The Constructive Role of Ambiguity in the Policy Process
According to Lane (2000), elaborate policy procedures may be ambiguous, mainly due to incongruities between political interests and goals and current legislation. …
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Furthermore, contradictions between long-term and short-term goals are likely to bring in ambiguities in policy formation and implementation, as well as compromises between irreconcilable intentions, like protected natural reservoir and dam projects.
This essay discusses the positive contributions of ambiguities to policy formation and implementation, particularly in the sectors of health and environment. More importantly, the discussion tries to demonstrate how these ambiguities provide an opportunity to successfully and productively integrate diverse perspectives, worldviews, and values of different stakeholders, as well as how such ambiguities create and strengthen a system of participation. Strain brought about by ambiguities in policy formation and implementation may have serious ramifications on the opportunity to develop a rational policy-making process and employ practical systematic instruments for priority setting (Birkland 2010). There is a need for ambiguities to be recognised and organised, normally in a course of increased stakeholder involvement with an emphasis on social concerns instead of procedural concerns only.
An Overview of the Pros and Cons of Ambiguity in the Policy Process
Ambiguity may be not as much of a tactical tool used by policy-makers as they wish than an unavoidable outcome of the political mechanism. It is thought that implementation becomes unsuccessful because system of government is either not adequately capable or unduly independent (Hill & Hupe 2002). Nevertheless, the complexity innate in realising effective implementation, that is, the alleged ‘implementation deficit’ (Lane 2000, 106), may reveal a much more severe risk to the notion of policy implementation. According to Birkland (2010), the policy system could function to make ambiguity general in each and every policy. Hence, policy implementation becomes unsuccessful not due to a discrepancy between sound policy formation and inadequate policy implementation but because of the policy’s inaccuracy. More importantly, it is claimed that policy is inseparable from implementation, that, in contrast, policy is only recognisable in the implementation process. Thus, the entire notion of a policy framework could be relegated to the mere study of public governance or organisational research (Lipsky 1971). However, if ambiguity in the policy-making process were as common as argued, if policy were the consequence of implementation, then is it possible that policy ambiguity assists policy formation and implementation? Ambiguity, far from being an impediment or an abnormality, is a necessary component of policy process. It has disadvantages because it causes disorder, chaos, and uncertainty in policymaking. Ambiguity obliges experts to have plenty of information (Sabatier 2007). However, a great deal of information will not automatically eliminate ambiguity; it will only increase the clarity of the process. According to Colebatch (2009), perspective rather than intention becomes crucial. Resolutions seldom mitigate difficulties; they only apply or work them out. Nevertheless, ambiguity also confers advantages. Improvement thrives because it grants new insights an opportunity to be implemented to work out old issues. It allows disagreement or inconsistency to be scattered
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It may often lead to misjudgment of one’s intentions.
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