Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Pragmatist DemocracyEvolutionary Learning as Public Philosophy$

Christopher Ansell

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199772438

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199772438.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2017. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 27 June 2017

Problem-Solving Democracy

Problem-Solving Democracy

(p.184) Chapter 10 Problem-Solving Democracy
Pragmatist Democracy

Christopher K. Ansell

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This concluding chapter summarizes the central theme of the book—evolutionary learning as public philosophy. This chapter then draws together the ideas about how Pragmatism might re-imagine the role of public agencies as “linchpins” of a “problem-solving democracy.” In a problem-solving democracy, public agencies can build public consent for governing through collaborative and strategic problem-solving with stakeholders. To play this role, however, public agencies must be organized differently. This chapter summarizes the kind of public organization that Pragmatism might envision.

Keywords:   pragmatism, learning, problem-solving, democracy, public agencies, organization

A true public philosophy is problem-centered.

—Philip Selznick, The Communitarian Persuasion

Public philosophy is a bridge between the past, the present, and the future. From the past, it builds on a living tradition of thought characterized by certain themes and values. In the present, a public philosophy addresses contemporary public problems of political and social life, providing a guide to analysis and suggesting strategies for addressing these problems. Looking ahead, a public philosophy helps us to imagine different possible futures. The central goal of this book has been to show how Pragmatism, as a public philosophy, provides an intellectual tradition of analyzing public affairs, a guide to tackling contemporary problems, and a framework for reimaging institutions, governance, and democracy.

A public philosophy is not a description of the world as it is. It is an intellectual resource for common deliberation, critical analysis, and imagination. The test of a public philosophy therefore cannot, strictly speaking, be its empirical veracity, though its empirical claims may be so judged. Nevertheless, it is possible to judge a political philosophy in terms of whether it is realistic, relevant to contemporary concerns, and conceptually coherent. This book has sought to demonstrate that Pragmatism meets all three criteria for a successful public philosophy. To be realistic means that Pragmatism suggests courses of action within the realm of possibility. This book therefore has sought to provide examples—from policing, education, environmental protection, and other policy arenas—to demonstrate that real-life manifestations of Pragmatist institutions, governance, and democracy already exist. To be relevant to contemporary problems means that Pragmatism has something to say about (p.185) important issues and dilemmas of our day. To demonstrate this relevance, the book has tackled the very important dilemma of distrust in democratic institutions and, in particular, the embattled role of public agencies. Conceptual coherence means that Pragmatist ideas hang together in a reinforcing way and can be specified with some degree of clarity. To demonstrate this coherence, the book is organized around the central idea of evolutionary learning, showing how it could be consistently used to address a wide range of issues.

A public philosophy distills a philosophical perspective in such a way that it is useful for public affairs. Most philosophies have implications for public affairs, but they are cast at too high a level of abstraction, generality, or obtuseness to be generally useful for practical matters. While Pragmatism prides itself on being one of the most practical of philosophies, the practical implications of many of its most intriguing ideas are not obvious. This book has sought to explore the application of Pragmatist ideas to concrete matters while staying true to the broader outlines of the philosophy. For the most part, these arguments have been guided by classical perspectives on Pragmatism, working primarily with the ideas expressed by the founding generation of Pragmatist philosophers—Charles Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead. These four philosophers do not encompass the entire tradition of Pragmatism, but focusing on them has made the central task more manageable.

While a public philosophy has to be more applied than general philosophy, it often appears abstract from the perspective of “real world” matters. Although a public philosophy is a guide to how to engage in public affairs, it can rarely provide a detailed recipe for action. In any case, from a Pragmatist perspective, it is important to tackle problems in a contextual fashion, engaging in inquiry about the character of problems and their solutions. Consequently, the goal is not to create a formulaic approach to contemporary issues. As a resource for deliberation, critical analysis, and imagination, however, a public philosophy can and should distill key values and ideas that can guide practice. Practitioners may inadvertently create Pragmatist-like innovations without the benefit of philosophical reflection, but only by distilling these guiding values and ideas can we deepen, refine, and share them.

Since public philosophy tries to distill values and ideas at a middle range of abstraction and because Pragmatism strongly supports the value of inquiry, it forms a natural alliance with the social sciences. One of the goals of this book, therefore, has been to resurrect and reinforce a Pragmatist social science. The two chapters on institutions described a Pragmatist tradition of institutionalism, and the chapter on organization does the same thing for organization theory. A Pragmatist approach to problem solving was described through an examination of social scientific studies of public problems. Later chapters set (p.186) out broad frameworks in which to understand key social scientific concepts like power, authority, and collaborative governance. While the core purpose is always to distill Pragmatist ideas, this work has been committed to grounding these ideas in broader social-scientific understandings.

Pragmatism suggests that we make progress by working back and forth between general values and ideas and concrete problem-solving. That model has been followed here. The book progresses by working back and forth between articulating the general logic of evolutionary learning as it might apply to institutions, governance, and democracy and then working out how these ideas might apply to the problematic role of public agencies in contemporary democracy. We can follow this same strategy in summarizing some of the core themes of the book.

Evolutionary Learning

As set out in chapter 1, the founding Pragmatists sought to overcome the dualisms that they regarded as problematic in continental philosophical traditions—dualisms like subject versus object, theory versus practice, mind versus body, and so forth. To overcome these dualisms, the Pragmatists made several intellectual moves. First, they adopted a triadic logic, introducing a third category to mediate between the poles of a dualism. Second, to avoid the reification of either pole, Pragmatism coupled meaning tightly to action, as stressed by Peirce’s and James’s ideas about “fixing” the meaning of ideas by evaluating their consequences or by Dewey’s emphasis on experience and problem solving. Third, as expressed by Dewey’s transactionalism, Pragmatism emphasizes the continuous and interactive relationship between the poles of a dichotomy. One of the core ideas of a Pragmatist public philosophy is to look for ways that dualisms prevalent in public life can be overcome.

The discussion here has built explicitly on this antidualism. Institutions are defined as “grounded concepts”—conceptual objects grounded in subjective experience—in order to overcome the subject–object tension inherent in much of contemporary institutionalism. We examined how Selznick’s approach to organization theory overcomes the Weberian dualisms of impersonal versus personal and formal versus informal and also how Selznick’s and Follett’s analysis of relational authority overcomes the dualism of centralization versus decentralization. As illustrated by the Compstat example, the book argued that organizations can engage in high-performance problem-solving by addressing the gulf between headquarters-level planning versus field-level operations. The dualism of public versus private was attacked by developing the ideas of pluralist consent and embedded autonomy. Dewey’s (p.187) transactionalism was used to think through a number of basic issues, including institutional change, power, responsibility, authority, and collaboration.

Antidualism led Pragmatists to evolutionary learning. For Pragmatism, people and institutions learn when they focus their attention on concrete problems that link meaning tightly to action. Given that we have so many public problems, it may seem strange to emphasize the importance of focusing on problems. They bombard us constantly. In practice, however, public debates, political conflicts, and institutions tend to structure political life in a way that removes us from a shared focus on problems and problem solving. One of the general lessons of Pragmatism’s evolutionary learning approach is that it would try to organize political life as much as possible so that different stakeholder groups—public and private—can engage in fruitful conflict focused around problem solving. Several chapters, but notably the chapter on problem solving and collaborative governance, provide ideas for how political life can be structured in this way.

People and institutions also learn when they are able to reflect, in a critical way, on their own beliefs and practices. This means that when people and institutions approach problems, they engage in inquiry about the nature of those problems and treat problem-solving as an opportunity for learning (e.g., experimentation). This may be obvious for some people and institutions, but it is much harder for others. It becomes particularly difficult when political life is bureaucratized or adversarial. In such cases, institutionalized patterns of behavior and ritualized conflict can make beliefs and practices very resistant to change. It is also much easier for individuals to reflect critically on their beliefs and practices than it is for groups. Several chapters—notably the chapter on problem solving, recursiveness, and collaborative governance—provide ideas about how inquiry can be collectively structured.

A third important feature of evolutionary learning is deliberation. Pragmatism places communication at the center of its philosophy and particularly values direct face-to-face communication. Joint deliberation about problems and about the nature of knowledge is critical for learning. In groups, direct face-to-face communication is the basis of fruitful conflict. In organizations, it is the basis for creating relational authority and developing shared responsibility. In political publics, deliberation is the basis for “civilizing” power and building consent. All the chapters emphasize this important function of face-to-face communication and joint deliberation.

Antidualism also motivates four additional principles of evolutionary learning introduced in chapter 1: cosmopolitan localism, analytical holism, progressive conservatism, and processual structuralism. These were less explicitly flagged in the chapters, but they fundamentally shaped how problem solving, reflexivity, and deliberation were conceived in different institutional, organizational, and political settings.

(p.188) Cosmopolitan Localism

As described in chapter 1, evolutionary learning sets up a creative tension between context-dependent local action and more cosmopolitan action. Learning grounded in local context prevents reification of more cosmopolitan ideas, while cosmopolitan perspectives discourage the parochialism of local problem-solving.

This cosmopolitan localism has been expressed throughout the book. Chapter 3 argued that a “constitutional process” of institutional change can develop out of the interaction between “grounded concepts” and “meta-concepts.” The chapter on recursiveness showed how the headquarters level of a metropolitan police organization could be linked to concrete precinct-level problem-solving through the intermediation of Compstat meetings. The concept of a “constitutional hierarchy” developed in that chapter entailed a semiautonomous but intensely interactive relationship between cosmopolitan policymakers and street-level bureaucrats. Building on Norbert Elias’s analysis of “civilizing” processes, chapter 7 argued that the Pragmatist understanding of power and responsibility embodies this idea of cosmopolitan localism: self-restraining power (responsibility) develops with more cosmopolitan interdependence. Chapter 8 suggested that consent can be built up through localized problem-solving with affected stakeholders while working toward a wider base of consent based on overlapping problem-solving publics.

Analytical Holism

Analytical strategies gain traction by decomposing problems into simpler, more tractable issues, while synthetic strategies produce knowledge through integration and by treating the world more holistically. Pragmatist learning moves back and forth from analysis to synthesis.

The chapter on problem solving discussed Herbert Simon’s analytical model of problem decomposition. Simon argued that decomposition allows decision makers to simplify complex problems to make them more tractable. But the “wicked problems” literature argues that many problems are not so easily decomposable and that neglecting this interdependence can be self-defeating. A Pragmatist problem-solving strategy would move back and forth from analysis to synthesis. Gaining traction on problems requires highly focused strategies. The Boston Gun Project was successful because it focused narrowly on the homicide problem rather than on the more “wicked” gang problem. After analytically isolating the homicide problem, however, the Boston Gun Project approached it in a very holistic fashion, integrating the resources and authority of many public agencies. An analytically holistic (p.189) strategy to problem solving might also treat the successful reduction of homicides as a first step toward a more “synthetic” approach to the wicked problem of youth gangs.

Simon also applied his analytical model to organizational structure, arguing that we can think of organizations as “nearly decomposable” systems. These systems are modular, maximizing interdependence within modules and minimizing interdependence across modules. Like problems, however, organizational activities are not always readily decomposable into semi-independent units. The chapter on recursiveness described the possibility of a productive coexistence between analytically decomposable “hierarchy” and more synthetic “heterarchy.” Dynamically, hierarchy and heterarchy can be brought together through a recursive looping of perspectives. As described in the case of the Compstat system, precinct units of the NYPD took the lead on local problem-solving (analytical decomposition); however, these units were geographically based and therefore treated local problems in a more holistic fashion than did the functionally based units they supplanted. The precincts became the point of (holistic) integration of functional units. Likert’s model of a “linking pin” organization was presented as a structural model for unifying hierarchy and heterarchy.

Progressive Conservativism

Meaning accumulates over time in a conservative fashion, but it can be progressively and nonincrementally revised and reconstructed in the face of new challenges.

Much of the book has drawn on this theme of progressive conservatism. The chapters on institutions and institutional change, for example, contrasted institutions as “congealed taste,” which understands them to be resistant to change (conservatism), with a view of institutions as subject to “rational design” (progressivism). A Pragmatist institutionalism joins these two images together. Experiences and meanings can accumulate around institutional concepts (sedimentation), but institutional change can be steered toward more rational design. The chapter on large-scale institutional change suggested “meta-concepts” can steer this evolutionary learning process on a grand scale. The chapter examined sustainable development as an example of how a new meta-concept can produce large-scale institutional change.

Progressive conservativism is at the heart of evolutionary learning. Successful evolutionary learning requires retention of past successes, while exposing this knowledge and practice to continuous challenge. The ideas about institutional change, problem solving, recursiveness, responsibility, consent building, and collaboration all embody this idea.

(p.190) Processual Structuralism

Pragmatism encourages us to see the world in dynamic and emergent terms. But this is not a world in pure flux. Processes are always contingently supported by structures.

The book has argued that a distinctive aspect of the Pragmatist model of learning is its attention to how learning processes are structurally scaffolded. As most directly expressed in Dewey’s discussion of habit, higher-order learning must be built upon solid foundations. Although this point is hardly controversial or novel in the field of education or psychology, its wider application in the social sciences typically goes unappreciated. As developed in the chapters on institutions, institutional design assumptions often overlook the institutional scaffolds that support or discourage successful institutional reform. Likewise, chapter 3 suggested that we think of basic “competences” as a fundamental scaffolding for high-performing organizations; and chapter 4 argued that more holistic problem-solving has to be built upon the scaffolding of more focused problem-solving efforts. The chapter on collaborative governance argued that ambitious efforts at collaboration must be scaffolded upon a series of “small wins” and upon the establishment of trust and recognition among opposing stakeholders.

When applied to ethics, problem solving, or collaboration, evolutionary learning is not a natural condition of the world. Much of the time, we fail to learn. But sometimes people become more ethically responsible, organizations learn to solve difficult problems, and stakeholders come to acknowledge and trust one another. The evolutionary learning model suggests an agenda for a Pragmatist social science: to understand the conditions in which evolutionary learning becomes possible.

Public Agencies as the “Linchpin” of Problem-Solving Democracy

Chapter 1 described some of the strains in contemporary democracy that can create counterproductive cycles of public distrust and increased demands for accountability. Public agencies are often at the epicenter of these tectonic strains because they have a highly ambivalent role in contemporary democracy. These agencies are often seen as both essential to and at odds with democracy. Public programs and purposes are complex. Public health, education, market regulation, and environmental protection are all widely shared public purposes that require complex administrative programs staffed with technical experts. But we also fear that these complex administrative programs give (p.191) power to experts or interest groups who use it to supplant the “popular will” of the people.

These are old debates, but they are sharpened by the increasing complexity of the economy, by new patterns of political mobilization, and by a slew of challenges to public bureaucracies. Fiscal crises beginning in the 1970s sharpened the conflicts with the “bureaucratic” state, which was seen as bloated and unresponsive. A rising challenge to planning and to bureaucratic intervention in daily life arose in the 1960s and was symbolically capped by the failure of the Soviet Union’s “planned economy.” Globalization and neoliberal triumphs ushered in the apparent triumph of the market. New Public Management (NPM) celebrated “management by results” and the importance of importing private business models into the operation of the state. Technological change, rising expectations, and the expansion of the advocacy sector all created new demands on the state, while fiscal problems and new demands for accountability placed greater constraints on the state’s capacity to meet these demands. All these developments, taken together, have accentuated the ambivalent role of the administrative state within the democratic order.

At the heart of this ambivalent role of the administrative state are twin challenges. One of these challenges is to stem the increasing public negativity toward bureaucracy. Whereas Max Weber saw bureaucracy as a highly efficient form of organization, our contemporary world regards bureaucracy as hopelessly inefficient. The other challenge is democratic. While Weber saw bureaucracy as developing in tandem with the rising egalitarian and democratic trends of his time, our contemporary world tends to see large-scale bureaucracy as a self-serving juggernaut that runs roughshod over popular democracy. As a public philosophy, Pragmatism does not resolve these tensions. No public philosophy could. But Pragmatism does open up some new perspectives on bureaucracy and democracy, suggesting a more productive interpretation of the democratic role of public agencies.

This book has drawn on Pragmatism to reimagine the democratic role of public agencies. Our traditional model of democracy views public agencies as the culmination of a long chain of representation that starts with the voters, passes through elected representatives, and ends with public agencies. An alternative model of democracy starts with the concrete problems of affected stakeholders and builds up consent for public action through collaborative governance. Public agencies are the focal point for this model of collaborative problem-solving. From a Pragmatist perspective, this alternative model of consent building should complement rather than replace the traditional model of representative democracy. Elections constitute the public will in a diffuse and cosmopolitan sense. Problem-solving democracy builds consent with smaller publics focused on specific problems.

(p.192) An important implication of this argument is that public agencies become the linchpins of this more compound democracy. They link together the delegated authority that flows from people to legislatures to public agencies with the problem-solving authority that emerges from their bottom-up facilitation of collaborative problem-solving. To serve this linchpin role, public agencies require a significant level of discretion and trust. To earn this discretion and trust, agencies have to demonstrate their competence at creatively aligning the public values expressed through representative democracy with public values expressed through collaborative problem-solving. To do this, they need to be organized in a different way than they currently are. Much of the book has focused on specifying a Pragmatist view of organization that might support this linchpin role.

Pragmatist Organization

“Pragmatist organization” can be contrasted with two alternative conceptions. Over a century ago, Max Weber advanced our traditional conception of organization—the formal, impersonal, rule-oriented, hierarchical “bureaucracy.” Viewing this Weberian bureaucracy as rigid and inefficient, a more recent conception seeks to create a leaner and more responsive organization by replacing management-by-rules and command-and-control with management-by-results and performance measurement. A Pragmatist model of organization shares this concern with the pathologies of excessive management-by-rule and applauds, to some degree, the shift toward more flexible and entrepreneurial organization. Yet it is far less sanguine about a wholesale transition from rules to results.

It was not necessary to look too far to elucidate an alternative Pragmatist conception of organization. It has long been with us, though mostly hidden from view in contemporary debates about institutionalism and bureaucratic management. Chapter 4 argued that Philip Selznick and Mary Parker Follett offer an important “Pragmatist” alternative to Weberian views of organization, which has been extended in recent years by the work of Donald Chisholm (1995, 2001), Arjen Boin (2001), Charles Sabel (2006), and Michael Cohen (2007).

The book’s focus on Selznick, in particular, can be explained in at least four ways. First, Selznick can anchor a tradition of Pragmatist organization theory, which is in turn rooted in the tradition of Pragmatist institutionalism. Second, if we weave together the different ideas inherent in his work—the politics of organization, administrative leadership, organizations as self-regulating polities, and responsive law—we arrive at quite a global view of Pragmatist (p.193) organization. Third, Selznick’s work is rather uniquely attentive to the role of meaning in organizational life, while showing how it is closely connected to action. Finally, Selznick’s emphasis on organizational competences provides an important framework for thinking about organizational performance. One of the important goals of this book, therefore, has been to illuminate this Pragmatist interpretation of Selznick’s work.

In chapter 2, Selznick’s approach to organization is contrasted with Max Weber’s. Distinguishing modern rational-legal bureaucracy from a patrimonial bureaucracy built around personal loyalties, Weber saw the modern world as substituting the cold, impersonal rationality of impartial bureaucratic rules for the inherent inefficiencies of personal loyalty. Weber feared this hegemony of impersonalism, concerned that it would empty the modern world of meaning and meaningful relationships. He interpreted bureaucracy as representing a sharp tradeoff between efficiency and meaningfulness.

Guided by Pragmatist assumptions and building on the work of the human relations school and Chester Barnard, Selznick refused this sharp dichotomy between the personal and the impersonal. Although criticized by Gouldner for his early pessimism about organization, Selznick ultimately developed a much more positive view of large-scale modern organization than did Weber. At the heart of this more positive view was Selznick’s argument that formal and informal organization could be harnessed together and that work in large-scale organizations could be meaningful. Selznick stressed the role of leadership in harnessing the informal with the formal and the importance of mission for making work meaningful. Boin’s (2001) analysis of the development of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons provides a good description of how Selznick’s ideas can work in practice. Creating large-scale public organizations that are effective and meaningful to work in is not easy, but it is not impossible either.

Selznick’s model of organization also differs quite fundamentally from New Public Management models that emphasize the importance of external incentives for motivating work in organizations. While external incentives are important, they are blunt instruments for guiding action. Instead, Selznick argues that organization must be integrated around core meanings and values and that development of an organization’s “distinctive competence” is ultimately a more powerful factor for shaping performance than rules or incentives.

Ultimately, Selznick’s model of organization emphasizes the importance of cultivating individual and organizational competence. This competence-based approach differs from both the more structurally based approach of Weberian bureaucracy and the incentive-based approach of New Public Management (NPM). Schools provide a straightforward example of the contrast. A Weberian approach would try to improve educational performance by (p.194) manipulating structure, policy, and oversight. New Public Management, by contrast, would stress performance management, which in the case of schools would mean the extensive use of testing to reward and punish schools and teachers. A competence-based approach would not place a stress on structure, policy, oversight, or performance management. Instead, it would focus on upgrading the competences of teachers and the capacity of schools. Rules, incentives, and competences, of course, are not stark alternatives. Yet, as recent experience with school reforms in the United States shows, emphasis matters.

At the core of the traditional Weberian model of hierarchy is a command relationship that extends vertically from the top to the bottom of the organization. This hierarchy emphasizes the authority of superordinates in the organization over their subordinates. Although Weber emphasized that authority rests on legitimacy—on an acceptance of the rightful exercise of that power—he regarded the modern form of authority as distinctly impersonal and resting on its “rational-legal” quality. Thus, either science or law must become the legitimate basis for authority. As with Weber’s point about the sharp separation of the formal and the informal, this rational-legal model supports the notion of formal, impersonal command. By contrast, Selznick builds on Follett’s and Barnard’s relational model of authority in which authority is built up (or drawn down) through ongoing interaction between subordinates and subordinates. Thus, the Pragmatist model of organization does not reject hierarchical command or authority but rather places them within the context of a circular flow of interaction.

Chapter 6 proposed a model of “constitutional hierarchy” as an alternative to a hierarchy constructed around tight chains of command. A constitutional hierarchy would increase the relative autonomy of hierarchical levels, allowing the constitutional level to focus attention on safeguarding and refining the public values inherent in the organization’s public missions and on wider problem-solving strategies. Instead of a tight command structure promulgating detailed operational rules, a constitutional hierarchy rests on fewer and more general rules. Rules proliferate in many contemporary bureaucracies, while being ignored or worked around. In a constitutional hierarchy, rules ought to be kept to a minimum, but they also ought to really count. This system can only work if there is a very close meshing between constitutional rule-making and operational practices. Policy must inform practice and practice must inform policy in a recursive cycle. Structurally, the levels of a constitutional hierarchy are loosely coupled; in action, they must be far more closely linked than in the typical hierarchical organization.

This circular flow of interaction is a recursive process. As developed in chapter 6, recursiveness implies the possibility of temporary inversions in the hierarchical relationship between superordinate and subordinate. Structurally, (p.195) the organization remains nominally hierarchical. But, behaviorally, recursive systems are more heterarchical than hierarchical. They are often nested systems with strong elements of modularity, though not necessarily easily decomposable. From the perspective of New Public Management, the NYPD’s Compstat strategy appears to be a system for achieving top-down accountability over field agents and for creating a results-based management system. From the Pragmatist perspective, what is critical about CompStat is the way it enables face-to-face communication between top-level executives and field officers, allowing them to engage in joint inquiry and shared responsibility across hierarchical levels. Although incentives are built into the CompStat process, it is this intensive communication around problem solving that facilitates a shared responsibility between top-level executives and street-level bureaucrats.

A focus on problem solving is a critical aspect of the Pragmatist method, a way to overcome dogmatic conflict and focus people on productive action. This idea can be applied in many ways to organizations and public agencies. Individuals and organizations routinely encounter problems, but few organizations are oriented toward problem solving in any serious and sustained way. Pragmatism asks organizations to adopt a more self-conscious approach toward problem solving, one that attacks problems in a focused, holistic, and proactive fashion. Such a strategy requires special skills and knowledge and naturally complements a competency-based approach to organization.

A Weberian hierarchy—with its framework of command-and-control and management by rules—depends on a closed organizational system to work well. Administratively, this is highly problematic because it discourages organizational responsiveness to changing external demands. Anyone who thinks this is merely a theoretical nicety should read the literature on police agencies, who struggle with this dilemma in their daily work. To be effective problem-solvers, Pragmatism suggests that public agencies must be more open to their environments. However, this openness can threaten the integrity of the organization and public values. Chapter 8 proposed a model of embedded autonomy that allows organizations to engage more actively and responsively with the public. A strong constitutional system articulating general, meaningful rules; a strong problem-solving community that values competency and responsibility; and a strong buy-in to the broad public mission of the organization are the best guarantees against the perils of embeddedness. The Pragmatist model is probably easier to realize when the work of a public agency is widely perceived as valuable and important, where external constituencies are not actively seeking to colonize the agency for their own purposes, and where bureaucrats do not face attractive opportunities for rent-seeking. Yet the Weberian and NPM models suffer under these same conditions.

(p.196) Final Words

This book has argued that Pragmatism’s model of evolutionary learning provides a useful resource for imagining a more constructive relationship between public institutions, the governance of public problems, and democratic consent. The book has focused on applying this model to the beleaguered role of public agencies in contemporary democracy. The result has led to a description of a distinctive style of democracy where public agencies—when organized in particular ways—can play a key role in building democratic consent through focused problem-solving collaboration with the public. These ideas hardly exhaust the potential insights of Pragmatism, which can be and have been applied to many other dimensions of public affairs, including environmental ethics, legal reasoning, and civic education. Hopefully, however, they provide a resource that will help others continue to refine Pragmatism as a public philosophy.