Analysing policy change: institutions and ideas

[Originally posted on The Policy Press Blog, 23/12/10]

The analysis of continuity and change is a preoccupation for scholars of the policy process. While a range of frameworks have been proposed, it would be fair to say that institutionalist approaches are currently flavour of the month. A long-standing challenge for historical institutionalism, however, is an asymmetry in its explanatory power. While plausible accounts of stability and continuity have been offered – invoking notions such as path dependency and lock in – providing credible accounts of policy change has proved more challenging.

Recent debate has called for a move “beyond continuity”. The idea of agents exploiting ambiguity within institutions has been proposed as one way forward. Another focus of attention is the role of ideas and how they might be deployed strategically by political actors to achieve change. We are even encouraged to look to a new – discursive – institutionalist approach. [Read more...]

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Making it personal

[Originally posted on The Policy Press Blog, 04/11/10]

Personalisation is squarely at the heart of current policy debate around adult social care. For the last 10 years the British government has been experimenting with moving away from assisting users through providing services drawn from a relatively short menu of possibilities. Personalisation gives users personal or individual budgets and allows them discretion to determine how they think the money should be best spent to meet their own understanding of their needs.

From a policymaking perspective it is a fascinating development [Read more...]

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The practicalities of participation and deliberation

[Originally published on The Policy Press blog, 08/10/10]

History may come to define the current UK coalition Government as the government that ushered in the end of the welfare state as we know it. The government that forced through a fundamental reconfiguration of the relationship between the citizen and the state. It may well turn out that the British population like the principle of firm action to address the state’s fiscal problems rather more than they like the practice. That story is yet to play out fully.

A more positive aspect of the current political agenda is the emphasis upon localism and involvement. The government aims to move power out of Whitehall and down to localities, giving local elected representatives and communities more scope to determine their own future. The two parties that comprise the current Con-Dem government may value this policy direction for different reasons. Are we talking about a vision of state withdrawal and survival of the fittest? Or a more positive vision of enhancing social cohesion and commonality of purpose in the more fragmented and networked Big Society? It is difficult to identify a consistent narrative. But the parties’ interests intersect and we are expecting a Localism bill to be laid before Parliament next month.

While greater local autonomy and accountability in decision making is laudable, it is not without problems. What are the practicalities of delivering on this agenda? Is it another case of something that many feel is fine in theory but less palatable in practice?

Much has been written about participation and deliberation in policy making. Much has been written about the challenges facing those seeking to make it a reality. The news is, generally, not encouraging. This is well-trodden ground.

One aspect of the issue which requires greater exploration is how changing structures of governance interact with mechanisms to enhance participation and local deliberation. In a paper forthcoming in Policy & Politics Robert Hoppe addresses precisely this question.

The paper aims to provide some theoretical reflections on the links between policy problems, the structure of policy networks and appropriate mechanisms for deliberation. It focuses on the practical ‘perplexities’ and dilemmas in running deliberative projects, highlight problems at each of the input, throughput and output/outcome stages.

Equally importantly in the current context, the author pinpoints power – or the ‘ironies of real power politics’ – as at the heart of the issue. Participation mandated from the centre runs the risk of simply being seen as a supplement to existing processes, without significantly altering the locus of control. While deliberation from the bottom-up runs the risk of colliding with the self-identity of those at the centre who see themselves as having the legitimacy to make the decisions.

The author holds out some hope that governance structures can be nudged in the direction of accommodating the views of a wider range of stakeholder and citizens. But there remains a tension between peaceful, collective “puzzling” over what do to and the ‘competitive and potentially violent mode of political interaction’ that is “powering”. A timely reminder of the complexity of the challenges in realising the potential of deliberation – and a suggestion that some of the more far-reaching aspirations for deliberation may be over-reaching in the face of the unavoidable subtle, and not so subtle, uses of power.

Hoppe, R. (2010) Institutional constraints and practical problems in deliberative and participatory policy making, Policy & Politics, fast track article.*

* Fast track articles are only available to subscribers to the journal. If you’d like to read this article, why not sign up for a free trial at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/tpp/pap/trial?

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