Why Isn't Government Policy More Preventive?

ISBN : 9780198793298

Paul Cairney; Emily St Denny
304 Pages
153 x 234 mm
Pub date
Jan 2020
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If 'prevention is better than cure', why isn't policy more preventive? Policymakers only have the ability to pay attention to, and influence, a tiny proportion of their responsibilities, and they engage in a policymaking environment of which they have limited understanding and even less control. This simple insight helps explain the gap between stated policymaker expectations and actual policy outcomes.
Why Isn't Government Policy more Preventive? uses these insights to produce new empirical studies of 'wicked' problems with practical lessons. The authors find that the UK and Scottish governments both use a simple idiom - prevention is better than cure - to sell a package of profound changes to policy and policymaking. Taken at face value, this focus on 'prevention' policy seems like an idea 'whose time has come'. Yet, 'prevention' is too ambiguous until governments give it meaning. No government has found a way to turn this vague aim into a set of detailed, consistent, and defendable policies. This book examines what happens when governments make commitments without knowing how to deliver them. It compares their policymaking contexts, roles and responsibilities, policy styles, language, commitments, and outcomes in several cross-cutting policy areas (including health, families, justice, and employability) to make sense of their experiences. The book uses multiple insights from policy theory to help research and analyse the results. The results help policymakers reflect on how to avoid a cycle of optimism and despair when trying to solve problems that their predecessors did not.


1 Prevention Policy as the Ultimate 'Wicked' Problem

2 A Window of Opportunity for Prevention Policy Design

3 Environmental and Systemic Effects on Prevention Policy

4 Which Government's Policy Style is more Conducive to Prevention?

5 Prevention Policy in the UK

6 The Scottish Government's Decisive Shift to Prevention

7 Prevention Policy and Public Health

8 Prevention and Mental Health Policy

9 Early Intervention for 'Troubled Families'

10 Prevention and Criminal Justice

11 Conclusion: Revisiting the Prevention Puzzle

About the author: 

Paul Cairney is Professor of Politics and Public Policy, University of Stirling. His publications include Understanding Public Policy (Palgrave, 2019), Making Policy in a Complex World (with Tanya Heikkila and Matthew Wood, Cambridge 2019), The Politics of Evidence-based Policymaking (Palgrave, 2016), and The Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy (Edward Elgar, 2015).; Emily St Denny is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Stirling. Her expertise lies in prevention policy, policymaking in the devolved UK, and public sector reform. Her current research focuses on the manner in which 'prevention' is articulated as a broad policy 'philosophy', the reasons why its effective implementation continues to elude policymakers across different sectors, and how prevention policy might more effectively be designed and delivered.

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