Advisory groups and their dynamics play a critical role in crisis management. If they function well and complement the leadership styles of political leaders, advisory groups can provide broad information search, diverse advice and perspectives, and reinforce a leader’s own strengths. They can surround an inexperienced leader with advisors possessing policy expertise or experience in an issue area. On the other hand, advisory groups can also easily fall into more dysfunctional patterns where they do not compensate for a leader’s weaknesses, fail to provide varied perspectives or alternative views, and engage in limited information gathering. Advisory groups can help seal an administration into an “alternative reality bubble” during crises, resulting in policy decisions being made based upon faulty perceptions instead of realities. How should we seek to understand advisory groups and crises? The first cut should involve the consumer of the advisory group’s inputs themselves, the leader. Advisory groups almost always serve at the pleasure of the leader, not themselves, and therefore the leaders will play a major role in determining their influence, how the groups will function, and their importance during crisis decision making. Important variables such as leadership style, sensitivity to context and need for information on the part of leaders, how much control they require over the policy process, and how their prior experience or expertise leads them to rely more or less upon advisors must be examined. The second focus should be upon the advisory groups themselves, their internal dynamics and reactions to stress, how decision rules and policy formulation occurs, and how group pathologies can undermine their crisis performance. Variables such as group malfunctions resulting from stress and the needs for cohesion during crisis (like groupthink) or the splintering of group consensus to warring factions that undercut cohesion (like polythink) must be considered. The stage of development an advisory group is in (i.e., newgroup versus established), the stage of the policymaking process involved (i.e., deliberative versus implemental), how sequential decision-making processes function, the composition of the group members (i.e., experts versus novices), the type of crisis the group faces, and the bureau-political dynamics involved all impact crisis management.
Bert Fraussen and Darren Halpin
Interest groups—collective voluntary organizations for which political advocacy is a primary task such as business associations and citizen groups—are key agents engaging with the bureaucracy. While understudied, research on the relations between interest groups and civil servants highlights the importance of the bureaucratic arena. Recent studies present different perspectives on the interactions between these two actors and also highlight the process of issue prioritization, an important aspect of (internal) agenda setting within groups. This is a key process to study as it provides insight into why groups allocate their attention and resources to a specific set of policy issues, and in this way it clarifies how interest groups put representation into practice. Issue prioritization within groups can be conceptualized as being guided by five drivers: internal responsiveness, policy capacities, niche seeking, political opportunity structure, and issue salience. Recent scholarship has highlighted how rather than privileging one driver over another, this process is first and foremost a balancing exercise in which groups take on board various internal and external considerations. Similar processes are at work within bureaucracies. The intersection of prioritization processes of civil servants and interest groups is an important area for future research.