As early as the 1960s, Easton (1965) envisioned the ‘Systems approach’ as a framework and model to address the central problem of empirical political study . Such a framework assumes that: (i) political interactions in a society constitute a system; (ii) the system must be seen as surrounded by physical, biological, social, and psychological environments, i.e., political life forms an open system; (iii) systems must have the capacity to respond to disturbances and thereby to adapt to the conditions under which they find themselves. In Easton’s systems approach, the five tenants of a framework are: ‘Actors’, ‘Variables’ (the inputs, the processes, the outputs, and the feedback), ‘Unit of analysis’, ‘Level of analysis’ and ‘Scope’ . Introducing the Systems thinking to the policymaking process allows for both a holistic and narrow examination of the public policy problem, the environment, actors and abstract and concrete components.
For purposive, intelligent action, understanding and safety needs, etc., normal people need representations of their action context (mechanisms of external and internal factors affecting decisions), including one’s own and other actors’ actions. Such internal representations have been called variously mental models, causal or cognitive maps, meaning in general: “mechanisms whereby humans are able to generate descriptions of system purpose and form explanations of system functioning, observed system states, and predictions of future system states” .
Causal maps can be developed by individual decision‐makers to model the structural systemic elements of their situation and show how change is propagated through the system. “What causal maps contribute is a visual, mental imagery‐based, “mind’s eye” simulation of the system’s behavior for system analysis and social communication” . It is obvious that such maps can be useful for analysing, developing and sharing views and understanding among key actors also for creating some preconditions for intervention.
Large‐scale causal maps can be used to model complex policy problems, representing what a government decision‐maker thinks about the drivers, barriers, instruments and consequences of change achieved by a certain policy proposal. Data for building such maps are acquired from the decision makers or from other sources including the WP4 Linked Open Data Search tools, WP5 Social media Analysis tools, and documents such as: previous policy evaluation or impact assessment reports, related research literature and reports from research institutes and NGOs.
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