Discussion of some representative work from the scholars of foreign policy provides a review of the literature that can guide researchers in examining the separate yet interrelated stages of the decision-making process and that can demonstrate the importance of sequences in the process of foreign policymaking.
The study of think tanks brings together a range of academic disciplines and allows for multifaceted analyses, encompassing the concepts of ideas, institutions, influence, interests, and power. The literature on think tanks addresses a ubiquitous policy actor as think tanks have been around for a long time, especially in advanced liberal democracies. However, they have also become established actors in authoritarian regimes and in the developing world. Nowhere is their influence on policymaking or the public debate easy to pinpoint. The definition of a think tank has been contested ever since the study of think tanks took off in the 1980s and 1990s. Some scholars have devised typologies around organizational form and output, with a focus on whether think tanks are openly partisan or rather emphasize their political and ideological neutrality; others propose that the think tank is not so much a clearly discernible organizational entity but rather should be seen as a set of activities that can be conducted by a broad range of organizations; others again see think tanks as hybrid boundary organizations operating at the interstices of different societal fields. What most scholars will agree on is that policy expertise is think tanks’ main output, that they seek to influence policymakers and the wider public, and that they try to do so via informal and formal channels and by making use of their well-connected position in often transnational policy networks encompassing political parties, interest groups, corporations, international organizations, civil society organizations, and civil service bureaucracies. Think tanks’ main output, policy expertise either in the form of concrete proposals or “blue-skies thinking,” is underpinned by claims that it is “evidence-based.” The widely used positivist notion of “evidence-based policymaking” has been of benefit to think tanks as organizations that claim to “speak truth to power” by producing easily digestible outputs aimed at policymakers who profess to want evidence to make policy “that works.” Think tanks are active at different “moments” in the policymaking process. John Kingdon’s agenda-setting theory of the multiple streams framework helps us understand think tanks as “policy entrepreneurs” who are most likely to have influence during the moments of problem framing, the search for policy solutions, and the promotion of specific solutions to policymakers and the public. Think tank studies should take into account the relationship between the media and think tanks, and how this relationship impacts on whether think tanks succeed in agenda-setting and, thereby, influence policymaking. The relationship is symbiotic: journalists use think tanks to inform their work or welcome their contribution in the form of an opinion piece, while think tanks use the media to air their ideas. This relationship is not without problems, as some think tanks are in privileged positions with regards to media access while others barely ever cross the media threshold. Think tanks are, in the 21st century, challenged by an “epistemic crisis.” This crisis consists of a loss of faith in experts and of information pollution and information overload. This development is both a risk and an opportunity for think tanks. Concerning the latter, policymakers increasingly need curators, arbiters, or filters to help them decide which information, data, and policy expertise to use in their decision-making processes.
Diana Panke and Ingo Henneberg
The interplay between states and international organizations has received a lot of scholarly attention, largely because the number of international organizations has increased considerably within the last century. State-of-the-art scholarship on the foreign policies of international organizations and states is presented here, as are rationalist and constructivist accounts of how the foreign policies of states impact international organizations (bottom-up perspective), as well as how, in turn, international organizations impact member-state foreign policies (top-down perspective). Thereby, the polity, politics, and policy dimensions of both states and international organizations are examined in order to explain the changes states’ foreign policies can induce, under what scope conditions, in the international organizations’ structure (polity), procedures (politics), and policy outcomes. Vice versa, also explained are the changes international organizations can induce, under what scope conditions, in the foreign policy apparatus of states (polity), foreign policy decision-making procedures (politics), and states’ foreign policies. As is illustrated, the theme “International Organizations and Foreign Policy” is not an established foreign policy subfield per se but is covered here in multiple approaches and theories. In line with the development of international relations, the bottom-up perspective has received much more scholarly attention than the top-down perspective. Furthermore, bottom-up research evidences a tendency toward the strong influence of states’ foreign policies on the policy and polity of international organizations, while the top-down influence of international organizations on states’ foreign policy apparatus, procedures, and policies is usually much more limited. Finally, an outlook into fruitful future avenues for research is outlined.
In the European Union (EU), there are two consultative committees, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions (CoR). Both, the EESC and the CoR are involved in EU decision-making but lack formal competencies to influence European secondary law directly. Instead of having votes or veto rights concerning EU directives or regulations, the two consultative committees provide recommendations to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. In addition to providing advice to the two EU legislative chambers, the two consultative committees can also approach the European Commission and give input into the drafting of EU policies at the very early stage.
Linda Courtenay Botterill
Since the late 1990s, increased attention has been given by governments and scholars to evidence-based policymaking (EBPM). The use of the term EBPM appears to have emerged with the election of Tony Blair’s government in the United Kingdom (UK) and a desire to be seen to be taking ideology and politics out of the policy process. The focus was on drawing on research-based evidence to inform policymakers about “what works” and thereby produce better policy outcomes. In this sense, evidence-based policy is arguably a new label for an old concern. The relationship between knowledge, research, and policy has been a focus of scholarly attention for decades—Annette Boaz and her colleagues date it to as early as 1895 (Boaz et al., 2008, p. 234). In its more recent form, EBPM has been the subject of much debate in the literature, particularly through critiques that question its assumptions about the nature of the policy process, the validity of evidence, the skewing in favor of certain types of evidence, and the potentially undemocratic implications. The first concern with the concept is that the EBPM movement runs counter to the lessons of the critique of rational-comprehensive approaches to policymaking that was launched so effectively in Lindblom’s article “The Science of ‘Muddling Through’” and never really refuted, in spite of attempts by advocates of the policy cycle and other rational models. The second problem is that the rhetoric of evidence-based policy does not recognize the contested nature of evidence itself, an area that has been the subject of a large body of research in the fields of the sociology of science and science and technology studies. These studies draw attention to the value-laden nature of scientific inquiry and the choices that are made about what to research and how to undertake that research. Third, the emphasis has been on particular types of evidence, with particular methodologies being privileged over others, running the risk that what counts as evidence is only what can be counted or presented in a particular way. The choice of evidence is value-laden and political in itself. Finally, attempts to take the ideology or politics out of policy are also potentially undemocratic. Policymaking is the business of politics. In democratic systems, politicians are elected to implement their policies, and those policies are based on particular sets of values. Leaders are elected to make collective decisions on behalf of the electorate and those decisions are based on judgments, including value judgments. Evidence surely must inform this process, but, equally, it cannot be decisive. Trade-offs are required between conflicting values, such as between equity and efficiency, and this can include deciding between solutions that the evidence suggests are optimal and other societal priorities.
The bureaucracy is a central body in the effective functioning of democracy and oversight of the rule of law, and knowledge of how public agencies interact with politics and effect policy implementation is crucial in understanding the “black box” of the state. However, this body of non-elected officials can only fulfill its mandate and achieve good governance if it meets certain conditions, such as technical expertise, a clear organizational hierarchy, meritocratic recruitment for personnel staffing, as well as political support, resources, and the autonomy to devise solutions based on expertise. Unfortunately for Latin America, its bureaucratic agencies have seldom enjoyed these conditions. Instead, public administration in the region has been characterized by patronage appointments, patrimonialism, and a weak capacity to execute public policies. Yet this blanket depiction of the Latin American bureaucracy obscures a great deal more diversity—as well as the fact that Latin American bureaucrats and public agencies are more dynamic and responsive than they are often portrayed. To begin, the size and role of the public administration have evolved constantly throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, growing under statist development policies of the mid-20th century before shrinking under neoliberalism in the 1990s and again growing during the 2000s in some countries. Moreover, the quality of the bureaucracy to efficiently provide services and implement policy varies by country, over time, and even within countries among agencies. This means that there is also variation in the scope and quality of the bureaucracy’s chief functions of policymaking, regulation, and implementation. In fact, politicians and bureaucrats in the region have found a number of creative solutions to agency weakness. Moving forward, politicians can guarantee even better bureaucratic performance by addressing some enduring challenges, such as public sector corruption and an institutional setup that favors short-term policymaking.
Louisa Bayerlein and Christoph Knill
There are distinct characteristics to the ways and procedures through which public administrations typically accomplish their daily tasks. The informal routines that characterize the behavior and activities of public administrations in the policymaking process are called administrative styles. They can be understood as the meso-level of organizational culture. Studying administrative styles is important for comparative research on policymaking because they capture and explain variance in policymaking and implementation beyond merely structural aspects or formal institutions. Similar to policy styles and regulatory styles, the concept of administrative styles has long been employed to describe state–society relationships. It has found to be a useful independent variable in the study various phenomena, such as divergent policy developments across European states, national idiosyncrasies in regulatory regimes or the impact of Europeanization on national administrations. However, administrative styles can also be informative of the relationship between the bureaucracy with both their political masters and society and bureaucratic influence in policymaking. In this regard, one can distinguish two orientations underpinning administrative styles, namely positional and functional orientations characterizing informal bureaucratic routines and standard operating procedures. Depending on the prevalence of positional and functional orientations in behavioral patterns, it is possible to distinguish four ideal-typical administrative styles that apply to administrative routines of influencing the policymaking process: a servant style, an advocacy style, a consolidator style, and an entrepreneurial style. Variation in administrative styles across different organizations can be explained by two factors, namely the internal and external challenges they face. Understood this way, administrative styles could enable a comparative assessment of bureaucratic routines and influence in policymaking across different countries or sectors as well as in supra- and international bureaucracies.
Diana Panke and Julia Gurol
Smaller European Union member states face size-related challenges in the EU multilevel system, such as weighted voting in day-to-day policymaking in which EU secondary law is produced or high workloads and fewer resources during intergovernmental conferences (IGC) to set EU primary law. Coping with these challenges is paramount to smaller states’ success. Thus, they can use different strategies, most notably selective engagement and negotiation strategies that do not require much material power, such as persuasion, framing, and coalition-building, as well as the Council Presidency as a window of opportunity to influence the agenda. Applying these strategies allows small states to punch above their weight. Yet, doing so is easier the longer states have been members of the EU. Older, smaller states have more extensive networks, more insights about past policies, and in-depth knowledge on best practices that help them in effectively navigating day-to-day EU negotiations as well as IGCs.
Thomas Christiansen and Amy Verdun
Since the 1990s, historical institutionalism has established itself as a frequently used approach in the study of European integration. One basic tenet of those who use this approach is to take history seriously in the study of European integration—in particular how historical choices on institutionalizing particular procedures and policies explain subsequent patterns of agency. Looking at the manner in which time and institutional structures affect outcomes is central in this approach. In the context of the European Union (EU), the works that have adopted this approach have typically examined developments in policies and institutions over time. While sharing with other institutionalist approaches (such as rational choice and sociological institutionalism) the recognition that “institutions matter,” historical institutionalism introduced particular concepts such as “path dependence” and “critical juncture” into the study of the EU. The distinct contribution here is the capacity of historical institutionalism to explain the persistence of institutional structures and the continuity of policies as well as the reasons for change. In the study of European integration, this approach has been adopted in many areas of research, ranging from studies about the legal foundations of the EU, the workings within institutions of the EU, the process of enlargement, to analyses of various sectors of EU policy-making, and the study of the multiple crises confronting the integration project in the 2010s.
The term “governance” refers to interactive forms of political steering, characterized by the coordination of a wide spectrum of actors in pursuit of common goals (e.g., Rhodes, 1996; Pierre & Peters, 2000, 2005; Kooiman, 2003; Torfing, Peters, Pierre, & Sörensen, 2013; Ansell & Torfing 2016). Governance processes involve multiple actors and institutions into cooperative relationships and network structures. The corresponding steering mechanisms may range from hierarchical rule to mere persuasion. The governance perspective appeared particularly suited to analyze political steering in the European Union (EU). The Union is not sovereign; it therefore developed steering mechanisms that do not (or only partly) rely on formal competences and hierarchical rule. The evolving system of European governance constituted the EU as a multilevel polity, held together by interlocking relationships of policy coordination and cooperation (Marks et al., 1996; Hooghe & Marks, 2001; Piattoni, 2010). Scholarly reflection on EU governance evolved comparatively late during the 1990s (Hix, 1998); it proliferated after the turn of the century, when the European Union introduced the so-called Open Method of Coordination (OMC) (Kohler-Koch & Rittberger, 2006). Later, the perspective widened to the whole spectrum of governance modes and its innovative forms (e.g., Sabel & Zeitlin, 2008, 2010a; Tömmel & Verdun, 2009a, Héritier & Rhodes, 2011). Yet salient issues remained under-researched, particularly the power dimension of EU governance (Torfing et al., 2013, pp. 48–70).