A cybernetic perspective on policy-making and planning in local government
This thesis explores some of the central problems confronting policymakers and planners in local government. These problems are seen to stem from a view of planning which is characterised as top-down. Previous attempts to apply cybernetic ideas to these problems - characterised as the 'systems approach' - have failed partly on account of their failure to question this view. Cybernetics, it is argued, offers a fundamentally different perspective on planning, which emphasises the importance of processes, whereby the plans and policies of different organisations are mutually adjusted to each other - from the bottom up. The dynamics of this process are examined and cybernetics, most notably the work of Ashby, is shown to offer a number of insights into how it can be facilitated. Such a radical re-assessment of the nature of planning requires, at the same time, a much wider conception of the role of policy. Policies, it is suggested, are all too often thought of as purely prescriptive. A policy framework must instead be regarded as incorporating also a complex hierarchy of values, aims, goals and objectives, whose inter-relationships can be compared to that between the various components of a body of scientific knowledge. Such a perspective on planning and policy-making points towards a novel conception of government. Instead of imposing order from above, its primary function would become that of facilitating and encouraging the mutual adjustment process and collaboration between local organisations.