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SEMINAR | Exploring complex policy problems in Australia: can wicked issues be better managed?



Start Date

13 Nov 2015 12:30 pm

End Date

13 Nov 2015 2:00 pm


Aurora Lecture Theatre, IMAS Building

Institute for the Study of Social Change logo

Presented by

Professor Brian Head, University of Queensland

About the Seminar
This presentation outlines some of the research issues arising from a new ARC project on the role of expert knowledge in addressing complex policy problems. This project re-examines the connections between social science and complex policy decision-making. This has been one of the grand themes in the social sciences for two centuries. The vision of utilising social science for social improvement now takes the form of widespread advocacy for 'evidence-based' or 'evidence-informed' social policy. The challenge here is for researchers to produce better science and for decision-makers to use this evidence more systematically. However, the very possibility that science and technology can 'solve' major social problems has been called into question by the concept of 'wicked' problems, which are seen as intractable and based on enduring conflicts in values and beliefs. The challenge here becomes one of better managing these problems rather than definitively solving them.

Despite organisational differences, decision-makers and researchers both agree that the findings of good social research should be taken into account in the development and refinement of public policies, regulatory frameworks and service programs. There have been major attempts to connect research to policy and practice in public health, social care, education, criminal justice, environmental sustainability, and other areas. However, despite the very substantial advances in generating a stronger evidence base, the capacity of the policy process to tackle complex problems has stalled. There are several reasons for this, including disruptive political changes, insecure links between researchers and policy staff, the 'mediatisation' of policy debate, and the inherent complexity and intractability of 'wicked' policy problems. In short, the evidence-informed policy movement ran into major obstacles which are not just about undertaking 'more research' – the challenges cannot be resolved by science alone, and require taking stakeholders seriously.

Professor Brian Head joined the Institute for Social Science Research in mid-2007 after holding senior roles in government, universities, and the non-government sector. He is the author or editor of several books and numerous articles on public management, governance, social issues and environmental policy. His major interests are evidence-based policy, program evaluation, early intervention and prevention, collaboration and consultation, service delivery, accountability and leadership. He has undertaken several consultancies on program evaluation, policy review and, organisational performance, and good governance processes for governmental, academic and NGO bodies. He has strong interests in applied research across many areas of public policy and governance, and is committed to building closer links between the research and policy sectors. He is currently an ARC Professorial Research Fellow, a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, past President of the Australian Political Studies Association in 2013-14, and a member of the ARC College of Experts in 2012-14.

The informal launch of Policy Analysis in Australia [B Head & K Crowley ads Policy Press 2015] will follow the lecture. Catherine Vickers, Director of the Office of Strategic Legislation and Policy in the Department of Justice will speak for five-ten minutes about policy change at the State Government level in launching the book. We will conclude just before 2pm.

Catherine Vickers is the Director of the Office of Strategic Legislation and Policy in the Department of Justice. She, and her team, are responsible for developing and updating legislation for the Attorney-General and Minister for Corrections and providing policy advice on law reform initiatives and the administration of justice. Catherine also provides key advice to the Attorney-General in the execution of her Parliamentary, Ministerial and constitutional duties. Catherine has a combined Law and Arts degree from UTAS. She has practiced law and has been in diverse policy and legislative roles across the Tasmanian Government for nearly 20 years.

Event details
When | Friday 13 November 2015, Seminar from 12.30pm to 1.30pm and Book Launch from 1.30pm to 2.00pm

Where | Aurora Lecture Theatre, IMAS Building, Castray Esplanade, Hobart

All welcome. Please email if you require more information or directions to the venue.

Event Flyer (PDF 524KB)


Institute for Social Change
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