The theoretical evolution of punctuated equilibrium theory (PET) and empirical expansion of its research agenda to non-democratic countries, demonstrate that democratic nations feature less punctuated policymaking than autocracies, owing to informational advantages. However, can these differences be identified cross-sectionally across numerous political systems facing a common policy problem? To assess this, we present a broad and robust empirical analysis of PET dynamics across 166 countries over three years for a single policy issue that affected all nations: the COVID-19 pandemic. First, we theoretically link PET with the concepts of policy learning and bounded emulation and propose the emergence of mini cycles of punctuated equilibrium during a crisis. Then, using weekly data, we examine univariate distributions of COVID-19-related policy changes to better understand how punctuated policy dynamics have differed between political systems. Using multiple approaches, we demonstrate (1) the emergence of PET mini cycles during crises and (2) an absence of macro-level differences in PET dynamics across democratic, partially democratic and autocratic countries. Our evaluation of policy change distributions across a wide range of political systems in a crisis context offers notable insights into the generalisability of PET dynamics. Thus, our article offers novel advancements to PET scholarship both theoretically and empirically.
Scholarship on evidence-based policymaking (EBP) has long called for more a realistic understanding of how politicians use evidence, especially the ways that use of evidence is negotiated with political goals. This article offers a new perspective on this question by drawing from research on legislative organisations. It introduces a new framework for the study of evidence-based policy, developed by reviewing key insights from legislative studies and interpreting their relevance for the study of EBP. It then applies this framework in an interview-based case-study of the Parliament of Finland. Previous studies have identified timeliness and relevance as some of the key barriers to using evidence, and our data focus on how key actors in legislative organisations understand and manage timeliness. Our findings show that timeliness is dominated by short-term reactions to new bill proposals, but the window for timely evidence in the legislatures can vary from months to days. Our study identifies three strategies used in legislative organisations to overcome the problems of reactivity: programmatic work, specialisation and network building. Practices relating to these strategies are discussed across legislators, political parties and committees. Our findings suggest that it is important for research on EBP in a legislative context to go beyond the study of committees and individual legislators, to explore the role of political parties. This strategy allows researchers to discover the often non-linear and indirect ways that evidence can influence policy through political parties.
This article investigates the importance of civic engagement during emergencies. We consider various individual-level factors such as trust, risk cognition, fears about the emergency and cost–benefit analyses of engagement as factors that motivate citizens to become engaged. We argue that governments should recognise the value of community initiatives and civic engagement in coping with emergencies. Our empirical investigation uses data collected in Israel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Results demonstrate that trust in government and interpersonal trust may influence citizens’ perceptions of engagement during emergencies but have no effect on engagement behaviour. However, risk cognition and cost–benefit analyses are better predictors of future engagement intentions during emergencies. These insights may improve our understanding of community resilience and the ability of individuals to bounce back after emergencies.
The concept of policy advisory systems (PAS) has been applied almost exclusively at national level. This article demonstrates that it can also be employed to analyse the development and dynamics of policy advice in a subnational government. Our empirical study of the externalisation of policy advice by the Welsh Government shows that it has been shaped by distinctive historical, institutional and political factors, and its impacts are different to those reported by studies of out-sourcing national policy advice. In our case study, external policy advice was seen as complementing rather than competing with the civil service. Instead of deinstitutionalising policy advice – that is, dislocating it from the usual sites where knowledge for policy is produced – new formal routes have been established for external sources of expertise to influence policy decisions. Contrary to the findings of some previous studies, externalising policy advice has not been a centralising force. Nor has it fundamentally challenged existing assumptions and values or increased politicisation of the policy process. These findings demonstrate that the PAS concept is useful across a range of settings, not just at national level. We show that applying it to a broader range of contexts, including subnational polities, can challenge, strengthen and expand existing theories of policy advice and policymaking.
Over the last 25 years, central government has attempted to join up local public services in England on at least 55 occasions, illustrating the ‘initiativitis’ inflicted upon local governments by the large volume and variety of coordination programmes. By analysing and mapping some of the characteristics of these initiatives, we have uncovered insights into the ways central government has sought to achieve local coordination. We observe a clear preference for the use of funding and fiscal powers as a lever, a competitive allocation process, and a constrained discretion model of governance, with some distinct patterns over time. These choices made in the design of initiatives are likely to be shaped by the perceived and real accountability structures within government, and so offer an opportunity to consider how accountability affects, and is affected by, particular programmatic efforts at a local level.
This article makes a significant contribution to our understanding of coordination programmes at a central–local government level. By identifying patterns in the approach of government over the last 25 years, it offers an empirical lens to map the ‘glacial and incremental’ reframing of central–local relations and associated shifts in public accountability. In this way, the article provides more solid foundations to a range of issues – central government’s reliance on controlling the reins of funding, the competitive nature of allocation processes, and the enduring centralisation of accountability – that have been much discussed among policymakers, practitioners and researchers, but have lacked clear empirical grounding.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many leaders claimed that their public health policy decisions were ‘following the science’; however, the literature on evidence-based policy problematises the idea that this is a realistic or desirable form of governance. This article examines why leaders make such claims using blame avoidance theory. Based on a qualitative content analysis of two national newspapers in each of Australia, Canada and the UK, we gathered and focused on unique moments when leaders claimed to ‘follow the science’ in the first six months of the pandemic. We applied Hood’s theory to identify the types of blame avoidance strategies used for issues such as mass event cancellation, border closures, face masks, and in-person learning. Politicians most commonly used ‘follow the science’ to deflect blame onto processes and people. When leaders’ claims to ‘follow the science’ confuse the public as to who chooses and who should be held accountable for those decisions, this slogan risks undermining trust in science, scientific advisors, and, at its most extreme, representative government. This article addresses a gap in the literature on blame avoidance and the relationship between scientific evidence and public policy by demonstrating how governments’ claims to ‘follow the science’ mitigated blame by abdicating responsibility, thus risking undermining the use of scientific advice in policymaking.
By analysing the policy process leading to the introduction of interest registers in France and Sweden, this article argues that their use as a policy instrument was crucial for acknowledging and defining conflict of interest as a problem. It challenges rationalist approaches to public policy that focus on how the adoption of policy solutions follows the identification of policy problems, instead, favouring the acknowledgement of how problems and solutions can exist independently. To identify how interest registers became a preferred policy solution, the article traces how policies from the UK and US were integrated in the global anti-corruption toolkit in the 1990s and subsequently adopted in France and Sweden in the 2010s. It uncovers the sequencing of events, and, specifically, the evolution of public discourse on conflicts of interest around the adoption of public interest registers. It shows that interest registers contribute to (re)define the problem of conflict of interest in new contexts of adoption. The sequencing of events suggests that the problem of conflict of interest was rarely used before the instrument’s adoption and, what is important, did not have a clear ‘stabilised’ shared meaning. Interest registers thus give reality to the problem and modify its definition. By establishing which interests are to be declared in standardised forms, interest registers define new ‘risk areas’ for corruption. They also convey the idea that the problem relates to an asymmetry of information between elected officials and voters that can be corrected through transparency measures, shifting the locus of problem-solving responsibility to the public.
A popular explanation for governments’ persistent enthusiasm for evidence-based policymaking (EBPM) is its expected capacity to solve policy conflict. However, research is divided on whether or not EBPM actually has a positive impact on conflict. On the one hand, EBPM is said to introduce a set of principles that helps overcome political differences. Simultaneously, EBPM has been criticised for narrowing the space for democratic debate, fuelling the very conflict it is trying to prevent. This article explores how EBPM structures policy conflict by studying the example of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) in policy processes through reconstructive interviews and ethnographic observations. It argues that, although EBPM channels conflict in a way that prompts engagement from stakeholders, it also escalates conflict by misrepresenting the nature of policy processes. As such, the findings suggest that managing process participants’ expectations about what evidence is and can do is key in fostering productive policy conflict.
The conditional cash transfer programme (CCT) for poor families was terminated in Mexico in 2019. CCTs seek to fight poverty under a social investment logic by promoting the formation of human capital through the compliance of behavioural conditionalities. The programme – the first of its kind introduced at national level – accomplished several achievements and was maintained and developed by three successive federal administrations. As the backbone of anti-poverty policy for more than two decades, its achievements included delivering positive results to a significant proportion of the population; and triggering the expansion of social policy beyond social insurance. As a result, it was emulated by governments across the globe. A programme of these characteristics would have been expected to generate path dependency and policy stability, yet it was swiftly terminated with practically no opposition. This article applies a framework of historical institutionalism to analyse the feedback effects developed during the duration of the programme from the perspectives of beneficiaries, in order to contribute to the explanation of its termination. The research is based on qualitative empirical data from interviews with former beneficiaries. Our findings show that self-undermining mechanisms linked to a ‘hard’ design and implementation of conditionalities counterbalanced the self-reinforcing mechanisms derived from the benefits supplied by the programme, causing beneficiaries to become apathetic towards its continuity or termination. Conclusions yield theoretical insights that might serve to examine policy feedback in similar contexts, as well as lessons for policymakers regarding the design and implementation of social programmes.
Efforts to better understand what prevents institutions from changing to meet contemporary demands – or what facilitates the evolution of existing constructs to address new challenges – are of particular import and relevance to environmental governance. While the existing literature provides valuable conceptualisation and empirical evaluation of institutional stability and change, the lack of a consistent and holistic typology complicates the evaluation of institutions over time. In this article, we use a combined stability–change typology to assess the dominant modes of institutional change and stability over a multi-decadal timespan across three environmental governance systems – air quality governance in the US and China, and climate governance in the European Union. Across cases, we find that these modes are not mutually exclusive but can occur simultaneously, in concert or in conflict. We also find that observed patterns of change and stability are reflective of the social and political context in which systems operate, as well as the focus of the system itself (for example, localised air quality versus global climate change). Apart from providing a proof-of-concept analysis of institutional change and stability, our findings raise questions about the mechanisms underlying spatial and temporal patterns across identified modes. Indirectly, our findings also further highlight challenges to designing systems both resilient to exogenous stressors and capable of adapting to new situations. Our combined stability–change typology may help to advance understanding of whether and how such balancing has occurred in the past, thus facilitating future efforts to address contemporary challenges.