Date of Graduation

1981

Document Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

This study concerns the use made of field tests in the making of public policy. Specifically, does a field test make a difference in the policy-making process and if so under what conditions? A field test is the trial implementation of a potential public policy over a limited geographic area, involving many of the basic logistical problems and administrative skill requirements of a full-scale program. Based on the literature and the disposition of recent field tests, a case can be made that field test results are more likely to be reflected in the modification or ultimate disposition of a policy if the policy being tested differs only incrementally from existing policies. Because of the politicized nature of the policy-making process, experimentation with policies that represent a fundamental change from current practices is far less likely to lead to the enactment of full-scale programs. It is hypothesized that the results of a field test are more likely to be reflected in the modification or ultimate disposition of a policy if the policy being tested is incremental. The validity of this hypothesis is examined by means of comparative case studies of three field tests: the food stamp field test, the New Jersey Negative Income Tax (NIT) experiment, and the Transportation Remuneration Incentive Program (TRIP). The field tests are compared on the basis of the policies they tested, the actual tests and findings, and the use made of the findings. Comparison of the field tests indicates that the exploratory hypothesis may oversimplify what is found to be a highly complex relationship between field tests and the policy process. The primary determinant of whether or not a field tested policy is likely to be implemented following a favorable evaluation is not so much whether a policy is incremental, but that it is incremental and enjoys sufficient political support. The problem is not that no one in a position of authority is listening to the results of field test evaluations, but rather that political expediency and personal pre-disposition tend to determine what is heard, when, and by whom.

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