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Article

Guillaume Fontaine

We contribute to the debate surrounding comparative public policy (CPP) analysis as a method and an area of policy studies, based on the following questions: What is CPP? What is it for? How can it be conducted? We begin with a presentation of the historical evolution of the field, its conceptual heterogeneity, and the recent attempts to bridge the gap between basic and applied research through the policy design framework. We proceed with a discussion of the logics operating in CPP, their approaches to causality and causation, and their contribution to middle-range theory. Next, we explain the fundamental problems of the comparative method, starting with a revision of the main protocols in use, then presenting their main methodological pitfalls. The article concludes with a reflection about the contribution of CPP to policy studies through design.

Article

Understanding policy instrument choices and the range of possibilities present in any implementation situation is key for both policy advisors and decision makers. These choices are a concern in policy formulation, which requires an understanding of what kinds of instrument options exist, which subset of tools is generally considered feasible or possible in a given context, and which among that smaller subset of all possible tools is deemed by policy experts, politicians, and the public to be the most appropriate to use at a given time. And, once plans have been adopted, questions of how they can best be implemented and how implementation can be done by governments raise another key set of instrument-related issues important to both policymaking and public administration.

Article

Disproportionate policy response is understood to be a lack of ‘fit’ or balance between the costs of a public policy and the benefits derived from this policy, and between policy ends and means. The study of this phenomenon and its two anchor concepts, namely, policy over- and underreaction, has been inspired by the insight that inefficiencies in the allocation of attention in policymaking leads policymakers to react disproportionately to information. This theory of information processing appears to be broadly accepted and has generated a large body of research on agenda setting. However, little attention has been devoted to actual policy over- and underreaction and how it affects the public. The latest developments are conceptual in nature and include a conceptualization and dimensionalization of policy over- and underreaction, as well as an early-stage development of a preference-driven approach to disproportionate policy response. These issues are fundamental to developing understanding of the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of disproportionate policy response. They are also valuable to those who want to better understand the processes through which policy over- and underreaction occur and are of considerable interest to practitioners who want to understand how to manage disproportionate policy responses more effectively. Although disproportionate policy response poses methodological challenges because it is time-bound, context-sensitive and has a problematic counterfactual (i.e., proportionate policy response), it deserves academic attention. This is because the insight of the punctuated equilibrium theory—that policy responses oscillate between periods of underreaction to the flow of information coming from the environment into the system and overreaction due to disproportionate information processing—implies that policy oscillation is the norm rather than the rarity. To probe research questions related to the topic at hand, disproportionate policy response can be measured as individuals’ perceptions of what they think about the proportionality of policy. Alternatively, scholars may employ vignette survey experiments, sophisticated cost-benefit analysis and a comparison of policy outcomes with (national or international) standards developed by experts. Scholars may also undertake experimental manipulation using risk unfolding over time, combined with varying types of warnings. The study of disproportionate policy response is a gateway to some of the most significant aspects of public policy. Global and domestic threats coupled with relatively skeptical publics about politicians and political institutions and rising negativity and populism in democratic politics imply that policy overshooting is increasingly required for the public to perceive policy action as sufficient and politicians as competent, at least in the short term. Not only has disproportionate policy response been a focal point for political actors seeking decisive and swift policy change in times of real or manufactured crisis or no change at all, but such action has time and time again also made a dramatic impact upon the direction and the character of policy and politics. Classic examples are the U.S. response to 9/11 and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. So far the literature on policy change has not responded to the emergence of the stream of research aimed at fully understanding the complex phenomenon of disproportionate policy response, but a robust research agenda awaits those answering this article’s call for action.

Article

Marleen Brans and Ellen Fobé

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.

Article

Patrik Marier

We frequently employ analogies such as a leaking roof or finishing last in a ranking to illustrate that there is a serious problem requiring attention. Unfortunately, policy realities are far more complex and less obvious since policymakers do not benefit from objective measures or clear signals akin to having water dripping over their head to indicate the presence of a problem. In fact, they face a plethora of policy actors constantly engaged in defining policy problems for them based on competing frames of references. The term “policy problems” evokes questions of what makes a social issue a policy problem, but it also raises questions regarding whether problems can actually be solved via a public response and how. Policy problems occupy a crucial role in policy studies, if not for the simple reason that political authorities are unlikely to alter or create policies without the presence of problems. As such, policy problems occupy an important place in popular theoretical frameworks frequently employed in the field of public policy. The formulation of policy problems is at the heart of the punctuated-equilibrium theory since these can result in the creation of new political coalitions seeking transformative policy change. In the social construction of target populations approach, the ways in which the public perceives particular subgroups or subpopulations dictate our understanding of policy problems and the types of instruments to deploy. Frameworks for policy feedback assume that current policies structure the formulation of policy problems along the lines of altering existing policies. In the multiple-streams theoretical framework, policy problems are part of a toolkit used to validate the use of already made solutions by policy entrepreneurs seeking the right opportunity for implementation. A thorough treatment and analysis of policy problems exist within the policy design literature. Scholars operating within this tradition have emphasized the individual characteristics of policy problems and, as importantly, how these matter when it is time to enact solutions. Characteristics of problems, such as causality and severity, are key elements in the identification and formulation of policy problems and their likelihood to feature prominently in the policy agenda of governmental actors. Additional elements, such as the divisibility of policy problems and the extent to which these problems can be monetarized, matter in assessing the possibility of enacting solutions. This raises the fundamental question of whether policy problems can actually be resolved. Mature policies are the norm in industrialized countries, and these are increasingly subject to international agreements. Consequently, there are, for example, many more interdependencies, which have led to the reemergence of wicked-problems analyses. However, a substantial number of contributions have associated complexity with wicked problems, raising questions surrounding their intrinsic qualities and the danger of conceptual stretching.

Article

As a part of the policy process, implementation follows policy as formulated and decided upon. Three aspects can be distinguished as inherent to the term implementation. The first one regards the temporal order in which implementation in a policy process takes place. The second aspect concerns the causal logic, while the third one is about the form of authority. Policy implementation is looked at and talked about from two fundamentally contrasting perspectives. One can be called an “ideal” perspective, the other a realistic one. “Ideal” stands here for a use of the term implementation without further reflection; the phenomena the term refers to are taken for granted. By contrast, the alternative perspective can be labeled as a realistic one. This perspective is a construction as well, but instead of taking things for granted it invites for empirical observation and testing. From an ideal perspective implementation is viewed as following instructions. Implementation is seen as a separate stage, identifiable as such. Inputs are supposed to determine outputs, while authority is exercised in a hierarchical relationship. From a realistic perspective implementation is seen as practice. It is approached as a multilevel phenomenon. Results of a policy process are explained by a variety of factors and social mechanisms. Authority is exercised as based on various sources. Both the view on implementation as following instructions and its realistic opposite shed a relevant light on implementation and its place in the policy process. Each view can be found in the practice as well as the study of the policy process. In the expectations about national politics the view on implementation as following instructions may be more observed than the alternative view, while at the street level of government the opposite can be supposed. However, these concern empirical questions. As far as implementation research is concerned, the normative appeal of the assumptions underlying the view on implementation as following instructions makes that view still occurring. At the same time, these assumptions have been challenged rather fundamentally, both at a theoretical and empirical level. The opposite character of the two views has consequences for the ways implementation and its place within the policy process are understood, but also for the ways in which variation in the results of policy processes is explained. Ultimately, understanding and explaining those results are enhanced when an approach is adopted in which elements from both views have been incorporated.

Article

José Nederhand and Astrid Molenveld

Q methodology is an approach well suited to identifying and comparing patterns of similarity and differences in people’s viewpoints. The method systematically maps perceptions—including which elements of the perceptions are shared or unique. Q methodology originated in psychology, but it has been widely applied in multiple disciplines. The approach has also increasingly gained ground in public administration, in which studying perceptions, attitudes, and related biases is of key importance. William Stephenson, one of the founders of the method, developed Q methodology in order to be able to study persons as a complex whole, instead of just their characteristics, which is common among statistical methods. Unraveling the multiplicity of debates and perceptions is very useful for informing and evaluating the practice of public administration researchers and practitioners. By providing systematic insight into clusters of perceptions surrounding a specific topic, Q methodology allows researchers to develop new concepts and to advance the (existing) literature. For practitioners, the method is particularly suited for describing societal and political debates and practices, for designing governance and policy interventions, and for evaluating the implementation of policy programs.

Article

Morten Egeberg and Jarle Trondal

An organizational approach to public governance focuses on the organizational architecture of public organizations and contributes to explaining governance processes by the organizational characteristics of such organizations. The dependent variable “public governance” is defined as the process through which the steering of society takes place. Such steering of society can unfold directly (“governance”) as well as indirectly (“meta-governance”), the latter denoting the process of organizing the apparatus within which governance happens. Governance is not only about making formal decisions, but also about agenda setting, development of alternative policy directions, implementation, and learning. In practice, it is about hammering out legislation, budgets, policy programs, and law application (“governance”), as well as organizing, staffing, and locating the machinery of government (“meta-governance”). Organization structure, organization demography, and organization locus make up the key independent variables. Such a partial model is not thought to provide a full account of what happens in governance processes, but the organizational factors are expected to intervene and bias governance processes systematically and significantly. Since these factors are, arguably, relatively amenable to deliberate change, they constitute at the same time potential design tools. However, rational organizational design also depends on knowledge about the conditions under which the organizational factors themselves may be changed (“meta-governance”). Knowledge about these two relationships is, arguably, ultimately a prerequisite for (rational) organizational design. Public organization literature has largely neglected theorizing meta-governance and conditions for institutional (re)design. Organizational factors may influence meta-governance in two ways: first, existing organization structures, demographics, and locations may affect reform processes; secondly, reform processes themselves may be deliberately organized on a temporary basis to achieve particular goals. Organization theory is helpful in dissecting how different ways of organizing reform processes may produce different reform trajectories and outcomes. The idea sees reform processes as decision-making processes that allocate attention, resources, capabilities, roles, and identities. Reform organizations have structures, demographics, and locations that distribute rights and obligations, power and resources, and normally do so unevenly. Yet, when considering organizational (re-)design, its limitations should be considered as well. Organizational designers might benefit from being aware of the potential stickiness of existing organizational arrangements and the influence of environmental demands, as well as temporal sorting of events. Moreover, the limits to design are greater in complex organizational orders with nested rules such as in nation states, meta-organizations, and supranational institutions such as the European Union, than in single organizations such as government ministries and agencies.