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date: 29 March 2023

Policy Advice From Bureaucracylocked

Policy Advice From Bureaucracylocked

  • Marleen BransMarleen BransPublic Governance Institute, KU Leuven
  •  and Ellen FobéEllen FobéPublic Governance Institute, KU Leuven


Policy advice is a core function of modern bureaucracies. It can be distinguished from closely related concepts such as policy design, policy analysis and policy work – all of which are also conducted by the civil service.

Civil servants remain critical advisory actors in the policy advisory system despite the fact that it latter has become more crowded and competitive. The bureaucracy is well placed to provide political executives with both long term and short-term policy advice. And bureaucrats often garner, even broker, input from other advisers in the advisory system.

The academic community has shown concerns over an alleged decline of the capacity for policy advice because of growing advice competition and a trend towards politicization. While such worries have legitimate grounds, they are also marked by a Westminster bias. After all, advice competition and politicization are nothing new in consensus style polities with a traditional reliance on advisory input from societal actors and political advisers. This is not to say that bureaucratic advisory capacity does not have its difficulties. New Public Management reforms, cutbacks, and the focus on policy delivery instead of policy formulation have certainly had their impact. Yet recurrent meta-policies have also aimed to strengthen policy advisory capacities of bureaucrats. The evidence-based movement swept across the globe and left its mark, for instance, as have government-wide programs, such as policy skills frameworks and guidelines on standards for policy advice. The latter are particularly useful when considering that bureaucratic policy advisers are not the Sir Humphrey Abbleby’s at the apex of the bureaucracies, but include, as evidenced by research, a great number of often invisible and incidental advisers lower down in the bureaucratic hierarchy.


  • Policy, Administration, and Bureaucracy

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