David P. Dolowitz
While a phenomena dating back to antiquity, it wasn’t until the 1960s that American and European social scientists began seriously discussing occurrences in which it appeared as if localities, states and nations in close proximity were adopting similar policies and programs. These early diffusion studies led to a new field that has variously been referred to under titles such as policy transfer, lesson drawing, policy translations, and policy mobility. While having different focuses and agendas, all of these studies attempt to address issues associated with the movement (or active rejection of a possible movement) of ideas, information, policies, and programs from one political system to another.
While all transfer studies have helped focus social scientists’ attention on the processes and actors involved in the transfer of ideas, techniques, policies, information, and programs, a better link to the knowledge utilization and learning literatures would help advance the usefulness of transfer studies. At a minimum, by considering the insights from the learning and utilization literatures, social scientists should begin understanding some of the outlook changes that individuals involved in transfer undertake that impact individual and institutional long-term understanding of the process and results. It will also start to help opening up the policymaking process to further scrutiny, particularly in relation to where information is flowing and how it is being used as a policy develops and changes.
Ana Bojinović Fenko and Marjan Svetličič
Despite having fought for their bare survival against hostile foreigners, after finally reaching their independence and international recognition in 1991/92, paradoxically, even before fully assuming statehood Slovenians were eager to engage in yet another international integration—the European Union. This historical and societal wager, rather than merely political elites’ driven perspective, dominates as the prevailing reason for pursuing EU membership; thus security assurance to a small geopolitically transit state, economic benefits of a larger common market in conditions of economic globalization, and cultural proximity of Slovenian to European society explain Slovenian general identity-related elements favoring membership in the EU. There is also a more immediate time-space related explanatory factor for this, namely, the collapsing of the socialist Yugoslavia starting by the end 1980s and a view of assuring the democratic political life and market-lead economy via integration with Western European countries rather than South Slavic nations or following other alternative scenarios like full liberalization with all partners’ strategy. Authors critically evaluate where and why during the effort of becoming an EU member state and performing excellently as one during the first four years, the state fell short of capability-building and/or seizing the opportunities of EU membership. As the latter has been most brutally exposed via the effects of the 2008–2014 economic and financial crisis, of key importance for Slovenians currently stands a self-reflection of its development strategy, enhancing competitiveness, and the state’s role within the European family of nations. The main challenge is how to overcome the small state hindrances and more effectively formulate and project national interest to the EU level; with that in mind, the central questions for Slovenians remain assurance of social security to citizens, upgrading economic union to face more effectively global challenges and inter-state solidarity, refreshing enlargement policy for the remaining Western Balkans non-member states and ensuring Slovenian participation in the group of core states leading the European integration.
Brian W. Head
In the early 1970s, Rittel and Webber asserted that conventional approaches to scientific analysis and rational planning were inadequate for guiding practitioners and researchers who were tackling complex and contested social problems—which they termed “wicked” problems. The full implications of this challenging critique of rational policy planning were not elaborated at that time, but the underlying issues have attracted increasing attention and debate in later decades. Policy analysts, academic researchers, and planning practitioners have continued to grapple with the claim that conventional scientific-technical approaches might be insufficient and even misleading as a basis for understanding and responding to complex social issues. This is paradoxical in the modern era, which has been attracted to notions of evidence-based policymaking, policy evaluation, and performance-based public management.
Scholarly discussion has continued to evolve concerning methods for addressing highly contested arenas of policy and planning. One key proposition is that citizens and key stakeholders tend to have conflicting perceptions about the nature of particular social “problems” and will thus have different views about appropriate responses or “solutions.” A related proposition is that these disputes are anchored in differing values and perceptions, which are not able to be adjudicated and settled by empirical science, but require inclusive processes of argumentation and conflict resolution among stakeholders. Hence, several kinds of knowledge—lay and expert, civic and professional—need to be brought together in order to develop transdisciplinary “usable knowledge.”
As the research literature produces a richer array of comparative case analyses, it may become feasible to construct a more nuanced understanding of the conditions underlying various kinds of wicked problems in social policy and planning. In the meantime, generalized and indiscriminate use of the term wicked problems is not helpful for delineating the nature of the challenges faced and appropriate remedial actions.
“Evidence-based policy making” (EBPM) has become a popular term to describe the need for more scientific and less ideological policy making. Some compare it to “evidence-based medicine,” which describes moves to produce evidence, using commonly-held scientific principles regarding a hierarchy of evidence, which can directly inform practice. Policy making is different: there is less agreement on what counts as good evidence, and more things to consider when responding to evidence.
Our awareness of these differences between science and policy are not new. Current debates resemble a postwar policy science agenda, to produce more scientific and “rational” policy analysis, which faced major empirical and normative obstacles: the world is not that simple, and an overly technocratic approach to policy undermines much-needed political debate. To understand modern discussions of EBPM, key insights from previous discussions must be considered: policy making is both “rational” and “irrational”; it takes place in complex policy environments or systems, whose properties should be understood in some depth; and it can and should not be driven by “the evidence” alone.
How can we know if policies succeed or fail, and what are the causes of such outcomes? Understanding the nature of these phenomena is riddled with complex methodological challenges, including differing political perspectives, persistent mixed results, ambiguous outcomes, and the issue of success/failure “for whom”? Ironically, the key to understanding policy success and failure lies not in downplaying or ignoring such challenges, but in accepting politicization and complexity as reflective of the messy world of public policy. Gaining insight from such messiness allows a better understanding of phenomena like “good politics but bad policy,” the persistence of some failures over time, and widely differing perspectives on who or what should claim credit for policy success and who or what should be blamed for policy failure.
Michael Mintrom and Joannah Luetjens
In recent years, significant effort has been applied to understanding and empirically testing the concept of policy entrepreneurship in a range of different settings. Despite these efforts, studies to date have tended to focus on policy entrepreneurs in domestic policy settings. Few have articulated the potential role that policy entrepreneurs play in understanding foreign policy decision-making. Coupled with theories and evidence from the field of foreign policy analysis, the concept of policy entrepreneurship lends itself to analyzing how actors in the foreign policy space draw attention to problems, advance workable proposals, and link outcomes to symbolic values. This article introduces and applies a framework for the analysis of policy entrepreneurs seeking to influence foreign policy decision-making. This framework is then used to underpin illustrative case studies of foreign policy entrepreneurs. The variety of recent scholarly contributions regarding policy entrepreneurs and foreign policy suggests that many more opportunities exist for such work to be conducted in the future. This is an exciting prospect. Valuable, generalizable insights are more likely to emerge from such a collective research enterprise if the various individual contributions are informed by greater conceptual coherence.
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.
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.
Stephanie J. Rickard
Policies as diverse as tariffs, exchange rates, and unemployment insurance vary across democratic countries. In an attempt to explain this cross-national variation, scholars have turned to the institutions that govern countries’ elections. The institutions that regulate elections, also known as an electoral system, vary significantly across democracies. Can these varied electoral institutions explain the diversity of policies observed? This question remains unanswered. Despite a growing body of research, little consensus exists as to precisely how electoral institutions affect policy. Why is it so difficult to untangle the effects of electoral institutions on economic policy? One reason for the confusion may be the imprecise manner in which electoral institutions are often measured. Better measures of electoral systems may improve our understanding of their policy effects. Improved theories that clarify the causal mechanism(s) linking electoral systems to policy outcomes will also help to clarify the relationship between electoral systems and policies. To better understand the policy effects of electoral institutions, both theoretical and empirical work must take seriously contextual factors, such as geography, which likely mediate the effects of electoral institutions. Finally, different types of empirical evidence are needed to shed new light on the policy effects of electoral institutions. It is difficult to identify the effects of electoral systems in cross-national studies because of the many other factors that vary across countries. Examining within-country variations, such as changes in district magnitude, may provide useful new insights regarding the effects of electoral institutions on policy.
Diplomacy’s role in foreign policy is hampered by multiple understandings of what diplomacy is and does. A broad definition of diplomacy holds that it encompasses more than the promotion of peaceful international relations. Instead, it applies to the sum of those relations—peaceful, hostile, and everything in between. Thus, foreign relations—so long as they involve the interests, direction, and actions of a sovereign power—may be regarded as being synonymous with diplomatic relations, whereby foreign policy relates to the theory and practice of setting diplomatic priorities; planning for contingencies; advancing strategic, operational, and tactical diplomatic aims; and adjusting those aims to domestic and foreign constraints. This conception of diplomacy is functional: it emphasizes the roles of diplomats and recognizes that many other people perform these roles besides official envoys; and it illustrates that diplomatic settings—and the means, methods, and tools of diplomacy—undergo continuous change. The basic mediating purpose of diplomacy, however, has endured, as has much of its institutional apparatus—embassies, ambassadors, treaties, and so on. This is likely to remain the case so long as there are multiple polities in the world, all having to relate to one another.