Making change happen: Policy dynamics in the adoption of major reforms in Lithuania

Date01 October 2019
AuthorRamūnas Vilpišauskas,Egidijus Barcevičius,Vitalis Nakrošis
Published date01 October 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Making change happen:
Policy dynamics in the
adoption of major
reforms in Lithuania
Vitalis Nakros
ˇis, Ramu¯ nas Vilpis
and Egidijus Barcevic
Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius
University, Vilnius, Lithuania
Previous studies of policy reforms that were undertaken during the recent global finan-
cial crisis mostly focused on fiscal consolidation, with much less attention paid to other
structural reforms. Although the impact of such external shocks as crisis or change of
government on systemic change is widely acknowledged, little agreement exists on
which intervening factors can best account for successes or failures of reform commit-
ments. In this article, we propose an innovative explanation that focuses on the
variables of political attention and change leadership, and which analyses temporal
political and policy dynamics of reform decision making. We conduct a comparative
analysis of the four performance priorities of the 2008–2012 Lithuanian Government
led by Prime Minister A. Kubilius. The article concludes that a combination of persistent
high political attention to policy reforms and strong reform leadership aimed at mobilis-
ing coalition support are essential factors in fulfilling reform commitments.
Change leadership, policy feedback, policy reforms, political attention
The start of the f‌inancial and economic crisis of 2007–2008 strengthened incentives
and created opportunities for many European governments to advance towards
f‌iscal consolidation and structural reforms (Organisation for Economic Co-
operation and Development [OECD], 2010). After almost a decade of largely
Public Policy and Administration
2019, Vol. 34(4) 431–452
!The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0952076718755568
Corresponding author:
Vitalis Nakros
ˇis, Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University, Vokiec
Vilnius LT-01130, Lithuania.
failed attempts to adopt and implement structural reforms, most European gov-
ernments found themselves pressed by decreasing budget revenues and declining
competitiveness of their economies. As a result, policy reforms have once again
gained importance on the agendas of European decision makers.
Proposals for policy and institutional reforms frequently emerge in response to
crises (Peter et al., 2011; Randma-Liiv and Kickert, 2017; Schmidt et al., 2017;
Williamson, 1994). Recent research has focused on how dif‌ferent European
countries have responded to f‌iscal imbalances by analysing cutback strategies
(e.g. Kickert et al., 2015), reform initiatives related to external challenges
(e.g. Pollitt, 2016), the economic or social ef‌fects of f‌iscal consolidation and asso-
ciated reform measures (e.g. Van Aarle, 2013) and ef‌fects of f‌iscal crisis on public
administration reforms, such as a tendency to centralise decision making
(Raudla et al., 2015). Despite the fact that other structural reforms were initiated
during the crisis, little ef‌fort has been made to explore their adoption and
In this article, we analyse major reforms that usually address the most signif‌icant
policy issues and pursue system-wide changes. Although authoritative decision
makers make solid political commitments to such reforms, their fulf‌ilment faces
substantial dif‌f‌iculties. Major non-incremental reforms were found to be vulnerable
at every stage of the policy process from conception to implementation, suggesting
that such initiatives could be more dif‌f‌icult to design and execute (Aberbach and
Christensen, 2014).
Little agreement exists as to which factors can best account for reform adoption
or non-adoption. A standard approach to decision making assumes that policy
change usually occurs when policy makers are replaced after elections, but other
important political or policy developments can bring about major policy change
without a change of government (Jones and Baumgartner, 2012: 5). Top political
leadership plays a key role in adopting major policy reforms in the parliament or
government, but their interactions with other stakeholders engaged in formulating
reform decisions at the level of policy subsystems are theoretically under-explored.
More generally, there is a disconnect between politics and policy change in the
existing research: if change is studied in policy subsystems, top-level political pro-
cesses are often disregarded and vice versa.
Therefore, it is necessary to plug the gap between politics and policy processes in
the study of major policy reforms. In this article, we analyse how political attention
is allocated and change leadership is exercised to mobilise support for reform
decisions in specif‌ic policy subsystems. However, reform decisions are not solely
the result of politics – policy developments can also shape politics during the tem-
poral dynamics of reform policy making. In our research, we explore the inf‌luence
of positive or negative feedback from the external environment or policy subsystem
events on reform adoption. Thus, we contribute to the debates on how the need to
deal with time and f‌iscal pressures af‌fects attention of policy makers who declare
their intention to undertake systemic structural reforms (Randma-Liiv and
Kickert, 2017). However, dynamics in the reform process can change when
432 Public Policy and Administration 34(4)

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT