In the early 1970s, design theorist Horst Rittel and urban planner Melvin M. Webber published their treaty "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning" in which they discuss why the planning of policies and social, cultural or environmental problems solving cannot succeed. The problems policy makers face are entirely different from problems natural scientists or engineers have to deal with. Technocratic approaches in policy analysis are therefore inadequate to solve these policy problems. According to Rittel and Webber new approaches in public policy management and policy analysis are necessary to tackle these wicked policy problems. Recent critique in terms of the lack of practical relevance of (positivist) social science research shows that the seminal paper of Rittel and Webber is still relevant today. For the benefit of democratic decision-making processes, I suggest that applied policy research must emancipate itself from a concept of science emulating the standards of natural sciences and rather reflect its roots in (practical) philosophy. In this paper I discuss how ethical reasoning could complement positivist policy analysis and contribute to public policy management and democratic decision-making processes.
Sven Sebastian Grundmann works as a research assistant at the NRW School of Governance (University of Duisburg-Essen). His current research focuses on ethics in public policy management as well as political questions on the digitization of society. Previously, he studied political science, philosophy and sociology at the Goethe University in Frankfurt and at the National University of Ireland (Maynooth).