Data Matters…Sometimes: Revisiting the Connection between Problem Indicators and Policy Maker Attention

DeLeoRob De Leo

An extended version of this blog post was originally published on Discover Society.

From the number of drug overdoses to annual average temperatures, public transportation ridership rates to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), government is inundated with data documenting social problems. In theory, these statistics should lead to more informed decision making. In practice, they are heavily politicized. Organized interests compete to ensure that their preferred statistic is adopted as the preferred measure of a given policy problem, a testament to these so-called “problem indicators” are important determinants of policy maker attention.  

Virtually every major theory of policy making suggests indicators and other forms of information play an important role in stimulating issue attention and provoking policy maker action. My recent paper, “Indicators, agendas, and stream: Analysing the Politics of Preparedness,” applies the Multiple Streams Framework (MSF), which argues policy change is facilitated by the coupling of three distinct streams: (1) the problem stream, which consists of the various social issues competing for policy maker attention; (2) the policy stream, which encompasses the various policies and programs designed to address items in the problem stream; and (3) the politics stream, which broadly describes the current political environment, including trends in public opinion as well as the composition of government. Coupling is aided by a policy entrepreneur or an individual or organization willing to invest considerable amounts of time and energy to secure policy change. Once the three streams are coupled, a policy window is opened providing organized interests with an opportunity to push their pet issues onto the policy agenda and, ideally, secure policy change.  Continue reading

Same-same but different: what can superdiversity offer that multiculturalism cannot? 

MagazziniTina Magazzini

Studies in psychology often refer to their samples as being WEIRD –Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. It should come as no surprise that most social psychology results rely on research that is tested on a narrow and in many ways privileged sample of society, given that most participants in behavioral studies are undergraduates at Western universities. What is more intriguing, and less obvious, is the fact that there seems to be an opposite, specular trend in the field of public and social policy. We—political scientists, sociologists, anthropologist, legal scholars—tend, by and large, to focus on subjects only insofar as they appear to be marginalized, racialized, or vulnerable: in short, only when they are seen as a ‘problem’.

The burgeoning, rich scholarship on migration and integration that has developed over the last years is no exception. The surge in research on (and research funding available for) minority integration, social cohesion and European identity is highly dependent upon migration being understood as a ‘problem’ to be managed, on ‘identity’ being seen as under threat, and on there being a clear-cut distinction between who belongs to a minority and who doesn’t, who migrants are and who they are not.

In my recent Policy & Politics article on the multilevel governance of superdiversity in Europe, as part of the journal’s superdiversity Special Issue, my aim is to problematize the relationship between identity and difference, and to suggest ways in which superdiversity can be employed as a useful tool to deconstruct what is usually left unstudied (because it is perceived as unproblematic): the so-called ‘mainstream’ or ‘majority’. Continue reading

Should regulators engage consumers in decision-making? Lessons from UK water regulation

Eva Heims and Martin LodgeEva Heims and Martin Lodge

The idea of ‘consumer engagement’ has become a central theme in UK economic regulation. Regulators are demanding it, regulated companies are claiming to be pursuing it – but nobody quite knows what ‘it’ (i.e. consumer engagement’) might actually represent. So what does research on consumer engagement tell us?

In our recent Policy & Politics article on Customer Engagement in UK water regulation, we argue that the idea of consumer representation in UK utility regulation is, of course, not particularly new. The ‘old’ age of publicly owned utilities was characterised by a range of consumer representative bodies. While some managed to survive into the age of privatisation, the key emphasis has been on relying on regulatory bodies themselves to play a consumer representation function since the 2000s. But since the late noughties, putting the consumer at the heart of regulation has become a central theme in UK utility regulation and water regulators in the UK have recently experimented with different mechanisms of customer engagement. Continue reading