Systematic Thinking for Social Action

Systematic Thinking for Social Action

ALICE M. RIVLIN
FOREWORD BY DONNA SHALALA
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 150
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7864/j.ctt7zsvmc
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  • Book Info
    Systematic Thinking for Social Action
    Book Description:

    In January 1970 Alice M. Rivlin spoke to an audience at the University of California-Berkeley. The topic was developing a more rational approach to decisionmaking in government. If digital video, YouTube, and TED Talks had been inventions of the 1960s, Rivlin's talk would have been a viral hit. As it was, the resulting book,Systematic Thinking for Social Action, spent years on the Brookings Press bestseller list. Is is a very personal and conversational volume about the dawn of new ways of thinking about government.

    As deputy assistant secretary for program coordination, and later as assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1966 to 1969, Rivlin was an early advocate of systems analysis, which had been introduced by Robert McNamara at the Department of Defense as PPBS (planning-programming-budgeting-system).

    While Rivlin brushes aside the jargon, she digs into the substance of systematic analysis and a 'quiet revolution in government. In an evaluation of the evaluators, she issues mixed grades, pointing out where analysts had been helpful in finding solutions and where-because of inadequate data or methods-they had been no help at all.

    Systematic Thinking for Social Actionoffers important insights for anyone interested in working to find the smartest ways to allocate scarce funds to promote the maximum well-being of all citizens.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2645-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. vii-x)
    DONNA SHALALA

    I remember to this day how I learned about Alice Rivlin’s now classic book. It was 1972. Alan K. “Scotty” Campbell, my major professor at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University, gave me a copy, telling me that it was the most important book that I would read on public policy analysis.

    He was right. Today, Rivlin’s very clear questions for policy makers and public officials are still central to understanding the social and economic impact of prospective social programs. Under Rivlin and her predecessors and successors, the Office of Management and Budget has increasingly demanded more evidence for public investments....

  4. PREFACE TO THE NEW EDITION
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-7)

    The Gaither Lectures, by an unbroken if brief tradition, address the question: How can government make decisions in a more rational way? To care about this question one has to have faith in the ability of nations to solve at least some of their problems by collective action. One also has to have sufficient faith in rationality to believe that analysis of a problem generally leads to a better decision. H. Rowan Gaither believed in governments, rationality, and the ability of people trained in systematic analysis to improve government decision making. Those who have delivered these lectures in his honor...

  6. CHAPTER TWO WHO WINS AND WHO LOSES?
    (pp. 8-37)

    The first step in making public policy is to get a picture of what the problem is. Social action programs should be based on answers to questions like these: How many people are poor? Who are they? Where are they? Why are they poor? Who is in bad health? Who is not receiving treatment? How many people need more education or better job skills? How are these social problems related to each other?

    Statisticians and analysts have worked hard on these questions in the last few years. For their efforts they get high marks: We know a lot more than...

  7. CHAPTER THREE WHAT DOES THE MOST GOOD?
    (pp. 38-52)

    The last chapter expressed a sanguine view of the progress made by analysts in the social action area. The advances in measuring the distribution of social problems or needs and in identifying who could win and who would lose from particular social action programs have led to better-informed decisions on welfare, higher education, and other social action programs.

    The big difficulty, however, is that there are so many social problems. Action could be taken in so many fields—from preschool to graduate education, from training welders to feeding infants, from biochemical research to welfare payments. It is not possible to...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR PRODUCING EFFECTIVE SERVICES: WHAT DO WE KNOW?
    (pp. 53-71)

    How much have the analysts helped those who want to make better decisions on social action programs? The last chapter gave them low marks. They have not progressed very far toward making the benefits of social action programs comparable, nor can they offer much help with the larger issue of how to allocate public resources among major types of programs.

    This chapter addresses a different question: If the analysts cannot say how much to spend for health or education, can they at least say how to produce particular kinds of health or education more effectively? Again the answer is discouraging....

  9. CHAPTER FIVE CAN WE FIND OUT WHAT WORKS?
    (pp. 72-101)

    If the reader has accepted the argument of the last chapter, he must be discouraged. It started from two premises: that education, health, and other social services are not effectively produced now, and that some techniques or forms of organization or combinations of resources now in use are probably more effective than others—if we could only find out what they are. It concluded that so far the efforts of systems analysts to identify these better methods have met with little success.

    One reason that not much has been learned from statistical analysis of the existing health, education, and social...

  10. CHAPTER SIX ACCOUNTABILITY: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
    (pp. 102-124)

    The two preceding chapters dealt with three strategies for finding more effective methods of producing education, health, and other social services: (1) analysis of the “natural experiment,” (2) random innovation, and (3) systematic experimentation. The major conclusion was that all three strategies should be pursued with increased energy and greater methodological sophistication.

    Analysis of the natural experiment has not yet turned up many clues to more effective ways of producing social services. But with time and more refined techniques, there is hope that it will. As a necessary first step to more effective services, all kinds of people should be...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 125-136)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 137-142)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 143-144)