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.
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.
Christoph Knill, Christina Steinbacher, and Yves Steinebach
Modern policymaking becomes an ever more complex and fragmented endeavor: Across countries, the pile of public policies is continuously growing. The risk of unintended interactions and ineffective policies increases. New and cross-cutting challenges strain the organizational setup of policymaking systems. Against this background, policy integration is assumed to present an antidote by improving the coherence, consistency, and coordination of public policies as well as of the processes that produce these policy outputs. Although various research attempts focus on policy integration, common concepts and theories are largely missing. The different facets of the phenomenon have only been covered disproportionally and empirical analyses remained fragmented. On these grounds, a more comprehensive and systematic view on policy integration is needed: To cope with complexity, governments are required to streamline and reconcile their products of policymaking (i.e., every single policy). Here, policymakers need to check for interactions with policies already adopted on the same level as well as with policies put in place by other levels of government (e.g., subnational). Moreover, policy integration also implies the creation and development of policymaking processes that systematically link political and administrative actors across various policy arenas, sectors, and levels. By elaborating on these process and product components of policy integration as well as on their horizontal and vertical manifestations, the different perspectives on policy integration are synthesized and embedded into a systematic framework. On the basis of this scheme of identifying four policy integration categories, it becomes clear that there are still loopholes in the literature. As these blind spots culminate in the absence of almost any concept on vertical policy process integration, a way of capturing the phenomenon is introduced through arguing that vertical policy process integration depends on the structural linkages between the policy formulation at the “top” and the implementation level at the “bottom.” More precisely, it is necessary to take account of the extent to which the policy producers have to carry the burden of implementation, and the degree to which the implementers can influence the policy design over the course of formulation. The proposed framework on policy integration is intended to serve as a guide for future research and to help to identify those aspects of policy integration in which further research efforts are required. Only in this way can policy integration as a theoretical and empirical concept be applied systematically across policy contexts—covering different countries, levels, and sectors— and serve as a stimulus for better policymaking.
Woodrow Wilson’s early writings contributed to the emerging effort in the 1880s to redefine and reform the field of public administration and to clarify its relationship to elected officials. Wilson envisioned an active and independent administration that was accountable to elected officials for carrying out the policies they established. Administrators should display expertise and operate efficiently, yet they should be attuned to the views of the public and not seek to determine the content of public policy. Elected officials should stop intervening in determining the detailed decisions made by administrators. The central interpretation of Wilson’s views is that politics and policy, on the one hand, and administration, on the other, were not strictly divided in a dichotomous relationship. They were two distinct but interconnected parts of a duality. There was clear support for the view espoused by Wilson in the next half century and a recognition that administrators assisted elected officials in the formulation of policy. The view that the ideal relationship between elected officials and administrators was a dichotomy took hold, and some claimed that Wilson advocated this strict separation. Subsequent theorizing and empirical research by public administration scholars have clearly supported a dualistic view of the relationship and have recognized Wilson’s contribution to establishing a model for the field that would stress complementarity between elected officials and administrators, rather than dichotomy.
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.