Virtual issue on Evidence in policymaking and the role of experts

p&p editors Sarah Ayres, Steve Martin and Felicity Matthews,
Co-editors of Policy & Politics

New virtual issues from Policy & Politics:
Evidence in policymaking and the role of experts

During the current coronavirus global health crisis, we reflect on the lessons learned in policy response terms from our most recent published research featuring crises in a range of diverse environments.

In our first article, Rhetoric and doctrines of policy over- and underreactions in times of crisis, Moshe Maor explores the concept of disproportionate policy response, including over and under-reaction. Most studies that address this topic conclude that disproportionate responses are unintentional. However, Maor shows how achieving a policy goal ‘at any cost’ can lead to intentional policy over-reactions. This strategy can go hand-in-hand with the desire to deliberately cognitively and emotionally overwhelm the target audience and, in some instances, the general public as well, as with Donald Trump’s immigration ban. So, in summary, in place of normative conceptions of policy analysis which places goal attainment centre stage, Maor advocates a more nuanced analysis of disproportionate and intentional policy responses, applicable to many current populist environments.

In the next article, Rethinking wicked problems as political problems and policy problems, Allan McConnell focuses on so-called ‘wicked’ policy problems, i.e. long-running intractable problems such as climate change, homelessness, child protection, illicit drug use, human trafficking, which threaten to escalate into crises. In his rethinking of these wicked problems, McConnell develops the argument that they present two interrelated sets of challenges for governments: political problems and policy problems.  In turn, he identifies three broad strategic approaches that can be taken by political elites, from the radical overhaul of governance arrangements and policies to address wicked problems and their deeper causes, to more tokenistic measures that focus on mitigating adverse symptoms but which have political value in cultivating the perception that government is ‘doing something’.  He concludes that, while crises can provide a catalyst for reform, ‘better’ governance and policymaking practices are required to successfully develop societal capacities to address wicked policy problems.

Finally, in our last article,  The effects of economic crises on participatory democracy, Pau Alarcόn and colleagues, ask ‘”when austerity knocks, what happens to public participation?” As their title suggests, they examine the impact of the economic crisis and resulting austerity measures on citizen participation, paying particular attention to the nature of proposals that emerge from local participatory processes, and their fate. Drawing on data from local participatory processes in Spain, they show that citizens adapt their demands, suggesting less expensive proposals during times of austerity as well as more innovative solutions for addressing local problems. In turn, they show that while politicians implement fewer of the proposals they receive during an economic crisis, cherry picking those they receive more carefully, they too tend to favour those that are less costly.

All of the articles featured in this blog are listed below and are free to download from Thursday 7 May until Thursday 14 May 2020:

Rhetoric and doctrines of policy over- and underreactions in times of crisis

Rethinking wicked problems as political problems and policy problems

The effects of economic crises on participatory democracy

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Depoliticising austerity: narratives of the Portuguese debt crisis 2011–15

The lessons of policy learning: types, triggers, hindrances and pathologies [Open Access]

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