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Developing Social Policy: From the book Seeking Coherence


Processionary Caterpillars feed upon pine needles. They move through trees in a long procession, one leading and the others following – each with his eyes half closed and his head snugly fitted against the rear extremity of his predecessor.

Jean-Henri Fabre, the great French naturalist, after patiently experimenting with a group of the caterpillars, finally enticed them to the rim of a large flower pot where he succeeded in getting the first one connected up with the last one, thus forming a complete circle, which started moving around in a procession which had neither beginning nor end.

The naturalist expected that after a while they would catch on to the joke, get tired of their useless march and start off in some new direction. But not so.

Through sheer force of habit, the living, creeping circle kept moving around the rim of the pot – around and around, keeping the same relentless pace for seven days and seven nights – and would doubtlessly have continued longer had it not been for sheer exhaustion and ultimate starvation.

Incidentally, an ample supply of food was close at hand and plainly visible, but it was outside the range of the circle so they continued along the beaten path.

They were following instinct…habit…custom…tradition…precedent…past experience…”standard practice” …or whatever you may choose to call it, but they were following blindly.

They mistook activity for accomplishment. They meant well, but they got no place.”

Roche Performance Management System



In setting the stage for an examination of the local human service administrator’s responsibilities in the development and articulation of social policy at the local level, I was fortunate enough to come across Scott Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan’s writings, often prepared for discussion with associates at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions most often focus on the law and the educative content that the development and implementation of the law hold for the common man. As part of that discussion, Mr. Buchanan in 1967, wrote “So Reason Can Rule”, which discusses the Constitution and the segmentation of executive, legislative and judicial duties. I found that discussion particularly apt to the development of social policy. Since I am changing the context of Mr. Buchanan’s meaning, I do not wish to impugn his work by blaming him for this interpretation. However, I owe many of the words to him. In order to give credit to his words, but not the new meaning, I have emphasized those I have used.


We will examine coherence as it applies to the development of a systematic connectedness based on the development and implementation of social policy in regard to the management of the delivery of human services. It is our hypothesis that the inability of government to steer [set precise goals both for direction and measurement of accomplishment]; and to learn [identify discrepancies between goals and outcomes and design new alternatives to more optimally meet those goals] has left our society with a human services network which marches toward oblivion with very good intentions. We further suggest that the conflict of explicit [that which is stated] and implicit [that which is intended] social policy along with the fallout lack of consistent patterns of values and incongruous sets of ideological principles, results in real harm being done to people with problems in living.

Performance is always a measurement against a standard. The standard is defined through 1) a clear articulation of a goal, 2) the development of indices with which to measure accomplishment, 3) collection of the data regarding indices and finally through a comparison of the present data to historical benchmarks. Quality improvement occurs with the development and reinforcement of best practice identification and, as this learning occurs, the formation of improved methods for reaching the goals. Since present social policy has a conflicted goal, it has allowed the continuation of methods that have proven ineffective for the explicit mission [aide to people with problems in living], while marginally effective for the implicit mission [control of people with problems in living in order to protect others], thus producing for the local administrator an apparent “no win” situation.

…the problems of public policy are not given. They are constructed by human beings in their attempts to make sense of complex and troubling situations, often in the context of the disaster produced by the last solution. Problem settings are artifacts in their own right, and they determine the directions of problem-solution” [Schon – 1980]. [Emphasis ours]

The development of social policy is a major function of the human services administrator and is a critical element in the maturation into a learning organization. While it is true that much of that social policy is developed and handed down from the federal and state level, the task of local exploration cannot be simply ignored. Our society is politically a representative democracy and the local community has elected officials who have employed an administrator to shape local public policy to their needs. Additionally, we have begun to understand that in ecological terms, the microsystem has as great influence upon the macro system, as the other way around. Thus the incumbent administrator, multiplied by his/her peers helps to create state social policy; and state human service administrators, multiplied by their peers, helps to create the national policy.

No governmental administrator can be “held harmless” in the development of policy. The local administrator cannot simply pass along federal and state policy. This is consent through silence. The process of such localization requires local decisions and despite the similarity of direction received by each locality from the state, any examination of local programs will demonstrate local differences. The question that must be addressed, is whether these differences are to be developed consciously with an awareness of content and process [reflection and choice], or whether they are to happen by accident and force.

If the local administrator is to develop social policy by reflection and choice, it will require both theoretical and practical reasoning. The aim of practical reason is different from the aims of [theoretical and speculative] reason and its criteria of rigor and validity are different. It necessarily aims at the good, and cannot escape the question of value. Although it needs to know how events take place and must account of causes, it is directly concerned with the ordering of means and ends, with final causes.

Final causes, outcome expectations, must therefore be a significant part of the practical reasoning process if the social polity if to have the impact of workability. In the final analysis it is the matching of such outcome expectations with stated social policy that allows for review, measurement and ultimately, improvement. The local administrator is charged with making the local human services system work. The development of workability requires that the local administrator develop a process that defines not only outcomes expectations, but also the means for identifying and measuring whether such outcomes have been met. It is very important to note that the outcome or final cause indicators are cumulative, not formative or summative. By this we mean that social policy or mission indicates what is expected to take place in regard to many people, over a series of events over a period of time. As we shall see later, the emphasis on consumer determination of quality and direction will demand, in addition, an individual goal and outcome expectation which will contribute summatively to the cumulative outcome.

This is a rough description of a very complex process, but one feature of it seems to be crucial – the first grasp of the [policy] hypothesis. This corresponds to, if it is not identical with, Aristotle’s intuitive induction. Aristotle, has indicated the need for a fundamental truth, which is intuitively understood although it can be neither proved nor disproved. The fundamental truth of local social policy must grasp the local reality and discover the means to reach local outcome needs. [This] intuitive induction – the generalization of information – is demanded, but it is also helped by the imperative to do justice, make order under freedom, and restore peace to the community. His [the administrator’s] agency and his insights are like those of a judge. He must see the justice and injustice in the complex situation and find the [policy] that will discharge the community’s responsibility, not only in the instant case but for all similar cases.

This means that a [policy] hypothesis is not merely a generalization from facts and verifiable by facts; it must meet additional criteria. If it is to become a [policy], it must transcend the welter of facts and pressures of persuasion and become a rule of reason that will persuade free human beings to cultivate new behaviors, actions, habits and new institutions as means to the common good. Too often [social policy] reason tries to meet these criteria by simply adding a penalty to the primitive [policy] hypothesis. There is some semblance of validity in this appeal to force, since a behavior and habits can be formed by coercion, and it is said that a political community has a monopoly of power to accomplish that. But for any human community, it its a cruel regression to the lower levels of civilization, and it is merely an illusion to suppose that coercion is the basis of law and order. [emphasis ours]

The leverage of persuasion is the reasonableness that can be imbedded in the [policy] and it is to this that the consent of the governed is given. This consent can be reduced to the superficial consent that exists in popular opinion and it is in this sense that a [policy] seems to be the generalization from particulars. There is an illusion in this as there is in the use of coercion. The literal expression of the will of the people…can be very deceitful. If the [policy] is to take root in the habits of free citizens, it has to be framed so that it is available to the intelligence of everybody. As a good teacher must respect the intelligence of his pupils, so the law must appeal to the sense of justice of the community.

The problem is essentially a generalization from problematic conditions and needs of the society in all their variety and complexity. The human service administrator must keep in mind that the policy represents and must be consented to by the people it serves as well as those it might be conceived to protect. People with problems in living are a part of the community and part of the governed who give consent. Even if reasonable people would choose to debate that at some points, the consent of the “unreasonable” is not necessary, it cannot be affirmatively argued that such unreasonableness is not always the norm, even in the most “psychotic” of the people.

This is the truth that lies behind the myth of the social contract: the citizens have made a contract to surrender their individual rights to the popular assembly or its representative parliament, which in turn has agreed to abide by the process of deliberation and the rules of reason. [emphasis ours] It does not change this fundamental constitutional process to admit that the results are sometime imperfect and have to be supplemented by police action. Such sanctions are not the basis of law; they are auxiliary aids of law to deal with the gap between reason and habit. If the [policy] turns out to depend for its effectiveness just on force alone, it is not a [policy].

To be sure the [Administrator’s] power of persuasion is very great because he is acting under the law, but it is still only persuasion. …the executive operates under an assignment to administer a general rule of reason so that it can be carried out by many groups and individual citizens. The social policy must not only be reasonably developed, but must be articulated in a manner which enables the provider organizations and their individual staff members to participate in its implementation in a reasonable and planned manner.

The people who fill the offices of government [or act on behalf of the government, as in the case of provider organizations]...have to understand in order to obey, and they have to understand well if they are to enlist the obedience of other men. The sequences of Hegelian logic would seem to be more apt: the superior officer issues an order or a thesis; the lower officer or officers assert an antithesis that is more specific and full of circumstantial considerations; and these are followed by executive deliberations which result in synthesis.

The shaping of social policy is an interactive one that requires the skills of both teaching and listening. The local administrator cannot be in a position of ignoring local opinion any more than they can accept a literal interpretation of it which allows social policy to be protective of the majority at the literal destruction of those with problems in living. The major premise of practical reason is the statement of an end or purpose that requires the discovery and ordering of means. The [policy] may indicate what these are, but the application may involve the invention of institutional and technical means and their actual management in order to achieve the [policy] intent. If the enterprise is novel enough, there may have to be new skills acquired on the job. Know-how will have to be added to expertise. Goodwill and morale will have to be added to patience and fortitude.

The development and implementation of “know-how” will be particularly important if the development and implementation of social policy is different than it had been in the past. One cannot merely be an implement of that past. ...It [often] appears that the officers of the bureaus, having been chosen in the first place from the knowledgeable members of the private organizations, are acting in collusion with their former associates, and the regulated are the regulators.

To those concerned with the rule of law and reason, administrative law presents a vast problem in jurisprudence in an increasingly bureaucratic and technological society. The development of social policy is dependent to some extent upon the development of a body of abstract reasoning [theory and philosophy] If the ... social sciences wish to become professional, they need to discover and formulate such judgments both for themselves and for society. But in order to do that they will have to become philosophical enough to distinguish between truth and workability. [Emphasis ours]

Local administrators who fail to identify the “ordering of means” to reach an “end purpose” or who eschew “philosophy” as only a waste of time are failing to understand the importance of their role and function and become only custodial representatives of an inarticulate majority.

Etymologically, philosophy means ‘loving wisdom’. When technically defined, it is the critical evaluation of all the facts of an experience. Critical would include the rejection of bias or prejudice and evaluation would include valuation. To have value is etymologically to be ‘strong’ or ‘effective’., and hence have ‘worth’. In this context, philosophy differs from science in that it attempts to determine without bias the ‘worth’ of every variable in the experience, whereas the scientist merely seeks to describe selected facts of the experience that lie within his or her special field. The placement of value or worth requires a criteria used to distinguish truth from error. “A criteria of truth is a standard, or rule, by which to judge the accuracy of statements and opinions; thus, it is a standard of verification” [Sahakian & Sahakian, 1993].

This process is important, not only to the field of human services, but also to the process by which people with problems in living seek coherence. The individual must decide upon the criteria that can enable him or her to distinguish what is true from what is not true. It should be obvious to most readers that not all criteria have equal validity for this process. Philosophers have used a wide range of criteria including custom, tradition, time, feelings (emotion), instinct, hunch, intuition, revelation, majority rule, consensus, correspondence, authority, utility, consistency and coherence.

The process includes not only criteria of validity, but also the avoidance of material fallacies of reasoning. Such erroneous ways of reasoning about facts are “numerous, deceptive and elusive – so elusive that a person untrained in detecting them can easily be misled into accepting them as valid” [Sahakian & Sahakian, 1993]. The ability to reason without committing error is an obvious asset. Philosophers list such material fallacies in classifications such as 1) linguistic fallacies, or those which involve the abuse or misuse of language; 2) fallacies of irrelevant evidence, or arguments which miss the central point at issue and rely principally upon emotions, feelings, ignorance, etc., to defend a position; and 3) miscellaneous fallacies which belong to a number of other classifications but which do not readily lend themselves to further subdivision. Some examples of this miscellany would include dicto simpliciter, or the attempt to apply a general rule to special cases where are exceptions to the rule. To make universal statements about matters to which the rule does not always apply. The paradoxical cliché ‘All generalizations are wrong; including this one’ is advice against such fallacies and their converse variants.

False cause or post hoc fallacies consist of reasoning from mere sequence to consequence. That is from mere sequence an assumption of causal connection is made. The fact that A precedes B, does not necessarily make A the cause of B.

Compound questions, also known as ‘poisoning the well’, are errors which consists of combining several questions in such a manner as to preclude all opposing arguments, thus placing one’s opponent in a self-incriminating position. “Do you still beat your wife” is the quisessential example.

Petitio Principii, or begging the question is comprised of circular reasoning such as when in order to prove that A is true, B is used as proof, but since B requires support, C is used in defense of B, but C also requires proof and is substantiated by A, the proposition which was to be proved in the first place.

Such examples are not inclusive, but should indicate to the reader that such fallacies are reasonably common. In fact, a list of cognitive errors expounded by a cognitive scientist would not appear much different. Such cognitive errors lead to problems in living when they are applied to the problem of truth about oneself, other people and future prospects for it is difficult to avoid projection of one’s philosophical position into any definition of truth. Since all persons have a philosophy of life, whether they have consciously considered it or not, this philosophy impedes their ability to define truth, unless they are very aware of material fallacies.

A philosophy is vital to the development of coherence. If we seek truth in the delivery of human services, it requires a criteria of validity and a process that avoids error. “True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those we cannot.” Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.” according to the Pragmatists. It is assumed that human beings can therefore obtain only partial knowledge based upon partial experience, which differs from what others obtain. Knowledge, at best, then is opinion, a subjective truth. Since truth is opinion, what is true for you is true only for you. [Sahakian & Sahakian, 1993]

Seeking coherence in the human service system, therefore requires the development of a “common truth” or common cause. Human services cannot be effectively provided with different perspectives of truth each vying for prominence. The collective discovery of the summum bonum, life’s greatest good can only be determined with a discussion of philosophy. “The right act can readily be known once the greatest good has been determined, for it becomes simply that act which enhances the realization of the greatest good, and the immoral act is that mode of behavior which is a deterrent to its realization” [Sahakian & Sahakian, 1993]. Ethics embodies two areas, namely right action and life’s greatest good. Without a clear system definition of life’s greatest good, one is unable to determine ‘right action’. If in the service of human beings, we cannot agree upon or determine right actions; we enter into the realm of morality.

The relationship between ethics and morals is like that between theory and practice, since the former denotes the theory of right conduct and the good life, whereas the latter refers to the actual practice of right conduct and the good life. The term moral has a dual meaning: the first has to do with the ability of a person to understand morality as well as his capacity to make moral decisions; the second has to do with the actual performance of moral acts. Using the term moral in the former sense, we may contrast it with amoral, which refers to a being incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong. Using the term moral in the latter sense, we may contrast it to immoral, which refers to actions that transgress moral principles. [Sahakian & Sahakian, 1993]

In distinguishing between personal ethics signifying the moral code applicable to individual persons, and social ethics, referring to the moral code of groups, we identify the latter as concerned with the development of social policy and the former with the implementation of this social policy in a manner which not only does things right, but does the right things.

Seeking coherence as an individual is to examine closely the criteria of validity. This will require an awareness of one’s own beliefs, prejudices and intents. As Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living”. To know oneself, that is to know oneself completely, one’s conscious and unconscious self, makes for power, self-control and success. Individuals encounter difficulty only because they do not truly know themselves – their natures, limitation, abilities, motives, and the entire gamut of their personalities. They need a psychological mirror enabling each person to see his spiritual self as it really is, including all its shortcomings, strengths and potentialities. [Sahakian & Shakian, 1993]

For people with problems in living, this psychological mirror is the helper. The examination of life’s greatest good, right action, ethics and morality of social policy and social action is considered a prerequisite for human service delivery. To do otherwise is to create the opportunity for material and moral error.