Special issue blog series on advancing our understanding of the politics behind nudge and the ‘behavioural insights’ trend in public policy.
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→
Guest editors Jenny Phillimore, Nando Sigona and Katharine Tonkiss introduce their forthcoming Special Issue on superdiversity.
‘Super-diversity’ is a concept introduced by anthropologist Steven Vertovec (2007; Meissner and Vertovec 2015) to capture migration-driven demographic complexity and diversification which have emerged over recent decades in London and similar urban centres. While the nature and impact of superdiversity have begun to be interrogated in a wide range of fields and disciplines, the governance of – and development of policy associated with – superdiversity has received little attention. This special issue of Policy and Politics brings together contributions from across Europe in order to begin to address some of the gaps in knowledge around the multi-scalar governance of superdiversity.
The first article in our collection, by Hadj-Abdou and Geddes, focuses on the implications of increasing diversity for governance at the European level. Their findings concern the emergence of new policy paradigms associated with diversity at the European level. Interestingly they reveal the radical transformations in policy and governance brought about by processes of diversification in the demos which have often been hidden in studies of European governance.
Geldof et al go on to argue that flexible migration strategies emerge in superdiverse urban areas and consider the interplay between transnational practices by migrants and existing institutional responses in the country of residence.
Van Breugel and Scholten’s contribution offers a national comparative investigation of how the Netherlands, the UK and France have used mainstreaming to respond to migration-driven transformations in ways that are driven by political and economic motives, rather than considerations of diversity.
Ambrosini addresses the changing relations between national and local immigrant policies, and the involvement of civil society in the urban governance of immigration.
Medda-Windischer’s piece shifts the analysis to the sub-national level. By examining the multi-layering of ‘old’ and ‘new’ minorities in South Tyrol, she highlights the shortcomings of traditional ways of thinking about the representation of minorities in policymaking processes and highlights the potential of superdiversity to move past some of these limitations.
Oliveria and Padilla focus upon the ways in which superdiversity has been used as a marketing tool to highlight the uniqueness of certain places and increase their attractiveness to tourists.
Magazzini’s article demonstrates the value of superdiversity as the basis of a model for the governance of minorities. Turning her attention to the Roma populations of Europe, she develops a nuanced and detailed critique of pre-existing models and an analysis of the possibilities presented by a superdiversity-based approach.
Pemberton examines the role of urban planning in responding to migration-related superdiversity. Through a focus on Liverpool in the UK, the article highlights the importance of class-based differences above ethnic and cultural differences in shaping the practices of urban planners.
Finally, in Jensen’s contribution, the focus shifts to the neighbourhood level where the tension between diversity as a social fact and the neighbourhood as a site of local governance is explored.
Collectively, the authors propose a multi-scalar investigation of how local, regional, national and supranational institutions are coming to terms with the rapid and profound transformation of their populations. In doing so, they also contribute to the development of an agenda for future research that considers opportunities and challenges for policy and governance in the age of migration-driven superdiversity. Taken as a whole, the issue suggests paths to pursue and questions that needs further in-depth investigation. It also opens up a space for the encounters between different bodies of scholarship that to date have not yet, or only fleetingly, met.
Look out for the special issue forthcoming in October! But until then, each of the individual articles which are already published online, can be found by clicking through the titles above.
Jenny Phillimore is Professor of Migration and Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham. Nando Sigona is Deputy Director of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) at the University of Birmingham and Katharine Tonkiss is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Aston University.
Joseph Drew (University of New England, Australia), Bligh Grant (University of Technology, Australia), Josie Fisher (University of New England, Australia)
One of the remarkable features of public policy debates generally is their predictable shape.
A recurrent example in the Australian context is municipal amalgamation. In one corner stands state government, arguing that amalgamation will result in the greatest happiness for the greatest number, with this “happiness” measured in financial savings. In the other corner stand a collection of voices—in particular local government itself—vehemently opposed to amalgamation.
Existing research suggests that administrative traditions reflect state-society relations, democratic style and level of centralisation. Four key traditions are reflected within the countries studied, which include the:
Napoleonic tradition – characterised by a strong centralised state and antagonism between the state and society (e.g. France)
organicist tradition – characterised by a federated state and co-operative state–society relations (e.g. Germany)
Anglo-Saxon tradition – characterised by a mixed form of state and pluralist state–society relations (e.g. the UK) and,
Scandinavian tradition, which combines the organicist and Anglo-Saxon traditions (e.g. Norway).
In addition, we thought it was important to consider developments in public sector management and reform in different countries and the potential for EU influence in developing citizen participation.
by Anna P. Durnová, Ph.D., Hertha-Firnberg Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science University of Vienna
Emotions are at the very core of a myriad of scientific and political disputes. Just take this famous, provocative accusation by Viennese gynaecologist Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis about his fellow physician:
“I declare before God that you are a murderer! The history about ‘childbed fever’ would not be too unfair if it remembers you as a medical Nero.”
In 1846, Semmelweis claimed that “childbed fever,” a disease that afflicted many women giving birth in hospitals, may actually result from doctors not disinfecting their hands before assisting in birthing. Since this occurred in the pre-germ theory era, his thesis grew into a vicious dispute over the duty of hand disinfection as a measure against childbed fever, over which he failed to prevail in his lifetime. Today, the story of Semmelweis is a quintessential example of a scientist who was vilified in life because of his controversial and contentious stand but celebrated in later times (as I analyse in Durnova 2015).
What does this have to do with politics?
I analyse Semmelweis’ case as a case for public policy. Although hand washing is today understood as an effective, simple, and rapid measure to reduce the transmission of germs, and has been integrated into public health agendas all over the world, in his day Semmelweis failed to communicate its necessity: he could not explain the link between doctors’ hands and childbed fever, and, moreover, his thesis was Continue reading “Negotiating Truth” – Semmelweis and the Role of Emotions in Public Policy→
by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference
Our first session this morning on the second day of the Policy & Politics conference was a fast and furious presentation from Prof Helen Sullivan, University of Melbourne, covering a wide range of issues relating to collaboration. The presentation sought to cover why collaboration can be seen as the new normal, a better framework for understanding collaboration, and the challenges this presents for policy makers and practitioners.
For many collaboration is inevitable to meet policy challenges, whilst others are waiting for the trend to disappear. Whatever the case, collaboration is more accepted as the ‘new normal’. In her presentation, Helen defined collaboration as “a more or less stable configuration of rules, resources and relationships; generated, negotiated, restricted, and reproduced by diverse interdependent actors”. A deliberately vague or open definition, that goes beyond our understanding of partnerships and cooperative relations, that brings with it a set of emotions.
The normalisation of collaboration has developed as a response to the Global Financial Crisis, which led to the view of austerity as a collaborative affair involving non state actors and citizens. Helen then identified a number of trends in collaboration which have seen the primacy of the collective replaced by the primacy of the individual:
New Public Management has evolved beyond marketisation
Globalisation and governance rescaling, creating elasticity of public policy across boundaries
Co-governance, reconnecting citizens to governing institutions
Innovation and the increasing importance of digital and social media
These trends together make collaboration more difficult, with human agency at the centre of collaboration emphasising the need to understand what motivates individuals to act. Helen proposed her own framework for how we might seek to better understand this concept, with the aim of directing attention to the more neglected aspects of collaboration. This framework has three dimensions: political, material and cultural, where the role of ideas, rules and emotions are particularly important.
The challenge for policy makers in all this is to understand collaboration, in terms of mood, practice and instrument where the role of power, interests, structure and agency are central to making sense of policy processes. With collaboration as the new normal, it can also be seen as a disruptive force for intervention, leading to improvements and new ways of doing things. The point was also made that public policy analysis needs to see the whole as well as the parts in order to develop a full understanding.
For me, and others in the audience, this feels like a huge agenda requiring interdisciplinary activity and understanding, but as a framework it enables you to think about those different aspects in an interconnected way.
Tessa Coombes has just completed the MSc in Public Policy at Bristol University, is an ex-City Councillor and regularly blogs about politics, policy and place.
Matt Wood, University of Sheffield, discusses the article that he has written with Matt Flinders, also from the University of Sheffield, called ‘Depoliticisation, governance and the state’. This article is part of the April issue of Policy & Politics, a special issue on depoliticisation, available free until 31 May.
In our main contribution to this special issue of Policy & Politics we aim to set out an agenda for expanding and diversifying the study of depoliticisation in governance and public policy by engaging a broad range of conceptual approaches and definitions. Depoliticisation in general means a narrowing of the boundaries of democratic politics, such that choice and agency over issues of public concern come to be constrained. There are many different ways in which this can occur, and there is a sprawling cross-disciplinary literature that uses the concept of depoliticisation to refer to a range of practices that might contribute to an understanding of the phenomenon. Our aim in this article is to map this literature and identify links between different forms of depoliticisation, such that we can offer a rounded and systematic account.
Our central argument is that the study of depoliticisation needs to be broadened. The most significant studies to date (Burnham (2001) and, subsequently, Flinders and Buller (2006) have emphasised the importance of ‘governmental’, or state-based actors (mainly ministers) as agents of depoliticisation. They arguably ignore, however, the importance of non-state actors (such as the media, interest groups, or even ordinary people in ‘everyday’ situations) in determining whether depoliticisation occurs, or whether it is resisted. We contend that by identifying and mapping a broader range of cross-disciplinary literature that uses this concept to refer to strategies employed by this wider range of actors, we can develop a more sophisticated analysis of the interrelated processes that accumulate into a general shift towards depoliticisation.
Firstly, ‘governmental depoliticisation’ (a shift from the ‘governmental’ to ‘societal’ sphere) refers to the delegation of political decisions away from the central state by ministers, such that they are controlled by ‘technocrats’ or instituted in ‘quangos’. Here, depoliticisation is enacted by ministers placing the ‘political character of decision making’ at one remove away from the central state. This is the ‘form’ that gets most attention in the public policy literature and we summarise it relatively briefly through an overview of the literature on delegated governance and patronage.
Secondly, ‘societal depoliticisation’ (movement from the ‘public’ to ‘private’ sphere) refers to the ‘privatisation’ of issues, not formally, but in terms of their salience as topics in public debate. Here, depoliticisation is enacted by a range of actors in the public sphere, from the media and interest groups to politicians, celebrities and other prominent actors in society. By simply not discussing political issues to the extent that they were discussed previously, these actors effectively depoliticise those issues by preventing their full and open public deliberation.
Lastly, ‘discursive depoliticisation’ (shift from the ‘private’ sphere to ‘realm of necessity’) refers to the ‘normalisation’ of political issues, in the sense that they are presented in political discourse or rhetoric as being matters of ‘fate’ over which humans can have no control. This last perspective can be found in moral panics, for example. Immigration might be a highly salient topic of debate, but if only a single policy option is discussed, namely limiting immigration as far as possible, then it is depoliticised in this sense. There might also be a lot of public discussion over, say, climate change, but if that discussion does not suggest that humans can do anything about climate change, then it is effectively depoliticised. Discursive depoliticisation can also happen at any ‘level’ and need not be ‘public’ but can happen in ‘everyday’ situations when political discussions are presented as being (for example in discussions of austerity as a ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’ course of government policy).
Distinguishing between these three general forms of depoliticisation within the literature enables us to advocate a future empirical agenda that examines the interrelationships between them. Such interrelationships can be quite paradoxical. For instance, a policy issue could be dealt with in a very hand’s off or arm’s length way – depoliticised – but also be a highly salient public issue and one where there is a lot discussion over what society should do – politicised. Policies with a strong ethical or moral dimension are often of this ilk, for example IVF treatment or prostitution. We argue in the article that more empirical research may tease apart some of the intricacies and capture some of the complexities in processes of depoliticisation and politicisation, and even investigate whether, again paradoxically, they can be mutually reinforcing or self-sustaining.
Matt Wood is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield. He is also Deputy Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics. His current research looks at ‘everyday politics’ and the challenges for overcoming political disaffection and disengagement.
Sure Start services are popular with families in the UK, but not all families who might benefit choose to attend. Two methods which are commonly used to promote Sure Start are leaflets and door-to-door visits. Both methods are known to be effective in other contexts, such as mobilizing citizens to vote or encouraging them to recycle, but, prior to our study, there was no evidence of their effectiveness in promoting attendance at local services. Working in partnership with a local authority provider of Sure Start services, we set out to test whether a leaflet about Sure Start or a door-to-door visit from an outreach worker are persuasive methods of attracting families to attend Sure Start centres.
We used a randomised controlled trial (RCT), which is fairly novel in research on public services, yet has the potential to provide a convincing estimate of the effect of policy interventions. Using the register of births, we identified children born in the previous eighteen months, whose families had not yet attended Sure Start. We randomly assigned families to one of three conditions: a leaflet about Sure Start, a visit from an outreach worker, or a control group that received no special treatment. Over several weeks we measured the outcome, by recording whether or not the families attended their local Sure Start centre. We compared attendance by families in the three groups to see whether attendance differed across the different interventions. The advantage of random assignment is that membership of the treatment and control groups are very similar in all respects. Therefore, any differences in observed outcomes between the groups can reasonably be attributed to the intervention rather than any other cause. We found that the brief doorstep visits and leaflets implemented in this study were not a worthwhile way of promoting Sure Start to families who are not already engaged: although we cannot rule out a small effect, the results of the visits and leaflets were not significantly different from the effect of the usual service.
We believe that RCTs could usefully be employed much more extensively in the evaluation of public services. Find out more from our book, Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think: Using Experiments to Change Civic Behaviour, in which we describe the RCT method and offer examples of its use in testing various interventions to promote civic behaviour such as recycling, charitable giving and organ donation.
Reflecting on developments in public policy over the last forty years, we argue that collaboration has become a hegemonic discourse and partnerships a dominant feature in the local governance landscape. However, there is still considerable debate about what makes for good partnership working. Some scholars believe that governance networks are self-organising and self-sustaining. Seen from this perspective, external steering by national governments is not just an insult to local democracy but also an impediment to local collaborative efforts. But others have argued that local partnerships inevitably operate in the shadow of hierarchy and that external steering is helpful, perhaps even essential, for them to succeed.
We analysed these arguments through an investigation of the factors that influenced the ability of three local multi-sectoral public service partnerships to address complex public policy issues (or ‘wicked problems’). These case study partnerships served contrasting areas of Wales, they focused on very different types of wicked problems, and they adopted different integration strategies. However, in spite of their differences, all three needed external support. The Welsh Government eschewed what we call ‘hard steering’ (attempts to dictate how the partnerships operated through the imposition of top down targets and performance regimes). Instead, it provided funding, information and expertise, what we call ‘soft steering’.
This soft steering was important, but it was not the whole story. The success of the partnerships also depended on the actions of local actors. We found that partnerships needed a combination of soft steering and self-steering capacity to establish and mobilise collaboration, and to enable them to begin to address ‘wicked problems’. But whilst the type of self-steering they required varied according to the contexts they operated in and the kinds of collaborative activities they attempted, all three partnerships needed the same kinds of government support.
We argue that theories of local partnership working should pay more attention to the positive impacts of the right kind of government support, and we put in a plea for future research to test out our findings in other countries and contexts. On a gloomy note, we speculate that austerity could pose a threat to the ability of local partnerships to address wicked problems if it means that national governments are no longer willing or able to offer the kinds of support which our case studies benefitted from.