Rational Goal-Setting in Environmental Policy : Foundations and Applications

Abstract:  The overall aim of this thesis is to present a model for rational goal-setting and to illustrate how it can be applied in evaluations of public policies, in particular policies concerning sustainable development and environmental quality. The contents of the thesis are divided into two sections: a theoretical section (Papers I-IV) and an empirical section (Papers V-VII). Paper I identifies a set of rationality criteria for single goals and discusses them in relation to the typical function of goals. It is argued that goals are typically set to enhance goal achievement. A goal that successfully furthers its achievement is “achievement-inducing”. It holds for each of the identified criteria that, ceteris paribus, improved satisfaction of a criterion makes a goal better in the achievement-inducing sense.Paper II contains an analysis of the notion of goal system coherence. It is argued that the coherence of a goal system is determined by the relations that hold among the goals in the system, in particular the relations of operationalization, means and ends, support, and conflict. Paper III investigates the rationality of utopian goals. The paper analyzes four arguments that support the normative criterion of attainability: that utopian goals are (1) too imprecise and (2) too far-reaching to guide action effectively, (3) counterproductive, and (4) morally objectionable. A tentative defence of utopian goal-setting is built on counter-arguments that can be put forward to weaken each of the four objections. Paper IV investigates the nature of self-defeating goals. The paper identifies three types of situations in which self-defeating mechanisms obstruct goal achievement: (1) situations in which the goal itself carries the seeds of its own non-fulfilment (self-defeating goals), (2) situations in which the activity of goal-setting contributes to goal failure (self-defeating goal-setting), and (3) situations in which disclosure of the goal interferes with progress (self-defeating goal disclosure). Paper V provides a brief description of the Swedish system of environmental objectives and a preliminary inventory of the management difficulties that attach to this goal system.Paper VI contains an investigation into the rationality of five Swedish environmental objectives through an application of the rationality criteria identified in Papers I-II. The paper identifies and discusses some difficulties that are associated with management by objectives and the use of goals in environmental policy. Paper VII analyses the rationality of the Swedish environmental quality objective A good built environment. Among the conclusions drawn in the paper are that some of the sub-goals to the objective are formulated in terms that are unnecessarily vague from an action-guiding standpoint and that others are problematic from the viewpoint of evaluability.