Policy & Politics sponsored international symposium on Ambiguity and Crisis: Disasters, Governance and Social Risk

Nikos Zarariadis
Nikos Zarariadis

While ambiguity is a fact of public life, scholarship on its implications for public policy is not yet well developed. The gap is particularly deep during periods of crisis because of rapid and turbulent change and the lack of adequate information and limited information processing capacities. We have a good understanding of the strategic use of ambiguity but do not fully comprehend its implications for creating winners and losers in public policy.

On February 28, 2016, Tom Birkland and Nikolaos Zahariadis are putting together a two-day symposium on ambiguity and its effects during crises. The symposium explores the implications of ambiguity on policy making as conceptualized through the multiple streams approach (MSA) during man-made crises and natural disasters. The approach draws inspiration from March and Olsen’s garbage can model of organizational choice and John Kingdon’s agenda setting framework. MSA contends there is a “right” (and “wrong”) time to propose solutions to pressing public problems. The likelihood of any one idea becoming official government policy has as much to do with when it is proposed as it does with the political ideology of policy makers and the ability of entrepreneurial individuals to advocate, broker, persuade, or coerce others into accepting it. The overall aim is to enrich and expand this literature, assess its value-added relative to other policy process approaches, and place the findings within the broader political environment. What does the approach tell us about governance (both in terms of capacity and performance) under crisis? Continue reading

The Sugar Tax Debate: Should the Government Consider a U-turn?

Nasrul Ismail
Nasrul Ismail

The public health field is never short of controversies. On 22nd October 2015, Public Health England (PHE) published a report on Sugar Reduction: The Evidence for Action. The report recommends inter alia, an introduction of a sugar tax of between 10% and 20% on high sugar products such as soft drinks (PHE, 2015b). This has sparked endless debates within the academic and public domains. The vociferous debate sustains when subsequently, the government guarantees that there will be no tax imposition on sugary products, whilst insisting that there are other workable alternatives for tackling health issues, particularly obesity, as a result of overconsumption of products with a large amount of sugar.

Borrowing from the Nudging Theory, tax is seen as a ‘shove’, capable of prevailing the ‘upstream approach’ in public health (policy approach that can affect large populations, such as economic disincentives) through the preventative route (Local Government Association, 2013). This blog post seeks to explore whether the government should reconsider its initial decision not to impose a taxation on sugary products. It will take stock of the evidence that links sugar with obesity, and consider the success of a sugar tax in various countries in addressing the population’s health. It then goes on to explore the power of taxation in changing people’s behaviour and the potential benefit of such a measure on the NHS, before considering whether the tax on sugary products can address the failure of the Public Health Responsibility Deal between the government and the food industry. Continue reading

The media and public accountability: mirror or spark?

Thomas Schillemans & Sandra Jacobs
Thomas Schillemans & Sandra Jacobs

by Thomas Schillemans and Sandra Jacobs

Europe currently faces the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Many European states are confronted with large numbers of migrants in need of immediate care, food and shelter. Responsible public agencies, such as the UK’s Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) in the Netherlands, face exceptionally complex challenges. A challenge that is aggravated by the fact that they are constantly criticized in the media and by politicians when things go wrong.

In our Policy & Politics article entitled Media and public accountability: typology and exploration, we explore the ways in which mass media are involved in public accountability processes by looking at examples of public sector organisations in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

In the Netherlands, for instance, COA was blamed for concocting unpleasant surprises for local governments when the organization decided to immediately direct large numbers of asylum seekers to their municipalities. A Dutch mayor called the situation ‘chaotic’: “The COA lost control of the temporary housing of refugees”, he said. COA was held accountable and had to explain its behaviour to politicians and Continue reading

Electricity Market Reform: so what’s new?

David Baker and David Toke
Keith Baker and David Toke

by Keith Baker and David Toke

In 2013, Britain’s electricity markets were reorganized through Electricity Market Reform (EMR). The programme of EMR sought to prioritise the public goods of energy security and climate change mitigation. This marked a shift away from free markets towards a greater role for state direction in the energy market.

In our Policy & Politics article entitled Electricity Market Reform: so what’s new? we use grid group cultural theory to explain changes in the regulatory regime under EMR. Cultural theory claims that regulatory actions result from more cultural biases: individualism, hierarchy, egalitarianism and fatalism. Individualists privilege free markets, hierarchs privilege expert and government authority, egalitarians emphasise equity, the environment and community lead decision-making and fatalists are resigned to carious fate. We claim that EMR represents an incomplete shift from ‘individualist’ to ‘hierarchical’ approaches to the regulation of the British energy market.

We argue that conflicts between the different frames explain the institutional design of EMR. Whilst the egalitarian bias is implicit in the drive for decarbonisation and support for renewables, a hierarchical bias and panic Continue reading