubashi University. Doctor of Commerce. Major publications include Dynamic Developments in Policy Research (sole author, Hakuto-Shobo Publishing Company, 2002), Mechanisms Supporting Reform–Searching for Decision-Making Under the Surface (co-author, Gyosei Corporation, 2003), How has Major Reform Taken Place?–A Focus on the Decision-Makers (co-author, Gyosei Corporation, 2001), New Developments in Policy Sciences (co-author, Toyo Keizai, Inc., 1991), Economical Analysis of Decision-Making (co-author, Yuhikaku Publishing Co., Ltd., 1995), and System Dynamics–A Dynamic Analysis of Management and Economic Systems (co-author, Hakuto-Shobo Publishing Company, 1988), etc.





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