Frame Reflection: Toward the Resolution of Intractable Policy Controversies

Schon, Donald A.

Why are controversies about such issues as abortion, welfare, persistent poverty, and environmental destruction so intractable? As anyone who has ever engaged in or tried to settle an argument on highly charged issues knows, facts rarely persuade in such situations. This innovative approach to intractable policy controversies shows how "reframing" the issues can succeed where simply appealing to facts often fails. In Frame Reflection, two of this country's leading organizational theorists and policy analysts show how disputes that in abstract debate or negotiation seem insoluble can sometimes be resolved pragmatically by those who actually have to design and implement the specific programs. The authors illustrate their theory through a detailed examination of three specific programs: the evolution of early retirement programs in Germany; a statewide project for the homeless in Massachusetts; and the development of Project Athena, a large-scale experiment in the use of computers in undergraduate education at MIT. The authors argue - contrary to the prevailing wisdom in academia - that human beings can reflect on and learn about the game of policy making even as they play it. They write, "human beings are capable of exploring how their own actions may exacerbate contention, contribute to stalemate, and trigger extreme pendulum swings, or, on the contrary, how their actions might help to resolve the frame conflicts that underlie stubborn policy disputes." Policy stalemates are inevitable. Yet we know that people sometimes do change their minds, even in situations that at first appeared hopeless. How that happens is the subject of this pathbreaking book.

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