Public Policy and Administration

Sage Publications, Inc.
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Latest documents

  • Decentering health research networks: Framing collaboration in the context of narrative incompatibility and regional geo-politics

    Research innovations and breakthroughs are increasingly realised through collaborative networks amongst state and non-state actors. This article investigates the utilisation of such networks in the field of applied health services research, where policy narratives repeatedly emphasise the importance of collaboration between university researchers, clinical and health service leaders, patient representatives and industry. The translation of policy into practice suggests that these networks are not always designed and managed in line with policy aspirations. Taking a decentred approach, the study reported in this article examines how local policy actors translate national policies for collaborative health research networks in the context of their own histories of applied research, including local narratives and priorities for health research. The study shows that local actors face key dilemmas and opportunities for situated agency, as they experience three competing policy narratives, first, for carrying out world-class research; second, for ensuring research meets local needs and third, for developing new understanding about the implementation of research into practice. Although these expectations might appear coherent to policy-makers, at the regional level, they provide the basis for disagreement and negotiation amongst local policy actors through which the local narrative of collaborative research is framed to regional stakeholders. The study shows how the tensions between elite and local narratives can be reconciled through re-framing activities, especially the articulation of ‘parallel frames’ within a ‘cascade framing’ process.

  • Brexit and the decentred state

    The aim of this article is to examine Brexit through the lens of decentred theory. Decentred theory regards the British state as neither a monolith (as per modernist social science) nor a myth (as per post-modern theory) but rather as a repository of norms, customs, practices and thought acquired by elite actors, professionals and policy networks. The central thesis of the article is that the idea of the decentred state, as an explanation of state governance, can be seen in the phenomenon of Brexit. The article uses literatures on governance and contemporary history to examine the relevance of the concept of the decentred state. Then it considers the case study of British politics in the 1970s as a precursor to the decentring effects of Brexit on state governance. The article then moves to consider three dimensions of the phenomenon of Brexit which can be understood as decentring practices in and of themselves: the referendum vote, the negotiations and competing ‘imaginings’ of the United Kingdom in a post-European Union membership environment. The article’s findings represent a fresh and novel means by which scholars can utilise the idea of the decentred state as an intellectual tool to explain the phenomenon of Brexit.

  • The myth of ‘evidence-based policymaking’ in a decentred state

    I describe a policy theory story in which a decentred state results from choice and necessity. Governments often choose not to centralise policymaking but they would not succeed if they tried. Many policy scholars take this story for granted, but it is often ignored in other academic disciplines and wider political debate. Instead, commentators call for more centralisation to deliver more accountable, ‘rational,’ and ‘evidence-based’ policymaking. Such contradictory arguments, about the feasibility and value of government centralisation, raise an ever-present dilemma for governments to accept or challenge decentring. They also accentuate a modern dilemma about how to seek ‘evidence-based policymaking’ in a decentred state. I identify three ideal-type ways in which governments can address both dilemmas consistently. I then identify their ad hoc use by UK and Scottish governments. Although each government has a reputation for more or less centralist approaches, both face similar dilemmas and address them in similar ways. Their choices reflect their need to appear to be in control while dealing with the fact that they are not.

  • British local authority planners, planning reform and everyday practices within the state

    Reform of the planning system, and the local authority context in which it operates, has been high on the political agenda for all governments in the United Kingdom in the 21st century, reflecting common broader international trends under New Public Management and neoliberalism. Whilst such reforms have been subject to a great deal of academic attention, much of this work has focused on central government perspectives and understands these reforms based on policy documents and Ministerial statements. Whilst revealing important contextual, ideological and intentional imperatives, such perspectives can overlook the way in which reforms are mediated by frontline professionals as they implement them. Drawing on extensive empirical data with British local authority planners considering their reaction to a host of recent reform initiatives such as changes to plan-making, performance targets, austerity and deregulation of planning controls, this paper outlines the importance of a focus on this everyday scale of governance. Arguing for a decentred approach, understanding the situated agency of professional planners, the paper concludes that policy implementation remains a messy process and that notions of professional identity and narratives about what it means to be a ‘good planner’ remain important in understanding reform specifically and ‘the state’ more generally.

  • What is the decentered state?

    This article provides an introduction to discussions and empirical studies of the decentered state. The first section traces the historical origins of the concept of the decentered state. Group theory and interorganizational theory drew attention to the role of diverse actors in policymaking. The study of policy networks explored these actors and their relationships. The concept of the hollow state arose to describe a state made up of proliferating networks. Finally, postfoundationalists amended these earlier ideas by insisting that the state should not be reified. There are, then, at least three different versions of the decentered state—the pluralist state, the hollow state, and the stateless state. The second section shows how the postfoundationalism of decentered theory transforms the earlier debates about network governance and pluralist democracy. The final section suggests that decentered theory privileges empirical studies of the stateless state and in particular of narratives, rationalities, and resistance.

  • A decentred assessment of the impact of ‘informal governance’ on democratic legitimacy

    The aim of this article is to examine the impact of informal governance on democratic legitimacy. It draws on the literatures on informal governance and decentred theory to examine how governance mechanisms that are un-written, un-codified and non-institutional impact on democratic legitimacy in governance networks. Drawing on a case study of English devolution in the United Kingdom, this article explores how informal governance impacts on different dimensions of legitimacy – input, throughout and output. It does so by drawing on the narratives and stories of central government officials directly involved in English devolution between 2015 and 2018. Findings reveal that even when formal structures are weak, democratic legitimacy can be secured, especially in promoting effective decision making and problem solving – throughput legitimacy. Nonetheless, a decentred analysis has shown a high level of selectivity and differentiation in central-local relationships that undermine legitimation based on input (inclusiveness) and outcome (results) legitimacy. This assessment provides important new insights into how governance networks characterized by high levels of informality can promote democratic legitimacy in ways that reflect the nuances of political decision making in highly complex environments. The challenge for politicians and policy makers moving forward is to actively manage the inevitable trade-offs generated through the use of informality if accusations of a democratic deficit are to be averted.

  • Strategic policy narratives: A narrative policy study of the Columbia River Crossing

    This study examines how coalitions in local policy contexts implore policy narratives to expand or contain the scope of policy issues. The Narrative Policy Framework (NPF), a maturing theory of the policy process, is utilized in this study to conduct content analysis on 370 public documents from competing coalitions in relation to the Columbia River Crossing project; a “wicked” policy issue in the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA region of the Pacific Northwest. From this case selection, it is hypothesized that competing coalitions will use narrative strategies of containment and expansion to achieve their desired policy outcomes. It is also theorized that shocks to a policy subsystem may result in a shift to coalitional narrative strategies. This research will shed light on how coalitions strategically implore policy narratives in cohesive and less cohesive ways to influence policy outcomes.

  • Governing the sharing economy smartly: A tale of two initiatives in China

    Chinese central government in the past few years has embraced the expansion of various sharing economy initiatives. However, the expansion of these initiatives has given rise to public concerns. Central government in turn has adopted different strategies to address them. In this article, we investigate the question of how central government in China governed the two most popular sharing economy initiatives: ridesharing and bike sharing. An analytic framework is constructed, consisting of three government strategies: monitoring, developing frameworks, and managing processes, and two governance styles: go-alone and collaborative. Our study has found that central government generally applied two different strategies, namely, monitoring and developing frameworks, to govern these two sharing economy initiatives. Moreover, a go-alone governance style dominated the processes of governing ridesharing, whereas a collaborative governance style dominated the processes of governing bike sharing. We also found that four conditions, namely, the influence on incumbent industries, market structure, investment model, and time difference, are important in explaining the emergence of different governance styles in governing these two initiatives.

  • The (un)intended effects of street-level bureaucrats’ enforcement style: Do citizens shame or obey bureaucrats?

    This paper studies the intended and unintended effects of street-level bureaucrats’ enforcement style. More specifically, it answers to what extent street-level bureaucrats’ enforcement style affects citizens’ obedience (i.e. intended effect) during face-to-face encounters and willingness to publicly shame bureaucrats (i.e. unintended effect). Building on insights from street-level enforcement and the social interactionist theory of coercive actions, a trade-off is theorized between the effect of enforcement style on citizens’ on-the-spot obedience and on public shaming. Results of an experiment (n = 318) and replication (n = 311) in The Netherlands reveal that (1) neither the legal nor facilitation dimension has an effect on on-the-spot obedience; (2) the legal dimension does not affect public shaming but (3) the facilitation decreases it. These findings are robust across both the experiment and replication.

  • The impact of department structure on policy-making: How portfolio combinations affect interdepartmental coordination

    Departments are the primary structure of the bureaucratic apparatus of governments. They can be structured as silo organizations responsible for one policy sector or as non-silo organizations combining different portfolios under one roof. While several studies have identified explanations for the structure of government departments and their portfolio combinations, little is known about the effects portfolio combinations have on public policy. This article theoretically discusses department structure from a procedural perspective, and, taking an empirical approach, explores its effects on policy coordination as one aspect of policy-making. Circumventing the problem of lacking counterfactuals of national governments, the study analyzes the 16 German substate governments and their joint decision-making processes in the German Bundesrat. The analysis is based on two original datasets, one on the combination of portfolios in departments and one network dataset on the policy coordination process. Applying the tools of social network analysis, the findings show that departments develop preferences and goals and allocate attention based on their portfolio combination. Consequently, governments with atypical portfolio combinations are less integrated into the policy coordination process while departments comprised of similar policy sectors coordinate more closely with each other, which make them more likely to influence policy according to their interests. This study thus provides useful insights not only to researchers but also practitioners. The bureaucratic structure of departments has consequences for policy-making and, ultimately, for policy itself, which should be considered when setting up and structuring government departments.

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