DIY Democracy: Festivals, Parks and Fun

Matthew Flinders
Matthew Flinders

by Matthew Flinders, Co-Editor of Policy & Politics

Wimbledon has been and gone, the barbeques have been dusted off, the sun is shining and all our newly elected MPs have just left Westminster for the summer recess. Domestic politics, to some extent, winds down for July and August but the nation never seems to collapse. Indeed, the summer months offer a quite different focus on, for example, a frenzy of festivals, picnics in the park and generally having fun. But could this more relaxed and self-organising approach to life teach is something about how we ‘do’ politics? Is politics really taking place at festivals and in the parks? Can politics really be fun?

The recent suggestion that the Glastonbury Festival provides a model for policy reform took many academics and commentators by surprise. ‘If you want to know how to achieve those things the politicians promise but never quite deliver — a ‘dynamic economy’, a ‘strong society’, ‘better quality of life’ — stop looking at those worthy think-tank reports about the latest childcare scheme from Denmark or pro-enterprise initiative from Texas’ Steve Hilton, the former Director of Strategy for David Cameron argues in The Spectator (20 June 2015) ‘just head down to Worthy Farm in Somerset… it’s got so much to teach us’. I’ve never personally been ‘a festival person’ (and yes, there is such a type) and the only thing the images of Glastonbury in the past have taught me is never to go there. Continue reading

Polycentric governance networks – how do they work in metropolitan planning organizations?

Asim Zia
Asim Zia

Asim Zia, University of Vermont, discusses the background to his article in the latest issue of Policy & Politics, Scale and intensity of collaboration as determinants of performance management gaps in polycentric governance networks: Evidence from a national survey of metropolitan planning organisations (MPOs)

This article represents convergence of two theoretical streams in the public policy, political science and public management literature: on the one hand, Elinor Ostrom’s stellar career laid the foundations for the notion of ‘polycentric governance’; on the other hand, advancements in network governance and collaborative governance theory led to the notion of ‘governance networks’ that use methodological rigor of network science and systems analysis to unpack decision making dynamics in various public and public-private action arenas. In this paper, we develop the theoretical notion of ‘polycentric governance networks’ and study their manifestation in the world of ‘metropolitan planning organizations’ (MPOs).

In our social-ecological gaming and simulation (SEGS) lab, which I co-direct with Professor Chris Koliba, empirical investigation and the simulation of a large variety of governance networks is one of our primary research Continue reading

A redesign of representative democracy can enhance policy innovation

Eva Sorensen
Eva Sørensen

by Eva Sørensen, Professor in Public Administration and Democracy, Roskilde University, Denmark

A key task of elected politicians is to develop new innovative policies that address old unsolved as well as emerging policy problems. One of the causes of the current disenchantment of representative democracy is that mainstream forms of representative government favour hierarchy and competition, but provide poor conditions for collaboration between actors with relevant innovation assets. Hierarchy and competition are important innovation drivers because they put innovation on the political agenda and give politicians the incentive to innovate. However, as pointed out in recent strands of governance research and innovation theory, collaboration plays an essential role in creating the innovations. Dialogue between actors with different backgrounds and perspectives on a policy problem is valuable because it can promote creative destructions of existing policy positions, qualify the search for new ideas, inform prototyping and create joint ownership between policy makers and those who implement and diffuse new policies.

I recently published the article Enhancing policy innovation by redesigning representative democracy’ in Policy & Politics. It argues that a redesign of the institutional set up of representative democracy that enhances Continue reading

Beyond top-down and bottom-up: how do we currently understand policy implementation?

Charlotte Sausman, Eivor Oborn and Michael Barrett
Charlotte Sausman, Eivor Oborn and Michael Barrett

Charlotte Sausman, Eivor Oborn and Michael Barrett discuss their recent Policy & Politics paper, Policy translation through localisation: implementing national policy in the UK

It remains the priority of policy makers to show that they have put in place well designed policies that have demonstrable effect, in order to give a good account of their time in office. Whilst many depictions of the policy process focus on something that is driven from the ‘top down’, implementation scholars have over several decades provided particular understanding of the ‘bottom-up’, looking more qualitatively at organisational responses to policy initiatives. Through developments in New Public Management to current research on policy design, studies have moved away from the dichotomous ‘top-down’ versus ‘bottom-up’ and yet the problem of how to understand policy implementation endures.

At the same time, the current drive for ‘evidence-based policy’ is premised on the belief that if policies can be designed on the best evidence, it is more likely that they will be implemented with measurable effect in terms of desired outcomes. Policy makers believe both in the positive effects of evidence behind the policy and the translation of that evidence-based policy into practice. In the UK health Continue reading

Thinking beyond the market: housing, planning and the state

Allan Cochrane
Allan Cochrane

by Allan Cochrane, Open University, UK

Everybody seems to accept that there is something wrong with the way that housing is delivered in Britain, particularly in England. In some parts of the country house prices are stubbornly high and rising; elsewhere there seems to be housing nobody wants. All political parties are committed to enabling people to live in homes that they own, yet levels of home ownership are falling as the proportion of the population living in private rented housing rises. More people now live in private rented accommodation than in social or council housing. The massive decline in council house building since the 1980s has not led to a significant rise in the building of new homes for sale.

The solutions on offer by the major political parties seem to circle around the provision of some sort of subsidy to first-time buyers, as well as looking for ways of persuading (sometimes effectively bribing) local authorities and neighbourhoods to allow developers to build in their areas. Under the last Labour government, regional and local targets were introduced for new housing, albeit with few levers to ensure that the targets would be met. The latest proposal from the Conservative Party is to allow tenants of housing association properties to buy the homes they live in at discounted rates, with little reflection on the extent to which the sale of council houses has brought more private rented property onto the market, rather than increasing home ownership.

There is a powerful rhetoric that blames the planning system for the problems. Planners are said to be too slow to grant permission for development and to Continue reading