Inspired by the issue: Understanding the implementation of targets in government: making classics count

thomas-schillemans

By Thomas Schillemans

 

 

Browsing through the latest October 2016 issue of Policy & Politics, I was ‘inspired’ to review the article on understanding the implementation of targets in government. The analysis of public administration and public policy is often haunted by the tyranny of the contemporary. New theoretical lenses, innovative conceptual ideas, unfolding policy problems and crises, if not the anticipation of future problems, they always manage to attract a whole lot of attention. There is more traction to be gained from introducing a new theoretical approach than from refining and improving existing approaches. Researchers and students sometimes seem more motivated to understand tomorrow’s problems than to deal with the current. The predictable effect is that the theoretical landscape of public policy and administration is filled with abandoned half-baked start-ups: new and intriguing approaches that have been abandoned for newer and more intriguing approaches long before their potential could be realized and they had the chance to mature and develop to their full potential.

I may be exaggerating a little…

Nevertheless, it is always inspiring and laudable to see scholars build on existing frameworks in order to expand their scope and use for understanding public policy, both theoretically as well as practically. In Christina Boswell and Eugenia Rodrigues’ analysis of the implementation of targets in different policy fields by the British government, Kingdon’s now classical multiple streams approach is used to assess whether and how targets in different fields are implemented and how this may change over time. In particular, they show how different organizational problem constructions on the one hand and differences in central political commitment to policies on the other, create different types of policy implementation, which may change over time. This has allowed them to add a temporal and organizational dimension to Kingdon’s framework, making it less static and more useful for the analysis of changes in policy implementation.

Boswell and Rodrigues come to a typology of implementation styles, based on Kingdon’s distinction between the political and problems streams. They distinguish between consensual, coercive, bottom-up and, simply, non-implementation. For instance they describe how clear targets for defense procurement were virtual dead letters, simply because there was insufficient support in the political stream. The law in the books was very clear: there were rather specific targets and procedures to be met in order to prevent slippage. The law in action, however, featured many theoretically important actors in the policy field taking a soft stance on the implementation of these targets. The National Audit Office and the Treasury did “not feel sufficiently concerned or capable of intervening to ensure that targets were met”. The Ministry and other important policy actors were also not too enthused to enforce this issue which was only moderately important politically . As a result, the “targets were poorly implemented”. In some other areas, however, they find different – and changing – patterns of implementation.

The analysis is inspiring, precisely because it touches on current policy issues and allows us to understand them. Just last week I was in a discussion on the merits of the new governance regime for Dutch higher education which, in part, uses targets and rewards as a mechanism to improve the quality of universities. We had a long discussion focusing on the system itself and what its effects were likely to be. My best guess was to say I didn’t know, simply because the targets as such would not necessarily produce any kind of result. It all depended on circumstances. But what circumstances? After reading Boswell and Rodrigues’ paper I could come up with a much better answer: if you want to know whether and how targets are implemented, it is wise to focus on the political commitment to those targets on various levels on the one hand, and to the organization’s ability to link those targets to experienced problems on the other. This approach allows us to understand why some targets may be mercilessly pursued while others remain dead letters.

If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read Policies, politics and organisational problems: multiple streams and the implementation of targets in UK government by Christina Boswell and Eugenia Rodrigues.

What Ever Happened to Home Ownership and Asset-based Welfare?  

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Richard Ronald (University of Amsterdam), Christian Lennartz (University of Amsterdam, and Justin Kadi (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar)

An extended version of this post was originally published  on 3 January 2017 in the Policy Briefing section of Discover Society which is provided in collaboration with the journal Policy & Politics. The original post is available at  http://discoversociety.org/category/policy-briefing/.

Owning your own home has long been recognized as a form of asset-based welfare in policy terms. Historic growth in home ownership and house prices has advanced the assumption that housing equity fulfils a welfare function by acting as a store of wealth or even a reserve of cash. However, as Richard Ronald argues, a clear consequence of this policy has been to widen the gap between rich and poor families, as well as between young and old, with access to housing and housing wealth becoming a critical dimension of social inequality, especially since the last financial crisis.  Continue reading What Ever Happened to Home Ownership and Asset-based Welfare?  

The UK government is pro-fracking and the Swiss authorities are against, so why is there very little difference in policy outcomes between the two? ask Paul Cairney (University of Stirling), Karin Ingold (University of Bern) and Manuel Fischer (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology)

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At first glance, UK and Swiss fracking policy and policymaking seem very different. The UK government centralises policymaking and can impose policy from the top down, while in Switzerland many veto points  exist in its so-called  ‘consensus’ democracy. The UK government is pro-fracking, while Swiss authorities have come out against it. So it is striking that there seems to be very little  difference in their policy outcomes. Why, if the UK government has stated its position as ‘all out for shale’, has there been limited commercial development and very little challenge to policymaking done at regional rather than national level? Why is policy and policymaking surprisingly similar in the UK and Switzerland?   Continue reading The UK government is pro-fracking and the Swiss authorities are against, so why is there very little difference in policy outcomes between the two? ask Paul Cairney (University of Stirling), Karin Ingold (University of Bern) and Manuel Fischer (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology)

Free access to Policy & Politics’ most popular articles in 2016

sarah-brown-from-ecprMessage from Sarah Brown, Journal Manager

To celebrate our most popular articles in 2016, you can access them free of charge throughout December and January from the links below.

Our most highly cited and recent articles this year have ranged from research articles such as rethinking depoliticisation: beyond the governmental  which reflects on a reappraisal of depoliticisation, offering a conceptual horizon beyond a fairly narrow state-centric approach; to an in-depth analysis of behavioural change mechanisms such as nudge set against the political context of neoliberalism in the politics of behaviour change: nudge, neoliberalism and the state; to two different case studies examining different aspects of their respective policies and politics: one on the water sector offering a critical evaluation of policy translation across countries entitled rethinking the travel of ideas, and one offering a new framework that both measures and explains policy change within the context of institutional change entitled measuring and explaining policy paradigm change.

Take some time out to catch up on our most read articles of 2016: Continue reading Free access to Policy & Politics’ most popular articles in 2016

Politicising science: necessary, not evil

warren-hartleyWarren Pearce & Sarah Hartley

Depoliticisation is a key trend identified in the political science literature in recent years, succinctly defined by Flinders and Wood as “the narrowing of the boundaries of democratic politics”. Henrik Bang identifies “big politics” as a root cause of depoliticisation, where ‘star quality’ politicians, academics and others dominate the public debate, squeezing out the less powerful and eroding the links between authority and the public. If citizens feel constrained by such parameters of politics, then perhaps it is unsurprising when they vote for radical options such as leaving the European Union or electing Donald Trump to the US presidency. So here, depoliticisation is a means of suppressing debate, only for it to erupt at a later point in the political process. Continue reading Politicising science: necessary, not evil

How should public sector policymakers understand the social value of socially innovative services?

christopher-daysonChristopher Dayson, Sheffield Hallam University

Social innovations provide new ways of addressing entrenched social problems that are more effective, sustainable or fair than existing ways of working. They create value for society as a whole rather than for private individuals. Public sector policymakers like the idea of social innovation because it offers them new and exciting ways to support people with multiple and complex needs in ways that can also save money: a combination that is increasingly referred to as ‘social value’. This is important because, since 2012, social value has been enshrined in law through the Public Services (Social Value) Act which requires public bodies to take account of economic, social and environmental well-being impacts when commissioning and procuring services. However, and despite its legal status, social value remains something of a fuzzy concept and there is very little good quality evidence about the types of value that social innovation leads to and how this is understood by policy makers.

Our research, summarised in our recent Policy & Politics article entitled Evaluating social innovations and their contribution to social value, explored one prominent area of social innovation – social prescribing – to identify the broad range of social value that can result from a socially innovative pilot project. Continue reading How should public sector policymakers understand the social value of socially innovative services?

Scientific evidence in referendum campaigns: politicisation or enrichment?

Digital Printing SystemCaroline Schlaufer

An extended version of this post was originally published  in the Policy Briefing section of Discover Society which is provided in collaboration with the journal Policy & Politics. The original post is available at http://discoversociety.org/category/policy-briefing/.

Referendums are increasingly used worldwide to allow citizens to directly decide about important policy issues. However, there is growing concern about whether citizens are properly informed when they make their choice in these usually complex referendum questions. For example, many commentators and editorials have argued in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum that facts and scientific evidence was politicised and not correctly used during the referendum campaign. Citizens, so it is argued, had made their decisions based on twisted facts.

However, in the context of a referendum campaign, facts, data and scientific evidence are always used politically. In other word, politicians, interest groups and governments always select those findings and data that fit their position and interpret scientific evidence in accordance with their political conviction. So yes, scientific evidence is politicized in referendum campaigns, but is this necessarily a bad thing? Based on the findings of a multiyear research project on the political use of scientific evidence in Swiss direct-democratic campaigns, I argue that scientific evidence, even when politically used, has the potential to enrich a referendum campaign in several ways. Continue reading Scientific evidence in referendum campaigns: politicisation or enrichment?