Interest-group capacities and infant industry development: State-sponsored growth in organic farming

AuthorCarsten Daugbjerg,Darren Halpin,Yonatan Schvartzman
Date01 March 2011
Publication Date01 March 2011
Corresponding author:
Darren Halpin, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Denmark.
Interest-group capacities and
infant industry development:
State-sponsored growth in
organic farming
Darren Halpin, Carsten Daugbjerg and
Yonatan Schvartzman
Both interest-group and public-policy scholars accept that groups are important to policy formulation and
implementation because they hold valuable capacities. However, the literature has not dealt with whether,
and how, groups develop capacities. In this article, we examine the question of group capacity development by
focusing on the adaption of specific groups to evolving policy contexts. Taking the example of organic farm
policy we look at the impact that divergent policy strategies aimed at growing this infant industry sector
have had on the way related industry groups have evolved in four countries. This comparative study supports
our argument that policy strategy is one key force in shaping the capacities that groups develop over time.
interest groups, infant industry, organic farming, public policy, state
Introduction: Group ‘capacity’ and public policy
Interest-group input to public policy is sought on the grounds that the group has something valuable
to offer. Groups are valuable because they are ‘capable’. The literature conceptualizes capacity in a
multidimensional manner: a checklist of possibilities emerges.1 Groups are capable because they
have information: they provide policy ideas and possess relevant facts and figures. Where the
‘representativeness’ of groups is high, they can also enhance acceptance of the policy outcome
among important constituencies. Maloney et al. (1994: 36) list the ‘resources’ that groups might
exchange with policymakers for access as ‘knowledge, technical advice or expertise, membership
compliance or consent, credibility, information, implementation guarantees’. More recently,
Bouwen (2002) provides a similar list of ‘resources’, but refers to them as ‘access goods’ that groups
use to engage in the policy processes.
International Political Science Review
32(2) 147–166
© The Author(s) 2011
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0192512110372435
148 International Political Science Review 32(2)
But what about the development of group capacities? While interest-group scholars would
no doubt agree that variations in capacities exist, the specialist literature does not offer much in
the way of tools to conceptualize and explain such differences, whether within group popula-
tions or over the life course of an individual group. The interest-group literature has tended to
focus upon the ‘event’ of birth or formation (see Olson, 1965; Salisbury, 1969). After this
‘event’ groups simply exist – ‘maintained’ by the efforts of group ‘entrepreneurs’ who ensure
incentives to sustain member support while pursuing policy influence (Moe, 1980; Wilson,
1995). While this approach correctly asserts ‘business-like’ considerations (such as financial
security) as perhaps the basic preoccupation for group leaders, it also seems to underplay sig-
nificantly the dynamism of groups during their life course. Once groups are created, it is implied
that they simply exist. The population-ecology approach has recently dominated discussion of
group survival, implying that poorly adapted groups are ‘selected out’ and new, better-adapted
models emerge (Gray and Lowery, 2000; Nownes, 2004). This is an important insight, but cur-
tails and discourages questions about whether organizations seek to adapt to conditions. In
response, recent group analysis has suggested a focus on group adaptation (Halpin and Jordan,
2009). Even so, this tentative step does not analyse whether adaptive group change is directly
sensitive to the policy context.
There is, however, some consideration of capacity development in the literature on associative
governance. This provides a promising starting point and something with which group scholars
might engage. In the context of industry policy, Bell (2006) deploys the benchmark measure of
‘capable’ associations. The general public-policy literature views ‘associative’ capacities as critical to
generating ‘governing’ or ‘transformative’ capacity (see Atkinson and Coleman, 1989; Painter and
Pierre, 2005: 11; Peters, 2005: 80; Weiss, 1998). But it also defines capacities rather generally.
Painter and Pierre (2005: 11) suggest that groups help the state ‘acquire essential knowledge, while
cooperative relations with them also ensure compliance’.
It is relatively easy, as evident above, to list the group capacities that may be considered, in a
general sense, to be policy relevant. But if such formulations are to make sense in identifying the
‘particular’ contribution of groups to governing capacities in a given policy area, we surely need a
more nuanced understanding of group capacity. The immediate problems with the existing approach
are threefold. First, groups are surely not all equally capable. Resource levels, ‘encompassing-
ness’, and staff professionalism (indeed, all the ‘capacities’ listed above) vary within group popula-
tions. Second, group capacity is to some extent likely to be a by-product of broader organizational
survival prospects. That is, developing capacity is likely to be partly contingent on fulfilling more
basic group ‘needs’, such as sustaining broad legitimacy with key audiences (policymakers and
members) and sustaining the income base. Lastly, the policy context surely shapes what counts as
a ‘capacity’: particular policy contexts would seem to demand different capacities. Put simply, the
extent to which group capacities are ‘valuable’ is a context-specific matter and doubtless varies
across countries and through time. Here we focus our analytical attention on the former element by
comparing the adaptation of group capacities in a single industry sector, but across countries with
differing policy contexts. While we accept this is not the only factor affecting interest groups’
capacities, its neglect in the study of interest groups is of particular significance in limiting our
understanding of group adaptation. This article devotes attention to the capacities that interest
groups develop and adapt as policy contexts evolve. It analyses the relevance of this issue for both
policy formulation and policy implementation. As is evident in our cases below, the development
of capacities relevant for policy can empower interest groups to play important roles in policy
formulation as well as in implementation.

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