An improved understanding of foreign policy learning necessitates a clarification of what foreign policy learning is, who learns, and how such learning occurs. Cognitive and social psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists situated in a variety of subfields have contributed to the understanding of foreign policy learning, a multidisciplinary area of inquiry. Learning theorists seek to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government. This cognitive dimension is important because actors may pursue a new course of action for politically expedient reasons rather than having genuinely “learned”—a distinction referred to as “complex” vs. “simple” learning.
Foreign policy learning can be internal or external. The former type of learning entails what individuals, governments, or organizations learn from their prior experience. Learning theorists who focus on the individual level of analysis borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, the belief structures, and the cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking. Leaders whose cognitive structures are described as relatively open and complex—like Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose learning brought about the dramatic changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union—are more likely to alter their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts.
Yet external learning occurs as well. Policy diffusion studies show that learning can result from demonstration effects. Foreign policy learning via diffusion is not instrumental, but instead occurs through osmosis. Privatization in the former communist states, China’s Foreign Direct Investment liberalization, and the diffusion of environmental norms in the European Union are examples of learning that is contagious, not chosen. A more conscious mode of learning than diffusion is policy transfer, which entails policymakers’ transferring ideas from one country and implementing them in another. Technological innovations, unlike lessons that involve political ideology, are generally easier lessons to transfer—for example, Japan’s success in applying lessons from the West to modernize its army in the second half of the 19th century.
The constraints to foreign policy learning are formidable. Decision makers are not always open to reconsidering views that challenge their beliefs. Leaders tend to resort to, and misuse, analogies that prevent learning. Even a change in a decision maker’s beliefs may not lead to foreign policy change, given the myriad political pressures, bureaucratic hurdles, and economic realities that often get in the way of implementing new ideas. Indeed, foreign policy learning and foreign policy change are not synonymous.
Scholars face significant obstacles in studying foreign policy learning. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Despite attempts to make sense of the confusion, scholars face the daunting challenge of improving understanding of how learning is shaped and funneled through the interaction of agents and the structures in which they are situated, as well as the relationship between learning and foreign policy change.
The structure of government is fundamentally a matter of multiple alignments of organizations and power involving politics, policy, administration, management, governance, and law. The alignments vary significantly, with numerous conflations of form and function. At the center of power, under immediate executive control and legislative oversight, policy and administration occurs in ministries and departments for which members of the executive are directly responsible. Beyond the center of power, with varying degrees of distance from executive control and legislative oversight, the interplay of policy, administration and management happens in an array of organizations as executive agencies and corporate entities with diffuse executive responsibility. In all alignments, the synthesis of networks and undertaking of reviews are essential, encompassing politics, policy, administration, management, governance, law, and judicial intervention of varying nature and consequence. The situation overall is one of complexity and diversity, requiring acute understanding and strategic action in response to the demands of continuity and change in the conduct of public affairs.
William N. Dunn
Over seventy-five years ago, the social sciences were irrevocably transformed by the rise of the policy sciences. The policy sciences, an ambitious multidisciplinary movement founded by the preeminent political scientist, Harold D. Lasswell, offered an unprecedented approach to public policy based primarily on an adaptation of the work of John Dewey and other pragmatists. Although parts of this new approach may be traced to the 19th century, the policy sciences were distinctive. Not only did they mandate the creation of knowledge about the process of policymaking; they also required that the knowledge so created be used to improve that process.
Bert A. Rockman
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Healthcare is an essential, but often expensive, good. It is largely a linear function of a country’s wealth. Poorer countries have barebones care, primitive facilities, shortages of trained professionals, and usually very limited forms of social, or even private, insurance. Moreover, their public health systems are highly fragile and face shortages of basic sanitation facilities, potable water, and plumbing. Consequently, comparisons across systems are most meaningful when they are constrained by their level of wealth and public sanitation infrastructure. In this comparison, the United States stands as an outlier among other wealthy countries for the higher costs of its health care system and its relatively high level of inefficiency in achieving desirable health outcomes. Approximately 18% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product is spent on health care. That figure is considerably greater than the average for wealthy countries and is, indeed, the highest in the world. But that considerable input results in health outcomes that are among the worst of the wealthy countries.
Why this is so has to do with historical developments, political values, the complexity of American political institutions, and the ability of well-heeled lobbies to successfully find champions to support their grievances. It also may have a good bit to do with some factors that lie outside the health care system but interact with it. The United States is among the leaders of the highly developed world in many risk factors: obesity and the illnesses it often leads to, lethal violence especially by guns, teen age pregnancy, infant mortality, and social inequality. Most notably, however, the United States is the only country in the highly developed world that, even with the passage and partial implementation of the Affordable Care Act, lacks universal accessibility through social insurance to the health care system. The United States also is unusual for its lack of pricing regulation and pricing transparency for medical procedures.
Despite the fact that other health care systems seem to manage better with less, costs threaten to spiral in virtually all of the wealthy countries. This is because populations in all of these countries are getting older and most have a less than replacement birth rate. The demographic logic is that more people will be demanding more health care, and there will be fewer people to foot the bill. So, all systems are facing a cost crunch in the near future. While the United States is among these, thanks largely to immigration, it tends to have a more favorable ratio of donors to recipients than other rich countries.
Ultimately, all health care systems have to juggle three critical factors: (1) access to the health care system; (2) costs of the system; and (3) the quality of the system. While all of these factors seem self-evident, none actually are. They involve trade-offs. All systems ration in some way. Rationing is a buzzword among some sectors of the American political class, but all systems do it and must do it, including the American system. But they do it in different ways. Why has much to do with politics, respect for evidence, or the lack of it, and high levels of social inequality.
As a part of the policy process, implementation follows policy as formulated and decided upon. Three aspects can be distinguished as inherent to the term implementation. The first one regards the temporal order in which implementation in a policy process takes place. The second aspect concerns the causal logic, while the third one is about the form of authority. Policy implementation is looked at and talked about from two fundamentally contrasting perspectives. One can be called an “ideal” perspective, the other a realistic one. “Ideal” stands here for a use of the term implementation without further reflection; the phenomena the term refers to are taken for granted. By contrast, the alternative perspective can be labeled as a realistic one. This perspective is a construction as well, but instead of taking things for granted it invites for empirical observation and testing.
From an ideal perspective implementation is viewed as following instructions. Implementation is seen as a separate stage, identifiable as such. Inputs are supposed to determine outputs, while authority is exercised in a hierarchical relationship. From a realistic perspective implementation is seen as practice. It is approached as a multilevel phenomenon. Results of a policy process are explained by a variety of factors and social mechanisms. Authority is exercised as based on various sources. Both the view on implementation as following instructions and its realistic opposite shed a relevant light on implementation and its place in the policy process. Each view can be found in the practice as well as the study of the policy process. In the expectations about national politics the view on implementation as following instructions may be more observed than the alternative view, while at the street level of government the opposite can be supposed. However, these concern empirical questions.
As far as implementation research is concerned, the normative appeal of the assumptions underlying the view on implementation as following instructions makes that view still occurring. At the same time, these assumptions have been challenged rather fundamentally, both at a theoretical and empirical level. The opposite character of the two views has consequences for the ways implementation and its place within the policy process are understood, but also for the ways in which variation in the results of policy processes is explained. Ultimately, understanding and explaining those results are enhanced when an approach is adopted in which elements from both views have been incorporated.
Incrementalism is a model of the policy process advanced by Charles Lindblom, who views rational decision-making as impossible for most issues due to a combination of disagreement over objectives and inadequate knowledge base. Policies are made instead through a pluralistic process of partisan mutual adjustment in which a multiplicity of participants focus on proposals differing only incrementally from the status quo. Significant policy change occurs, if at all, through a gradual accumulation of small changes, a process Lindblom calls seriality. For incrementalism to yield defensible policy outcomes, three conditions must be satisfied, all of which are far from automatic: 1) all, or at least most, social interests must be represented; 2) political resources must be balanced sufficiently among groups that no one actor or coalition dominates; and 3) political parties must be moderate and pragmatic, permitting a convergence to an ever-evolving political center.
While Lindblom sees nonincremental policy departures as extremely rare, subsequent research suggests that major policy departures may occur in response to crises or mass public arousal, through the development of a rationalizing breakthrough after many years of experience with policy implementation, or through a process of punctuated equilibrium. While many scholars and policymakers have argued that policymaking can and should be more rational, or that nonincremental alternatives may at times be superior to incremental ones, implementing nonincremental policy departures poses special problems and often gives way to incrementalism in the administrative process as public attention and support for strong action wanes. Nonincremental policy departures are more likely to be both enduring and effective where long experience with an issue leads to consensus on values and an adequate knowledge base, giving rise to a rationalizing breakthrough.
Classic accounts of the relationship between leadership and public administration used to be straightforward: Political officials exercise leadership in terms of providing direction to government, and administrations implement decisions made by those leaders. Over the past decades, however, both scholarly notions and empirical manifestations of leadership and administration have undergone substantive change. While the political leadership literature continues to be more interested in such aspects as goal identification and definition, and the ways and means by which leaders manage to garner and maintain support for their agendas, the crucial importance of implementation in terms of leadership effectiveness has been explicitly acknowledged since the seminal work of James MacGregor Burns who famously defined leadership as “real, intended social change.” Conversely, public administration scholars have discovered the role of bureaucrats in the leadership process as important subfields of public administration.
To some considerable extent, these reorientations in the political study of leadership and administration have been driven by empirical developments in the real world of leaders and administrators. In many of the established democracies, political leaders have come to realize the importance of administrative resources, and in some contexts, such as in the United States, it seems justified to speak of particular administration-centered approaches to, and strategies of, executive leadership. At the same time, large-scale reforms of the public sector have fundamentally altered the role of bureaucrats in the leadership process. While individual top civil servants, especially (but not only) in Westminster systems, have always exercised some leadership, New Public Management reforms designed to increase the efficiency of the public sector extended leadership roles across the bureaucracy. The relationship between political leaders and bureaucrats continues to display major differences between countries, yet politicization of the civil service in its various forms marks a strong cross-national trend. In some countries, the proliferation of special advisers stands out as a more specific element of change with important implications for the evolving nature of executive leadership.
Such differences between countries notwithstanding, a broad empirical inquiry suggests that the developments in the political and administrative parts of the executive branch in many major democracies are marked by divergent dynamics: While there is a notable trend within the political core executive to centralize power with the chief executive (prominently referred to as “presidentialization” by some authors), the public bureaucracy of many developed countries has experienced a continuous dispersion of leadership roles. The implications of these ongoing changes have remained understudied and deserve further scholarly attention. However, alongside a host of conceptual and methodological issues, perhaps the most difficult and complex challenges to leadership and administration, both for political science and politics itself, relate to processes of internationalization and globalization.
Annelise Russell, Maraam Dwidar, and Bryan D. Jones
Scholars across politics and communication have wrangled with questions aimed at better understanding issue salience and attention. For media scholars, they found that mass attention across issues was a function the news media’s power to set the nation’s agenda by focusing attention on a few key public issues. Policy scholars often ignored the media’s role in their effort to understand how and why issues make it onto a limited political agenda. What we have is two disparate definitions describing, on the one hand, media effects on individuals’ issue priorities, and on the other, how the dynamics of attention perpetuate across the political system. We are left with two notions of agenda setting developed independently of one another to describe media and political systems that are anything but independent of one another.
The collective effects of the media on our formal institutions and the mass public are ripe for further, collaborative research. Communications scholars have long understood the agenda setting potential of the news media, but have neglected to extend that understanding beyond its effects on mass public. The link between public opinion and policy is “awesome” and scholarship would benefit from exploring the implications for policy, media, and public opinion.
Both policy and communication studies would benefit from a broadened perspective of media influence. Political communication should consider the role of the mass media beyond just the formation of public opinion. The media as an institution is not effectively captured in a linear model of information signaling because the public agenda cannot be complete without an understanding of the policymaking agenda and the role of political elites. And policy scholars can no longer describe policy process without considering the media as a source of disproportionate allocation of attention and information. The positive and negative feedback cycles that spark or stabilize the political system are intimately connected to policy frames and signals produced by the media.
The notion of administrative tradition represents one way of discussing the issue of whether and to what extent a number of countries (polities/jurisdictions) have a significant array of traits in common concerning their public administration. The notion of administrative tradition may enable the pursuit of a range of purposes, like the framing of comparison for purposes of advancing knowledge and the assessment of capacities for reforming and change. The notion of Napoleonic administrative tradition can be substantiated by identifying a distinct configuration along four dimens(ions: an organic conception of the state, with limited role for societal, non-co-opted actors in public policy-making; a career civil service, distinct from other occupations, furnishing a general-purpose elite for the state; a predominance of law over management in defining the fundamental tasks of administration, and uniformity of treatment of citizens as a basic value guiding administrative action; and the preeminence of law and a system of courts in enforcing public accountability. Jurisdictions that may be ascribed to the Napoleonic administrative tradition encompass five countries in Europe (France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain) as well as, more problematically, a number of countries which inherited the French model during the colonial period.
Anthony R. Zito
New policy instruments have come onto the policy agenda since the 1970s, but there is a real question as to whether the ideas behind the design of such tools are actually all that “new” when you assess the role of the policy instrument in its particular institutional and policy context. Taking Hood’s 1983 categorization of instruments as tools that manipulate society to achieve public goals via nodality (information), authority, treasure (finance), or organization, we can find instances where innovations in these areas pre-date the 1970s. Nevertheless, the mention of these instruments in international organizations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and national institutions and debates as the means for both improving governance and protecting economic efficiency have increased in light of a number of interacting trends: the rise of neo-liberal and new management ideologies, the increasing perception of a number of wicked problems (e.g., climate change) and nested, politically sensitive problems (e.g., health and welfare policy), a rethinking of the role of the state, and other reasons. A typology is offered for differentiating changes and innovation in policy instruments. There have been some very notable and complex policy instruments that have reshaped politics and public policy in a particular policy sector: a notable example of this is emissions trading systems, which create market conditions to reduce emissions of climate change gases and other by-products. Information and financial instruments have become more prominent as tools used to achieve policy aims by the state, but equally significant is the fact that, in some cases, it is the societal actors themselves that are organizing and supporting the management of an instrument voluntarily. However, this obscures the fact that a much more significant evolution of policy instruments has come in the area that is associated with traditional governing, namely regulation. The reality of this “command and control” instrument is that many historical situations have witnessed a more flexible relationship between the regulator and the regulated than the term suggests. Nevertheless, many OECD political systems have seen a move towards “smart” or flexible regulation. In promoting this new understanding of regulation, it is increasingly important to see regulation as being supplemented by, supported by, and sometimes reinforcing new policy instruments. It is the integration of these “newer” policy instruments into the regulatory framework that represents perhaps the most significant change. Nevertheless, there is some reason to question the real impact new policy instruments have in terms of effectiveness and democratic legitimacy.