Frame multiplicity and policy fiascoes: Limits to explanation

Mark Bovens*, Paul't Hart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The dynamics of intractability, frame multiplicity and intense controversy not only characterize policy formation struggles, as described by Schön and Rein, but also affect the evaluation of policies and government action. Policy analysts play an important part in the politics of policy evaluation. This article demonstrates that they tend to produce very different explanations for controversial, failing policies. Such differing explanations imply different causal attributions, different allocations of blame, and different lessons for future policy-making. Such differences are not random occurrences; they are embedded in the analytical frames that evaluators use to reconstruct policy processes and to explain their outcomes. It is shown that at least three deep-rooted frames can be reconstructed: fiascoes as failures of public problem solving, fiascoes as institutional imbalances, and fiascoes as system artefacts. One of the great epistemological challenges is how to deal with multiple analytical frames. The final part of the article discusses various strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-82
Number of pages22
JournalKnowledge and Policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1995


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