Ideas in Good Currency

… a core concept in Ethics, Rights, and Accountability and Atlas111M

IdeasInGoodCurrencyConcept description

The concept of an “idea in good currency” was first conceived by American philosopher Donald Schön to describe “an idea whose time had come.”

Ideas in good currency have been described as “ideas powerful for the formation of public policy.” Their core features have been said to include the fact that they “change over time; they obey a law of limited numbers; and they lag behind changing events, sometimes in dramatic ways.”

Schön provides some historical examples of ideas in good currency: for example, in the 1950s, “competition with the Russians,” “the space race,” and “basic research” were ideas in good currency in the United States, which gave way to the ideas of “poverty,” “the disadvantaged,” and “unmet public needs” in the 1960s. The complex process by which the ideas in good currency in the 1950s gave way to those in force in the 1960s involved the adoption of a new vocabulary and set of theories.

The time lag associated with the adoption of new ideas in good currency can be quite significant. As Schön writes, “[i]deas are often slow to come into good currency; and once in good currency and institutionalized, they are slow to fade away. By the time ideas have come into good currency, they often no longer accurately reflect the state of affairs.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Ethics in Public Policy and Management (core topic) in Ethics, Rights, and Accountability and Atlas111M Ethics.


D. Schön, “Government as a Learning System” at 5 and at 10-11 in Chris Blackmore, ed, Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice (2010) Springer. From Google Books at: accessed 31 May 2016.

Page created by: Dave Marshall, last modified by Ian Clark on 31 May 2016.

Image: Leslie Belknap, at, accessed 31 May 2016.