Updated essential reading recommendations

Updating your course reading lists? Check out our essential reading recommendations for Public Policy, Politics and Social Policy from Policy & Politics.

All articles featured in this blog post are free to access until 31 October or Open Access. 

Oscar Berglund, Digital Associate Editor for Policy & Politics and Lecturer in International Public and Social Policy, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol.

As we embark on a year of online learning, keeping your module reading lists up to date with the latest research has never been more important. We hope to make this easier with the essential reading list below which features some of the most significant research relevant to public policy students that we’ve published over the last year. So here I introduce six articles and two special issues for teaching topical themes such as evidence-based policy, citizens’ assemblies, policy design and behavioural public policy.

The role of expertise and evidence has arguably never been as relevant in people’s lives as it is now when citizens in different countries face such varied responses to the pandemic, all notionally based on evidence. We have published four different articles each highlighting different perspectives on evidence-based policy and epistemic communities that will be useful for teaching.

Firstly, in ‘Expert knowledge and policymaking: a multi-disciplinary research agenda’, Johan Christensen brings together literature on evidence-based policy and epistemic communities amongst others to explore the administrative underpinnings of how experts influence policy. Secondly, Phil Sayer sets out ‘A new epistemology of evidence-based policy’, acknowledging how both knowledge and values play a role in decision-making. His new epistemological framework requires us to connect our best empirical research with discussions and explorations of value claims. This poses a challenge to supporters of evidence-based policy since it means that we can trust less in the knowledge of ‘what works’ than such supporters are typically willing to allow. Thirdly, MacKillop, Quarmby and Downe analyse the role of ‘knowledge brokers’ in facilitating evidence-based policy, examining knowledge brokering organisations as their central focus. Fourthly, Grødem and Hippe explore the extent to which politicians can themselves be experts in epistemic communities, drawing that expertise from previous professional experience or working on the same policy issue for a prolonged period.

In addition to these suggestions, I thought it might also be useful to share my own recent experience of developing a new teaching unit on the Climate Emergency. I have decided to dedicate one week to the increasingly popular idea of Citizens’ Assemblies, drawing on decades of research into deliberative democracy, sortition and mini-publics. I am recommending that my students read one of our research provocations, in which Joseph Drew ablyexplores how sortition in local government can ‘disrupt ingrained power imbalances and enhance democratic participation’. I also draw on Koskimaa and Rapeli’s study of deliberative mini-publics, where they discover that citizens have much greater trust in such innovations than policymakers do. Whilst perhaps unsurprising, it shows that academics, pressure groups and social movements who support citizens’ assemblies have a long way to go if these are to have any meaningful power in influencing policy.

In addition to these highlights, I also recommend our recent excellent special issue on the increasingly studied area of Policy Design. With contributions from scholars in six countries from across three continents, our policy design special issue offers an international review of the past, present and future potential of both the study and practice of policy design.

Even more hot off the press is our upcoming special issue ‘Beyond Nudge: advancing the state-of-the-art of behavioural public policy and administration’, currently available online on Fast Track. Here, guest editors, Ewert, Loer and Thomann have assembled a group of articles that situate Behavioural Public Policy beyond the narrow scope of psychology and behavioural economics.  Instead, they develop a broader framework of behavioural approaches drawn from across the social sciences. With nudge having been instrumental in policymaking in the pandemic, this special issue will prompt students to critically engage with behavioural public policy.

We hope that these suggestions will help make this academic year that little bit easier as we brace ourselves for what is set to be the toughest teaching challenge many of us have experienced so far.

As always, please let us know what you and your students think of these articles. We’re here to promote debate!

Articles mentioned:

Christensen, Johan (2020) ‘Expert knowledge and policymaking: a multi-disciplinary research agenda’, Policy & Politics, DOI: 10.1332/030557320X15898190680037

Sayer, Philip (2020) ‘A new epistemology of evidence-based policy’ Policy & Politics, 48 (2): 241-258.

MacKillop, Eleanor; Quarmby, Sarah; Downe, James (2020) ‘Does knowledge brokering facilitate evidence-based policy? A review of existing knowledge and an agenda for future researchPolicy & Politics, 48 (2): 335-353. [Open Access]

Grødem, Anne Skevik; Hippe, Jon M. (2019) ‘The expertise of politicians and their role in epistemic communitiesPolicy & Politics, 47 (4): 561-577. [Open Access]

Drew, Joseph (2019) ‘Can local government by lottery increase democratic responsiveness?’ Policy & Politics, 47 (4): 621-636.

Koskimaa, Vesa; Rapeli, Lauri (2020) ‘Fit to govern? Comparing citizen and policymaker perceptions of deliberative democratic innovations Policy & Politics, 48 (4): 637-652.

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