Charting How Different Policy Frames are Received by the Populace

By: Bart Cunningham   Walter Lepore   James MacGregor  

Megaprojects that potentially entail substantial economic gains but also enormous environmental risks, like the construction of a hydro-electric dam or the expansion of a pipeline to transport oil, put decision makers in the public sector under public scrutiny. This type of problem/situations/decisions in public sector policy making is called a "wicked problem," a term which was coined to define highly complex, uncertain and intractable societal issues that are ambiguously defined and highly resistant to resolution (Rittel, 1972). Wicked problems can be seen as “expressions of competing values and goals” (Norton, 2005: 133) where a variety of stakeholders, each with a particular notion of the issue at hand, try to influence and determine its definition and the nature of its resolution. Underlying the public debate over the decision to advance or not with a megaproject there is the way policymakers frame the problems. The lack of consensus on how a wicked problem is framed by actors with competing values and interests is indeed considered the most salient aspect of such public policy issues and the core of the theory defining them. This paper explores framing effect at collective/organizational level in real settings. We conduct a comparative case study of two recent megaprojects undertaken in Canada. The case study is conducted from a narrative approach using event-structure analysis (ESA) based on evidence collected from

Decisions, Wicked Problems, Public Policy Making
Change Management
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Dr. Bart Cunningham

J. Barton Cunningham Bart Cunningham, a Professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, is actively involved in researching workplace issues such as job satisfaction, engagement and stress, in addition to experimental studies of insight problem solving. He has held visiting teaching positions in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, and Austria. He has just published a new book: Strategic Human Resource Management in the Public Arena (Palgrave-MacMillan).

Walter Lepore

Walter Lepore, a full time PhD student in the School of Public Administration previously, worked previously as a Visiting Professor in the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City. He has published a total of six co-authored refereed articles and four book chapters in Spanish and has presented six papers at academic conferences. His fields in the PhD Program are Organizational Studies and Policy and Program Analysis. His dissertation topic relates to decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River and the critical events which have sparked the attention of policy makers and decision-makers. The underlying theory relates to the application of prospect theory in making decisions on wicked problems.

Dr. James MacGregor

Jim MacGregor has taught at the University of Victoria since 1979, and became a full professor at the School of Public Administration in 1992. His primary research interest is in problem solving, and he is a member of an international team that studies insightful problem solving supported by grants from NSERC and SSHRC. He has held visiting appointments with the University of York, University of Loughborough, and Lancaster University, in the UK.