A case study of the use of commissions as instruments of public policy: The governor's Select Commission on the Future of the State-Local Mental Health System (New York State, 1983-1984)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Robert Bogdan


Mental health system, Commissions, Public policy, Select Commission on the Future of the State-Local Mental Health System, New York

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | History | Medicine and Health Sciences | Mental and Social Health | Public Administration | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social and Behavioral Sciences | United States History


This thesis examines the use of advisory commissions appointed by chief executives. It asks of what value are such commissions, to whom and at what cost. Commissions are typically high-profile public processes that ask a good deal of the participants in terms of their time, effort, prestige and faith in government. They also ask a good deal of the interested publics in terms of trust in the promises of government, patience in the unfolding of the commission, critical evaluation of the results and support for implementation of key recommendations. How well a commission fulfills its mission and how well its convener fulfills the obligation to implement credible recommendations can have a significant impact on participants and the public.

Using as a case study the Select Commission on the Future of the State/Local Mental Health System (New York, 1983-4), this thesis explores the elements that caused a commission to achieve, or fail to achieve, implementation of its recommendations. This thesis concludes that the Select Commission achieved its mission of producing coherent, responsive recommendations and that it achieved a high level of consensus in the service community. However, a high level of opinion remained in the Select Commission participants and mental health leadership that implementation had failed. Evidence suggests that this perception is related to the absence of meaningful implementation of the Commission's structural reform recommendations, even while services and funding expanded. This thesis concludes that this perceived failure resulted not from any particular flaw in the commission itself, although it had its weaknesses, but as a result of powerful tensions in the external environment that it was not able to control.

Despite the participants' perception that implementation failed, however, they reflected a significant level of satisfaction from having participated in a meaningful public deliberative process. They also showed evidence of the presence of alternative visions of citizen participation and how a public process might function at a more elevated level that empowers the commission itself and energizes its publics.


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