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Book Review

Tackling Wicked Policy Problems<br /> Equality, Diversity and Sustainability

Tackling Wicked Policy Problems
Equality, Diversity and Sustainability

by Gilles Paquet

This short book contributes to accelerating the process of recognition of governance studies as a heuristically powerful field of study in two distinct ways.

In Part I, it shows first how the governance approach has emerged in response to the limitations of the two main cosmologies that have dominated the 20th century scene – type-I liberalism  rooted in the market and decentralization; and type-II liberalism rooted in statism and centralization. It proposes a better way to respond effectively to the challenges of effective coordination when power, resources and information are widely distributed into many hands and heads. This new approach has been criticized by the defenders of the ruling cosmologies, but it has evolved effective prototypes of inquiring systems capable of guiding the search for effective wayfinding and for the design of organizational arrangements ensuring effectiveness, resilience and innovation.

In Part II, it explores how the governance approach may help in tackling wicked policy problems where ends are neither well known nor agreed upon, and means-ends relationships are either poorly understood or unstable. Three somewhat different cases are discussed: equality,where a dominant ideology of egalitarianism in democratic societies is challenged with great difficulty by a cosmology of equability; diversity where, in Canada, maximum diversity would appear to be regarded as optimal diversity, and multiculturalism is propagandized as the nec plus ultra  response even though it may be shown to be toxic; and sustainability, where the problem definition and the general direction in which a viable organizational learning regime will emerge are unclear.

On both fronts, the book tries to bring a bit of subtlety, a taste for complexity, and some innovative ideas to debates that have wallowed, both at the conceptual and at the practical levels, in ideologically muddy waters.

Gilles Paquet is Professor Emeritus at the Telfer School of Management and a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre on Governance of the University of Ottawa. He is also Editor in Chief of, an electronic journal on governance and public management, reaching some 10,000 subscribers. For more information, see his website at

Table of Contents

  • Introduction

  • Part I State of Play
    • Chapter 1 Slouching Toward a Relatively Stateless State
      • Introduction
      • Two reference points
      • The rise and evolution of the notion of governance
      • Experiments at the Centre on Governance
      • Conclusion

    • Chapter 2 Governance as Mythbuster
      • Introduction
      • The governance approach
      • Four key notions transformed in the small ‘g’ world
      • Persiflage about the governance approache
      • Some conjectures about the future of governance studies
      • Conclusion

    • Chapter 3 Wicked Problems and Social Learning
      • Introduction
      • The social learning response to the wicked problems challenge
      • The engine of social learning and wayfinding
      • Scoping design thinking
      • Design attitude: why, what and how
      • Shifting attitude
      • Conclusion

  • Part II Wicked Trans-scientific Policy Challenges
    • Chapter 4 Equality
      • Introduction
      • The de Tocqueville mechanism
      • The dynamics of the entitlement revolution
      • Impacts of the entitlement revolution
      • The toxicity of the entitlement epidemic
      • The governance of equability
      • Modest general propositions
      • Conclusion

    • Chapter 5 Diversity
      • Introduction
      • The issue domain: a few stylized facts
      • The manufactured Canadian consensus
      • A fragile social fabric and its dilemmas
      • A primer on the governance of diversity
      • Intermediate cosmopolitanism as the way out
      • The journey to transculturalism
      • Conclusion
      • Annex

    • Chapter 6 Sustainability
      • Introduction
      • Sustainability as weaselword
      • Governance
      • Blending, complex adaptive systems and bricolage
      • A plea for polycentric governance
      • Conclusion

    • Conclusion
      • Issues
      • Polyphonic organizations and hybrid forms of governance
      • Issue domains and wayfinding: mechanisms and representations
      • Two murky frontiers
      • In conclusion
    • References

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