Managing Value Conflict in Public Policy
Version of Record online: 25 AUG 2004
Volume 17, Issue 4, pages 457–486, October 2004
How to Cite
Thacher, D. and Rein, M. (2004), Managing Value Conflict in Public Policy. Governance, 17: 457–486. doi: 10.1111/j.0952-1895.2004.00254.x
- Issue online: 25 AUG 2004
- Version of Record online: 25 AUG 2004
Policy issues are often characterized by conflicting values. Conventionally, students of public policy have conceptualized government's response to value conflicts as a matter of “balancing” competing goals, or striking trade-offs among values. In this paper we argue that this way of managing value conflicts represents only one possibility from a larger and more varied repertoire of strategies that draw from more complex models of practical reasoning. Policy actors do sometimes try to strike a “balance” among conflicting values, but they often avail themselves of other strategies as well: they cycle between values by emphasizing one value and then the other; they assign responsibilities for each value to different institutional structures; or they gather and consult a taxonomy of specific cases where similar conflicts arose. We argue that each of these strategies can be rational in some institutional contexts, and that conclusion challenges the view that policy values must always be treated as commensurable for rational policy choices to be made. Government responds to value conflict in ways that are more varied and changing than existing views of public policy imply.