To tackle the manifold crises of our times, most notably the environmental crises we face, ambitious policy change is urgently needed to achieve the necessary radical transformation of our industrialised societies. Yet, while there is increasing demand for public policy scholarship to provide guidance on how policy should be designed to achieve such change, existing scholarship struggles to provide ‘forward-looking’ recommendations. Within this context, our article takes a step back to reconsider the underlying logics of policy change. We argue that focusing on policy, its effect and the subsequent politics it triggers is best achieved by combining insights from the policy design, policy mix and policy feedback literatures. This combination allows us to re-evaluate which potential pathways towards policy change exist.
The main contribution of our article is its proposition of two distinct pathways towards policy change, building on a systematic understanding of policy design elements. These pathways place greater emphasis on policy change happening (1) ‘bottom-up’ through initial low-level design changes rather than ‘top-down’ through high-level ideational change, as argued in earlier scholarship, (2) through the interplay of several policies in a complex mix. In this way, these pathways provide a useful framework for systematically analysing how policy should be designed to achieve ambitious policy change and thus enable transformative societal change.