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  • Author or Editor: Emily St Denny x
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In recent years, a range of countries have devolved significant powers, responsibilities and funding to the regional level. This paper explores how and why the resulting meso-governments may use the tools of metagovernance. A detailed empirical analysis of homelessness policy in Wales found that skilful deployment of metagovernance tools enabled its meso-government to exploit the advantages of geographical and relational proximity to policy communities, while mitigating some of the constraints of its intermediate constitutional status, including limited formal powers and policy capacity. Junior government officials played multiple roles in homelessness networks, shaping and steering them through active network management while also participating in them. This ‘governor-participant’ role blurs the distinction made in the existing literature between ‘hands-on’ and ‘hands-off’ metagovernance tools. It also shows that, in the case of meso-governments at least, it is possible for low-ranking officials to exercise greater agency in policy development than has previously been assumed.

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The ‘Scottish approach’ refers to its distinctive way to make and implement policy. Its reputation suggests that it is relatively comfortable with local discretion and variations in policy outcomes. Yet, policymakers are subject to ‘universal’ processes – limited knowledge, attention and coordinative capacity, and high levels of ambiguity, discretion and complexity in policy processes – which already undermine central control and produce variation. If policy is a mix of deliberate and unintended outcomes, a focus on policy styles may exaggerate a government’s ability to do things differently. We demonstrate these issues in two ‘cross cutting’ policies: ‘prevention’ and ‘transition’.

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We highlight practical lessons from policy theories on how to promote equity through transformational changes in policymaking. Health, education and gender are at the heart of such equity policy agendas. Their advocates seek transformational changes to: policy, to reject a ‘neoliberal’ paradigm and address the social and economic causes of unfair inequalities, and policymaking, to foster collaboration and holistic government. However, they also report a wide gap between aspirations and outcomes, and many seek insights from policy studies on how to close it. Our aim is to use their common engagement with policy theories to connect their agendas, foster intersectoral dialogue, and ensure that their contributions are greater than the sum of their parts. A common take-home message is to be cautious about any attempt to turn a provocative transformational political project into a technical process containing a ‘toolbox’ or ‘playbook’.

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