Knowledge kills action–why principles should play a limited role in policy-making

J. Britt Holbrook, Adam Briggle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


This essay argues that principles should play a limited role in policy-making. It first illustrates the dilemma of timely action in the face of uncertain unintended consequences. It then introduces the precautionary and proactionary principles as different alignments of knowledge and action within the policy-making process. The essay next considers a cynical and a hopeful reading of the role of these principles in public policy debates. We argue that the two principles, despite initial appearances, are not all that different when it comes to formulating public policy. We also suggest that allowing principles to determine our actions undermines the sense of autonomy necessary for true action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-66
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Responsible Innovation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Strategy and Management
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


  • autonomy
  • decision procedure
  • policy
  • precautionary principle
  • proactionary principle
  • risk
  • uncertainty


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