what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

European Failure - of knowledge management

I want to return to a theme which I have mentioned several times on the blog – the apparent absence in English-language texts (whether books, journals or blogs) of analysis of the many positive models of socio-economic practice which can be found in European countries such as France, Germany, Netherlands and Scandinavia. There are many academic texts on the history and politics of these countries – and many academic journals devoted to their literary or political aspects. But they are all academic in tone and style and highly specialised – although I seem to recollect from the 1990s a few academic journals which had more open content and style eg West European Politics; Journal of DemocracyGovernance – an international journal of policy, administration and institutions; and Government and Opposition. However a quick look at the titles of their current issues suggests that they have, in the meantime, become very specialised and recondite.
Where, therefore, do you now turn if you want to learn on a regular basis (and in clear analytical text) either about success stories of, for example, organisational change or social policy in these countries or, even more interestingly, about how exactly that success was achieved ?

Few books are written about such matters written, at any rate, in a style calculated to appeal to the average activist or journalist. The book market caters for universities (a large niche market) - or for the general public. University course are specialised - so we get a lot of books and journals on public management reform - but almost nothing on comparative policy outputs (although a fair amount on the process of comparative policy-making - but very badly written). My fairly simple question and focus falls in the cracks and therefore gets no coverage. A good example of market-failure!
Eurozine is a rare website which does bring articles by thinkers of all European nations together in one place – sometimes under a thematic umbrella - and has received several honourable mentions on this blog. But the papers don’t deal with policy mechanics – but operate at a more rarified level of philosophical discourse.

Of course one of the roles played by many Think Tanks is to bring appropriate foreign experience to the notice of opinion-makers in their countries – but this is generally done in a partial and superficial way since most Think Tanks these days are associated with a political party and have an axe to grind. Experience is selected to fit an agenda – and the positive aspects are stressed.eg the one on Free Schools which came out in 2009. Those interested in the role of Think Tanks (and how they have become politicised) could usefully read the paper Scholars, Dollars and Policy Advice by James McGann (2004) the doyen of the field on the American side; Think Tanks in policy-making - do they matter ? from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (September 2011) which is a good and up-to-date European perspective; and Recycling Bins, Garbage Cans or Think Tanks ? Three Myths about policy analysis institutes by Diane Stone (2007) who is the European doyenne of the field.
Then there are, of course, the EC and OECD networks and exchanges which do go into depth on the whole range of concerns of governments – whether the policies and systems of health and education; systems of public management ; or « wicked » problems such as social exclusion. But the extensive results of their work are not easily available – OECD puts most of theirs behind a paywall and few of the EC network outputs are placed in the public domain.

It is here that the mainstream media fail us. Journalists can access the OECD material free-of-charge and specialist journalists equally would have no problems obtaining copies of the EC material.

If I am right about this gap (and I appeal to my readers to correct me), this is a devastating comment on the « European project ». Hundreds (if not thousands) of millions of euros have been spent on university and cultural exchanges, communications and research – and what is there which ca answer my basic need ??

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