INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON PUBLIC POLICYInternational Conference on Public Policy

Policy Design: Principles and Processes

Chair :

  • Giliberto Capano, University of Bologna-Forl, [capano]


Policy design extends to both the means or mechanisms through which policy goals are given effect, and to the goals themselves, since goal articulation inevitably involves considerations of feasibility, or what is practical or possible to achieve in given conjunctures or circumstances given the means at hand. That is, public policies are the result of efforts made by governments to alter aspects of their own or social behaviour in order to carry out some end or purpose and are comprised of complex arrangements of policy goals and policy means. These efforts can be more or less systematic and the ends and purposes attempted to be attained are multifarious and wide- ranging.

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Should all of these efforts be thought of as embodying a conscious ‘design’? In most cases the answer is ‘yes’. Even when the goals pursued are not laudable, such as personal enrichment or military adventurism, or when the knowledge or the means utilized is less than scientific, such as religious or ideologically inspired dogma or implementation preferences, and even when these efforts are much more ad hoc and much less systematic than might be desired, as long as a desire for effective resource use in goal attainment guides policy-making, it will involve some effort at design. However, this does not mean that all designs are equal or generate equal results and systematic study of policy designs and design processes are required for the field to advance.

As an area of study Policy Design engendered a large literature in the 1980s and 1990s with prominent figures in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia such as Lester Salamon, Patricia Ingraham, Malcolm Goggin, John Dryzek, Hans Bressers, Helen Ingram and Anne Schneider, G.B. Doern, Stephen Linder and B. Guy Peters, Renate Mayntz, Christopher Hood, Eugene Bardach, Evert Vedung, Peter May, Frans van Nispen and Michael Trebilock writing extensively on policy formulation, policy instrument choice and the idea of designing policy institutions and outcomes. After the early 1990s, however, this literature tailed off and although some writings on policy design have continued to flourish in specific fields such as economics, energy and environmental studies, in the fields of public administration and public policy more generally the idea of ‘design’ was often replaced by the study of institutional forms and decentralized governance arrangements.

The set of panels proposed herein is aimed at revisiting the older literature and re-establishing design as a serious area of concern in the policy sciences. The Panel is composed of three topics:

  • (1) Policy Design: What is it? - which explores the definitions, metaphors and concepts used in the study of policy design as both a subject (noun) and a process (verb);
  • (2) Policy Design: Who Does It? - which explores the process of policy formulation and how design considerations enter into it; and
  • (3) Policy Design: Where Is It Going? - which provides an opportunity for discussions about contemporary trends and directions in policy design(s) and design research.

Linder, S. H., and B. G. Peters. “The Analysis of Design or the Design of Analysis?” Policy Studies Review 7, no. 4 (1988): 738–750.

11. Session 1: Designing Public Policies – The Dynamics of Policy Formulation

Thursday 27th June, 18h00-20h00, Amphi D IEP

Chair: Giliberto Capano; Discussant: Cesar Cruz-Rubio

Why are Action Alternatives Restricted when Politicians Deliberate over Policy Design? Perola Öberg, Martin Lundin and Jonas Thelander, Uppsala University
PDF - 325 kb

PDF - 325 kb

Starting with the wrong policy instrument is more dangerous than using the right instrument poorly. (Linder & Peters 1990, 303). Hence, ensuring that a wide range of instruments is considered (ibid, 309), is crucial in order to produce better policies (Linder and Peters 1988, 740). In spite of this, the policy design process has been severely neglected in political science and public administration lately (Howlett & Lejano 2012). We want to contribute to the remedy of this deficiency by addressing the “centre-of-gravity” in Lasswell’s policy process perspective (Linder and Peters 1988, 740), by investigating if (and how) different action alternatives are produced, deliberated upon, and what kind of biases there are in this part of the policy design process. With original, quantitative data from local politics within four policy areas in Sweden, we have studied “specific policy tool calibrations” (Howlett 2009) with interesting results. In only twenty percent of the cases are more than one alternative presented to decision makers, and only fifty percent of politicians and bureaucrats believe that “all reasonable alternatives have been investigated”. Highly educated politicians, without powerful position and belonging to parties in minority, are more inclined to believe that other reasonable alternatives are not considered enough. Hence, there is an “actor bias” (Linder and Peters 1990, 305), which is supported also by the fact that half of the respondents believe that the main reason why few alternatives are presented is that “politicians only want one alternative” or that “only one alternative is politically feasible”. There might be technical feasibility biases too, but this is contradicted by the fact that reasonable alternatives are less omitted in the technical area of environment policy than in education and labor policies. However, there seems to be an instrumental bias too, i.e. “a conception of the ´best´ solution that shapes views of a policy problem” (Linder and Peters 1990, 305), since a main reason why few alternatives are investigated is that “it is obvious what is best” according to politicians as well as bureaucrats. More analyses are needed before we have solid explanations for what drives instrumental, actor or technical biases when policy design alternatives are finally presented to decision makers.
Linder, S. and G. Peters (1988). “The analysis of design or the design of analysis”, Policy Studies Review 7 (4), 738-750.
Linder, S. and G. Peters (1990). “Policy formulation and the challenge of conscious design”, Evaluation and Program Planning 13, 303-311.
Howlett, M. (2009). “Governance modes, policy regimes and operational plans: A multi-level nested model of policy instrument choice and policy design”, Policy Sciences 42, 73-89.
Howlett, M. and R. Lejano (2012). “Tales from the Crypt: The rise and fall (and rebirth?) of policy design”, forthcoming in Administration & Society, published on-line 29 october 2012, DOI: 10.1177/0095399712459725.

Policy Instrument Choice in Times of Crisis –A Comparative Examination of Financial Policy Practices in 8 EU Countries (2008-2010) Miklos Sebok, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
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PDF - 569.6 kb

The paper presents the results of a study of instrument choice in 7 Western and one Eastern European Country. Based on an analysis of major pieces of legislation during the period, it is argued that various forms of institutional change was the policy of choice for decision-makers in mitigating the effects of the financial crisis. Moreover, in some cases the newly created agencies and funds enjoyed a significant degree of bureaucratic autonomy. In a parallel process, a gradual transformation of extant financial regulation as well as fiscal and monetary policy regimes contributed to an upheaval in the ideational structure that underpinned these policy areas for almost three decades. In this, a shift from price and fiscal stability to financial stability signalled a new set of goals for decision-makers, and a realignment of policy instruments duly followed. These two developments are presented by way of a coding and textual analysis of relevant legislative and government documents, and also the statutes of newly created (or reorganized) agencies. The results indicate that exogenous shocks—such as financial crises, or power plant meltdowns—initiate policy change with distinct policy instrument choices. The ongoing „blame game”, the greater degree of policy uncertainty associated with crisis situations, and the emerging need for policy expertise to solve complex problems may explain the organisational preference and the delegation of authorities to (quasi-)independent agencies which was prevalent in the sample. A dissatisfaction with the failure of mainstream policy thinking in forecasting the crisis, and also with the ineffective market-based policies led to an expanded role for bureaucratic coordination. These results are consistent with the proposed framework of crisis-driven delegation in policy instrument choice. They also bode well for a generalization of the theoretical framework beyond economic policy and the case of the financial crisis of the 2000s.

Designing adaptation and mitigation policies in France Stéphane la Branche, Research Fellow, Pacte, Grenoble
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PDF - 227.9 kb

Science and policy imagination: the case of adaptation in Territorial Climate and Energy Plans in France. In 2012, France legally imposed Territorial Climate and Energy Plans (TCEPs), forced all communities or ‘Community of communities’ to implement climate and energy governance measures at the territorial level, including both mitigation and adaptation measures. Mitigation measures are rather well known and are rather well developed in the transport and housing sector (and by extension urban management, and soil uses) and do not represent much of an issue in terms of policy innovation. But this is not the case of adaptation, also an obligatory sector which much less well known and understood and for which the level of scientific and political uncertainty is much greater. Indeed, adaptation measures imply a high level of scientific knowledge and uncertainty in terms of impacts on nature but also on human activity. The, while mitigation measures can take place now and can be evaluated in the short term (diminution of CO² emissions due to personal vehicles, number of buildings respecting energy consumption targets, etc…) adaptation requires a different approach: i) deciding what the probable increase in temperature might be at different time frames (2030, 2050) and ii) more importantly, try to evaluate what the impacts of such an increase might be on rainfall, avalanche, agricultural production, heat waves in the summer and so on. These then all combine to human factors and issues: a younger population will suffer less from a heat wave than an aging one; a ski-dependent local economy will be more vulnerable to a decline in snowfall…. More generally, poorer, less educated populations will be more vulnerable to climate change than wealthier and more educated groups. In other words, developing an adaptation strategy requires not only a relatively high level of natural scientific input but also an association with social science and economic territorialised analyses of what these impacts may mean in the future. Thus, a backward management approach is necessary, with for example a prediction for what these impacts might be in 2050 and then, backtracking to what should be done now or soon to reduce the social and economic effects of climate change. Another issue emerges: the high level of uncertainty of these impacts. Thus, a significant input of scientific expertise is necessary in the development of climate adaptation policy. But this expertise meets policy and institutional logics that may or may not favor its development. Hence, the need for a policy analyst that can bridge the gap. One of the major difficulties is that neither mitigation nor adaptation are sector specific; they are cross sectorial. In addition, local urbanism, mobility, housing and other planning documents have to be conformed to the TCEPs. This has direct consequences on agenda setting, institutional arrangement and policy design, since traditionally separated sectors must now be harmonised toward general climate and energy goals.
The first part of our presentation will present TCEPs and then offer reflections on three case studies: two cities (mitigation and adaptation in Grenoble and adaptation in Dijon, which has delayed the issue of transversal adaptation policy design), and the construction of a TCEP in the Gresivaudan, a semi urban, semi rural and mountainous territory. Lessons for the operational dimensions of “policy design” will be drawn out.

Process of public policy formulation in developing countries Prof.Dr. Do Phu Hai, Faculty of Public Policy, Graduate Academy of Social Science (GASS), Vietnam
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PDF - 83.8 kb

Policy formulation clearly is a critical phase of the policy process which also is an explicit subject of policy design. The public policy formulation is part of the pre-decision phase of policy making including to craft the goals and priorities and options, costs and benefits of each options, externalities of each option. It involves identifying a set of policy alternatives and public policy tools to address a problem as a result that a prepared set of solutions is done for the final solutions from which decision makers actually choose by judging the feasibility, political acceptance, costs and benefits. But the attention to policy formulation is also embedded in work on policy communities and policy networks, who does the design? (see Chap 6, Studying Public Policy (Howlett, 2003)). On the other words, the formulation process will need the motivation and participation of different actors with their entrances of new actors and new ideas who will actually play their roles in the policy design process. In the context of developing countries, this paper aims to examine the model of policy formulation and the type of feasible solutions or options for resolving the policy problems. Thus, the structure of the sub-system with two components of the discourse community and interest network will decide the participation of different policy actors and final chosen public policy solutions.

Policy Experimentation as Policy Design? Evidence from China’s Urban Housing Policy Change Zhilin Liu, Tsinghua University & Ciqi Mei, Tsinghua University
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PDF - 362 kb

Policy experimentation has long been considered as a useful tool for policy design. Merits of policy experimentation is rather obvious, for example, to alleviate information asymmetry problem caused by policy maker’s lack of local knowledge and to prevent possible catastrophic consequences of the implementation of an untested policy. However, a more ambitious perspective on policy experimentation, as the term “experimental governance” implies, suggests that policy experimentation could go beyond the scope of evidence-based policy making that treats policy experimentation as no more than a tool to test and improve a policy proposal. Instead, policy experimentation itself can generate novel policy solutions and thus, the job for policy makers is simply to set the goals, grant discretion to local managers, assess different policy experiments, and to promote policy learning/diffusion among different units. In one word, policy experimentation is not merely a tool for policy design; it is policy
The fact that China has experienced a gradual and rather successful institutional
transformation, compared to the “big bang” reform in other post-socialist countries, has
provided new ammunition for this type of argument. Local policy innovation has been often cited as the driving force and stabilizer for China’s incremental reforms in the past three decades. To make China an even more compelling case for the proponents of experimental governance, desirable policy changes have happened in the persistent authoritarian regime in China, where sound institutional attributes for rational policy design are largely in absence.
However, we argue that this account of experimentation-driven policy change in China is rather misleading and has stretched too thin to include contradictory mechanisms to explain policy reproduction and policy change. Tracing the process and dynamics of China’s urban housing reform from 1980s till now, we instead provide another account for China’s policy changes by focusing on the interests of dominant political agent,. We find that the center – i.e. the policy designer, did not passively wait for local policy innovations to happen nor willingly changed the policy according to the experience of “successful” local experiments; rather, the center’s choice out of its own interests has determined the course of policy experimentation and policy changes in China.

11. Session 2: Policy Instruments and Policy Design: Examining the Toolbox

Friday 28th June, 8h30-10h30, Amphi D IEP

Chair: Ciqi Mei
Discussant: Giliberto Capano

From "open up the policy-making process" towards “open policy designs” César N. Cruz-Rubio
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PDF - 790.5 kb

Due to the impact of the Open-Government, as an emerging paradigm, over several state-reform processes around the world, and based on a theoretical discussion proposed (Ramírez-Alujas y Cruz Rubio, 2012) about what we initially may define as “open policy designs” as a subject of study, this paper seeks to identify and explore the main elements in defining and analyzing policy designs in the face of the Open Government perspective. Specifically, this effort addresses several questions: What policy-design dimensions (tools, instruments and rationales) may define a policy design as an “open policy design”? How and why these dimensions are key determinants in defining it as a subject of study, that may be consider as different from other types of ‘normal’ policy designs? Is it just a matter of a specific and selective use of instruments what defines a given policy design as ‘open’? Are both the Open-Government principles and the progressive opening up of the policy-making process around the world, the tendencies that are shaping a new (or alternative) mode of governance? And if so, what kind of directions should take policy-research in order to cope with this subject of study adequately?

Communicative design in public policy José Real-Dato, Cristina Moreno, University of Almería

Communication has a key importance in contemporary democratic politics. Governments, parties and other political actors greatly rely on extensive communication campaigns aiming to influence citizens’ preferences, attitudes, opinions and behaviour in order to get legitimacy and support for their demands and actions. In turn, citizens depend on information coming from different kind of media to keep political agents accountable. In public policy, communication is of great importance too. This is understood both by policy practitioners and scholars. In policy practice, using the policy stages-model as a heuristic, communication processes pervade the whole policy process, from the struggle on problem definition to how policy decisions are justified before the public and other participants, the way underlying policy beliefs or implementation instructions are communicated to the different actors, or the pertinent information is gathered in order to provide adequate feedback. Policy scholars – particularly those linked to ‘constructivist/argumentative’ approaches – see the policy process as a series of communicative processes and meaning struggles that shape the ‘discursive constructs’ (Fischer 2003) that constitute public policy. In sum, communication is directly related to all the relevant dimensions of public policy: power (who decides/participates in decision-making process, who is benefited/takes the burden), legitimacy (which values shape public policy and how are they accepted/made acceptable), performance (effectiveness and efficiency of policy measures), and accountability (how citizens control policy agents). In this paper we pay attention to what we term as the ‘communicative design’ of a public policy. By this, we denote the way policy-making institutions and policy designs (Schneider and Ingram, 1993) shape the communication processes affecting the above mentionned relevant dimensions of public policy – thus communicative designs are embedded in observable instances, available for empirical analysis. Our aim is to set out the conceptual building blocks to understand the relationship between the ‘communicative design’ and those dimensions.

Designing Incentives to Fight Poverty: Who Gets What, When, and How? Elisa Chelle, Institute of Political Studies, Grenoble, France
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PDF - 140.8 kb

Incentives-based social policy offers one particular thing: financial rewards for specific behaviors. That could be taking their kid to the doctor, accepting a job or working more hours, or for their children having a good grade, getting a library card or graduating from college. Each specific behavior has a pricetag in this type of policy. Experimented in more than 40 countries in the world – mainly Africa and Latin America, but also India, Turkey or the U.K. –, they are called “Conditional Cash Transfers Programs”.Mayor Bloomberg opted to launch the very first American version of these transfers in 2007, for the inhabitants of poorest neighborhoods of New York City to “do the right thing”. The program is called “Opportunity NYC”. France recently reformed its welfare system. The “new way” also consists in financially “incentivizing” the poor. The RSA (Revenue for Active Solidarity) ended social assistance as an entitlement. Experimented in 2007, it became a law in 2009. It proposes a financial incentive so that people who “work more, earn more”. In other words the Sarkozy administration wanted to make work a better-paid situation than social assistance.
As a political goal, incentivizing the poor seems plain and simple. Implementing such a program raises a number of questions though. Incentives to the poor, but which ones? Poorest, near poor, black or latino communities? What kind of incentives should be used? Financial, in-kind, large one, small ones? At which frequency? “Rewarding” which behavior? Should kids be a part of it? What administration allocates the money? Public, private, charity? All of these questions have no easy answer. Choices are not only made upon technical matters. Based on empirical research, this comparative paper analyzes design considerations (actors, principles, processes) for both French and American programs, crossing policy and politics concerns.

Comparative Regulatory Design: Singapore and Hong Kong JJ Woo, NUS
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PDF - 530.2 kb

Buoyed by the growing affluence of the region, Hong Kong and Singapore have risen through the ranks to become two of the most competitive international financial centres (IFC’s) of the world today. Underlying the success of both IFC’s are the dual roles played by financial regulation in simultaneously ensuring the stability of the financial system and promoting the development of particular financial market niches through the provision of direct and indirect incentives. In other words, financial regulation has been used as a tool for promoting financial sector growth, on top of its conventional role of maintaining stability and transparency in financial markets.
This paper delineates and critically analyzes the stabilizing and promotional roles of financial regulation in driving the success of Singapore and Hong Kong as IFC’s and more importantly, the manner through which these two roles are borne out in the design and implementation of each IFC’s regulatory policy instrument mix. Based on a historical analysis of the development of financial regulation in these two IFC’s and drawing from official documents as well as interviews with regulatory officials, I attempt to identify regulatory policy instruments used in IFC development as well as assess their rationales and functions. Methodological issues pertaining to the identification and analysis of a regulatory policy instrument mix are also discussed.

11. Session 3: Policy Design: Theory and Concepts

Friday 28th June, 10h45-12h45, Amphi D IEP

Chair: Per-Ola Aberg
Discussant: Elisa Chelle

When theory meets reality: policy design from a behavioral perspective Helle Ørsted Nielsen & Anders Branth Pedersen, Aarhus University

In the environmental policy arena, scholars and policy makers have increasingly favored market-based policy instruments, following theoretical arguments that they are both more effective and efficient compared to e.g. command and control instruments. (Sprenger, 2000; Tietenberg, 1990; OECD, 2001). Recent and noteworthy examples are the European Union’s adoption of an emission trading scheme for CO2-emissions (EEA, 2005), the EU directive on taxation of energy products in 2003 (Speck et al., 2006) and pesticide and NOx taxes in single countries such as Denmark and Sweden. However, while these instruments fare well in ex-ante evaluations, it is less clear whether economic policy instruments deliver in the real world. For instance, the Danish pesticide tax, which represents the highest pesticide tax rate in the world, has fallen far short of delivering on the promises created by ex-ante analyses (Pedersen et al. 2011). We claim that an important reason for the failure is that the policy was built on economic models assuming fully rational economic agents, which does not adequately capture the decision making patterns of farmers. To substantiate this claim the paper presents data from a study examining decision parameters in farmers’ pesticide planning. The study was based on a survey of more than 1,100 Danish farmers. Using cluster analysis, the study shows that a substantial number of farmers, about one third of the respondents, are more concerned with their crop yield than with economic yield when they make decisions about pesticides, making them less responsive to price incentives than generally assumed in ex ante policy models. This paper therefore aims to contribute to a renewed policy design research agenda by discussing the need for including proper behavioral models in policy design.

Policy Portfolios and Their Design: A Meta-Analysis M. Howlett, SFU and NUS
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PDF - 268 kb

It is now well acknoweldged that most policies develop as bundles or mixes of different policy instruments or as “policy portfolios”. However most of the literature on policy tools continues to focus on single tools. This essay reviews the literature of tools and draws lessons from it for the exploration and study of policy portfolios. It examines such issues as the nature of tool interactions such as substitution and complementary and well as conflictual effects, the nature of optimality in mixes and other relevant aspects of the study of tool clusters.

A typology of four tools’ choice policy mixes in policy design process Giliberto Capano, University of Bologna-Forl & Andrea Lippi , University of Florence
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PDF - 576.2 kb

The current debate on policy design includes the policy mixes by which policy makers perceive and decide which instruments have to be selected. In the recent literature, the instruments seem to be addressed by an ongoing scientific propensity to examine the presumed emergence of ‘new’ tools in governing beside to the ‘old’ ones already embodied in former classifications. On the contrary, these instruments are often a result of a mediation inside the policy design process whenever the political actors interpret the old instruments and they reshape them in different way without any real innovation. This. apparently calls for imitation, stratification and confusion in tool choice selection, without telling us to what extent these innovative combinations are really new. The emergent evidence is that of a recurrent contingency by which the policy makers adopt a policy mix of tools.
The paper suggests a theoretical contribution debating the current literature on policy instruments and on policy mix. The paper aims at proposing an interpretative typology synthesizing four empirical contingencies engendering different policy mix of tools: hybridization, stratification, contamination and persistence.

Second Best Governance? Governments and Policy Design in the Imperfect World of Health. Care Delivery in China, India and Thailand M.Ramesh, National University of Singapore
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PDF - 792.7 kb

The objective of the paper is to assess the usefulness of conceptions of different modes of governance for understanding policy designs by studying the experience with hierarchical and non-hierarchical governance modes in the health care sector in China, India, and Thailand. The paper shows their experience with non-hierarchical designs to have largely been disappointing and that all three, but especially Thailand, are in the process of reverting to a more hierarchical mode of service delivery.
The conclusion from this study is that non-hierarchical governance is not a substitute for or an improvement upon hierarchical governance in health care due to the many market and government failures that afflict the sector and affect the ability of different governance modes to function effectively.
The hierarchical mode of government is also imperfect but less than the alternatives in delivering health care.