Category Archives: Public Policy

1st May – 31st July 2021 highlights collection on policy diffusion

Sarah_Brown_credit_Evelyn_Sturdy
Image credit: Evelyn Sturdy at Unsplash

Sarah Brown
Journal Manager, Policy & Politics

This quarter’s highlights collection focusses on the popular theme of policy diffusion, bringing new analyses offering fresh perspectives on this extensive area of scholarship.

In our first featured article on policy diffusion, Daniel Mallinson continues his efforts in offering the most comprehensive analysis to date on how policy innovation diffuses across American states. Although hundreds of articles have tackled the fundamental question of why innovative policies spread, none has fully grappled with the scope of their disparate results.

To fill that gap, this article presents a state-of-the-art systematic review and meta-analysis of how policy innovation flows from US state to US state and the average effects of commonly used variables in the study of policy diffusion. In doing so, it highlights important biases in the research and makes recommendations for addressing those biases and increasing international collaboration on policy innovation research and results. Continue reading 1st May – 31st July 2021 highlights collection on policy diffusion

Call for Papers for a Themed issue in Policy & Politics on Transformational Change through Public Policy

P&P 2021 EditorsOscar Berglund, Claire Dunlop and Chris Weible

Policy & Politics is a top quartile journal in public administration and political science. Its co-editors, Oscar Berglund, Claire Dunlop and Chris Weible, invite articles for a themed issue on “Transformational Change through Public Policy”. The deadline for abstract submissions is May 14 2021.

How can Public Policy as a discipline contribute to desperately needed transformational change in our societies? Climate scientists call for systemic change; our liberal democracies suffer from crises in legitimacy; economic and social inequality continues to grow; culture wars increasingly polarise societies, and so on. Scholars have excelled at describing and diagnosing these problems exploring and explaining how they have emerged, and occasionally positing few ideas for their improvements. Despite the knowledge gained in our scholarship, a need continues to persist and spread for ideas to achieve deeper and more transformative societal changes. Continue reading Call for Papers for a Themed issue in Policy & Politics on Transformational Change through Public Policy

Why nudges fail and other puzzles: insights from research on commitment devices

manu savaniManu Savani 

Having just read the new special issue and accompanying blog series published by Policy & Politics entitled Beyond nudge: advancing the state-of-the-art of behavioural public policy and administration, I was inspired to respond to some of the arguments mooted.

The question of why we find behaviour change resolutions difficult to stick to has long been the subject of debate and research. It is familiar territory at this time of year as we contemplate new year’s resolutions. Knotty inter-temporal choices can be affected by present bias, where we focus on short-term gains rather than the long-term payoffs. Commitment devices – any voluntary strategy we use to influence our future decisions and achieve our goals – have shown promise in addressing present bias. These strategies can rely on financial stakes, as shown by the stickK approach, which reports having $51 million on the line across 527,000 individual commitments. Continue reading Why nudges fail and other puzzles: insights from research on commitment devices

SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 7 – How nudges can improve the effectiveness of welfare policies

Special issue blog series on advancing our understanding of the politics behind nudge and the ‘behavioural insights’ trend in public policy.

bonvinJean-Michel Bonvin, Emilio Paolo Visintin, Frédéric Varone, Fabrizio Butera, Max Lovey and Emilie Rosenstein

In our recent article in Policy & Politics, we analysed how nudges impact on the effectiveness of welfare policy implementation. The actions and decisions of street-level bureaucrats (SLBs), ie civil servants working directly with the general public, are crucial to the implementation of public policies. Consider for example the crucial role of social workers, teachers, nurses or police officers for our daily life. And of particular relevance to the current coronavirus pandemic: the dedicated engagement of SLBs in emergency units of hospitals, care homes for the elderly and delivering social benefits to unemployed people. Continue reading SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 7 – How nudges can improve the effectiveness of welfare policies

SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 6 – The maturing of Behavioural Public Policy: A constructive proposal

Special issue blog series on advancing our understanding of the politics behind nudge and the ‘behavioural insights’ trend in public policy.

Ewert and LoerBenjamin Ewert and Kathrin Loer

There is a controversial debate going on about using public policy to influence people’s behaviour. The discussion becomes particularly heated when behavioural public policy is accused of being manipulative or opaque. Scholarly thinking on Behavioural Public Policy (BPP) as a relatively new policy concept that has been established in recent years is not neutral but influenced by heuristics and biases. BPP is often equated with “nudge”, a notion that goes back to Thaler’s and Sunstein’s definition of the concept in 2008. Moreover, BPP has not integrated with a range of behavioural sciences but instead has been associated with rather restricted insights from behavioural economics and psychology, by behavioural scientists such as Kahneman, Tversky and Thaler. Indeed the fact that BPP suffers from inherent biases is somewhat ironic since the concept’s main claim is precisely to disclose the heuristics and biases that influence human behaviour and to counteract them by behaviourally informed policy designs. That’s the theory. However, in practice, BPP is pretty much determined by “nudge theory”, a fact that, on the one hand, has contributed to the rapid popularisation of the policy concept but, on the other hand, has constantly fuelled criticisms predominantly about its lack of understanding of how people’s behaviour is influenced by social contexts (e.g. families, communities and place of employment) and triggered by situational effects (e.g. peer-group pressure). Continue reading SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 6 – The maturing of Behavioural Public Policy: A constructive proposal

SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 5 – In times of pandemic crisis and beyond: Moving to an advanced understanding of Behavioural Public Policy and Administration

Special issue blog series on advancing our understanding of the politics behind nudge and the ‘behavioural insights’ trend in public policy.

Benjamin Ewert,  Kathrin Loer and Eva Thomann

Our introductory article with Eva Thomann to the new special issue of Policy & Politics aims to advance our current understanding of Behavioural Public Policy and Administration (BPP/BPA) by moving beyond “nudge”, the iconic but contested synonym for any policies that have been inspired by insights from the behavioural sciences so far. Based on a broad conceptual design and methodological pluralism, we suggest that behavioural policymaking must develop a more nuanced understanding of the interrelations between social structures and individual action in order to effectively tackle more complex policy problems. Continue reading SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 5 – In times of pandemic crisis and beyond: Moving to an advanced understanding of Behavioural Public Policy and Administration

SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 4 – Three top tips for better quality behavioural public policy research

Special issue blog series on advancing our understanding of the politics behind nudge and the ‘behavioural insights’ trend in public policy.

cotterillSarah Cotterill

The quality of the reporting in behavioural public policy research is often poor, making it difficult for the reader to understand what the intervention was or how the research was done. In 2018 a review was published about choice architecture and nudges: behaviour change interventions where the environment or decision-taking context are designed in such a way that people are nudged toward more beneficial options. The review found 156 studies, and reported an excessive amount of bad practice: only two per cent followed a reporting guideline, only seven percent were informed by a power calculation, none of the studies were pre-registered and the descriptions of the interventions were non‐exhaustive, with frequently overlapping categories. The quality of many studies is too poor to allow meta-analysis and the behavioural interventions are not described in sufficient detail to delineate one from another or allow replication. Continue reading SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 4 – Three top tips for better quality behavioural public policy research

SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 3 – Behavioural insights teams in practice: nudge missions and methods on trial

Special issue blog series on advancing our understanding of the politics behind nudge and the ‘behavioural insights’ trend in public policy.

Ball and HeadSarah Ball and Brian W. Head

They go by a variety of names; nudge units, behavioural insights (BI) teams and behavioural economics teams. However, they all owe a debt to the pioneering work of the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) in the United Kingdom (UK). Based on behavioural research on the ‘irrational’ behaviours of citizens and/or policy target audiences, ‘nudge’ instruments have been tested through rigorous research in the form of randomised controlled trials. Using this approach, the BIT UK has had a significant impact on the policy innovation landscape across the globe. Teams have emerged in Europe, the US, Canada, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Peru, Australia, New Zealand and many more countries.     

Our research recently published in Policy & Politics explores the BI phenomena as it emerged in Australia, from which we derive analysis relevant to global actors and governments engaged BI. In two independent exploratory studies, we sought to understand how such teams actually operate in practice. One study was an in-depth observational study of staff in the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA). The other was an interview-based study of three teams, namely, those operating in two state governments, New South Wales and Victoria, together with the Australian government’s BETA. Continue reading SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 3 – Behavioural insights teams in practice: nudge missions and methods on trial

FORTHCOMING SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 1 – Why Nudge Sometimes Fails: Fatalism and the Problem of Behaviour Change

FORTHCOMING SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES ON ‘Beyond Nudge: advancing the state-of-the-art of Behavioural Public Policy & Administration’

Tom Entwistle

Nudge is frequently in the news at the moment. Thaler and Sunstein coined the term to describe the way in which governments could use small policy interventions (like an advert, a sign, or a letter) to ‘nudge’ people into changing their behaviour for the better, both for themselves and for society at large. Experts in nudge (so called behavioural scientists) have been  busy during the current pandemic advising the government on the best way of getting people to follow coronavirus health advice whether it be washing your hands while singing happy birthday or staying at home to save the NHS. 

We already know however that many people do not do what they are told. In my recent article in Policy & Politics, I describe how scholars working in public health draw on the notion of fatalism to explain the intractability of citizens who ignore their doctors’ advice. A fatalist mindset inclines some people to believe that their fortunes are, in the strongest sense of the word, predetermined or at least heavily constrained by forces beyond their control. People who believe their lives are characterised by luck, powerlessness and impenetrable complexity tend to respond poorly to authoritative advice. Three types of fatalism are of particular relevance to nudge. Continue reading FORTHCOMING SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 1 – Why Nudge Sometimes Fails: Fatalism and the Problem of Behaviour Change

Comparing citizen and policymaker perceptions of deliberative democratic innovations

koskimaa and rapeliVesa Koskimaa and Lauri Rapeli

It seems that people are growing increasingly disappointed with how representative democracy functions. A big part of the problem is arguably a de-attachment of policymakers from citizens’ everyday problems, which prompts citizens to react by turning their backs on conventional politics. Many scholars and other observers have turned to democratic innovations for solutions on how the link between democratic publics and their democratic leaders could be improved. Innovations based on the theory of deliberative democracy have probably received most attention by scholars and practitioners. Deliberative democracy refers to a decision-making process, which emphasizes informed, reflexive and egalitarian interpersonal communication.

To put theory into practice, mini-publics, like citizen initiative reviews, juries and assemblies have been widely used in democracies across the world. In these deliberative groups, randomly selected individuals discuss and decide upon a specific political issue on the basis of best expert knowledge and argumentation. A considerable number of studies have discussed theoretically whether deliberative bodies could fix the problems of contemporary representative democracy. Other studies have used experimental methods to examine the internal proceedings and effects of these deliberations. What has, however, almost totally been ignored by scholars are the views of policy-making elites, whose opinions on democracy eventually determine the shape of new democratic institutions. Continue reading Comparing citizen and policymaker perceptions of deliberative democratic innovations