by Elizabeth Koebele
19th October 2021

This blog piece was originally posted on the Policy & Politics blog. All articles featured in this blog post are free to access until 31 October 2021

I am thrilled to have begun serving as Digital Associate Editor for Policy & Politics in January 2021. I have spent the last few months taking over this position from my colleague, Oscar Berglund, who now serves as one of the journal’s co-editors.

As many of us are beginning to plan for our policy and politics-focused courses next semester, I figured what better way to celebrate joining the Policy & Politics team than to share with you some of my favourite Policy & Politics articles that make a great fit on a variety of syllabi? I hope this saves you time and effort in mining our recent articles, while also ensuring your course materials reflect the latest research from the frontiers of the discipline.

My initial suggestions are structured around two general topics that I hope many of you find yourself teaching or studying: one focused on knowledge, and one focused on actors/influence. I’m also sharing my top picks for readings on an increasingly popular policy topic: policy diffusion/transfer. In each case, I’ve recommended three articles that represent some of the most significant research we’ve published recently. Please let me know what you think when you’re compiling your reading lists for the start of the academic year. I’d value your feedback and suggestions for future topics to cover.

Expertise and knowledge in policymaking

The topic of expertise in policymaking has become critical over the last few years, especially as the rise in participatory governance practices, often intended to expand knowledge and perspectives in policy processes, has been countered by the proliferation of “fake news.” I teach about this topic in both my undergraduate- and graduate-level policy process courses, as well as in topical seminars (e.g. environmental policy, climate policy) where key “expertise” often comes in many forms. In this vein, I’d highly recommend Johan Christensen’s Expert Knowledge and Policy-Making: A Multi-Disciplinary Research Agenda. It provides students with an excellent critical review of how expert knowledge in policymaking is represented across separate literatures and explores how experts may influence policy. In doing so, it seeks to reframe the research agenda around the influence of experts by recognising and foregrounding the political aspects of expertise and context, offering common ground for future research that transcends disciplinary silos.

These ideas are complemented by an article entitled The role of scientific knowledge in dealing with complex policy problems under conditions of uncertainty. In it, author Hanna Ylostalo argues that, rather than being fixed, the role of scientific knowledge within policy reforms is constantly negotiated and contingent, and it is often constrained by governance. She claims that, instead of a practical tool to solve real-life problems in an increasingly complex world, governance can be seen as a political system that involves new forms of public engagement with politics and knowledge-production. This opens up possibilities for different forms of knowledge, as well as more participatory forms of knowledge production, to influence policymaking.

The final article I recommend on this topic asks Does knowledge brokering facilitate evidence-based policy? A review of existing knowledge and an agenda for future research. In this critical review of knowledge brokering, a strategy intended to improve the use of evidence in policymaking, the authors examine in-depth how and why brokering is being used in policy processes and with what outcomes. They claim that the existing literature isn’t clear about what knowledge brokering is or whether it works, which is particularly concerning given that many governments are investing significant resources into knowledge brokering processes. This review article takes the first step toward better understanding the use and impacts of knowledge brokering by explicitly confronting the politics of evidence use.

Actors and Influence in the Policy Process

My second teaching topic explores a classic policy studies topic: how different actors influence the policy process. As more diverse actors become involved in policymaking and implementation, I recommend From policy entrepreneurs to policy entrepreneurship – actors and actions in public policy innovation by Giliberto Capano and Maria Galanti. In it, the authors argue that, although policy entrepreneurs are considered key actors in public policy, there are so many varied definitions of what they do that it is difficult to use the concept in a systematic, analytical way. Following a critique of the concept of policy entrepreneurs, the authors reframe the concept as a pattern of action (involving different types of actors) focused on innovation promotion via problem framing, solution development, coalition building, and seeking opportunities and attention.

My second recommendation on this topic is What motivates street-level bureaucrats to implement the reforms of elected politicians? In it, authors Don S. Lee and Soonae Park demonstrate that the behaviour of bureaucrats is shaped by, and changes with, street-level factors, such as bureaucrats’ own policy dispositions and their perception of discretion in implementation. Drawing on interviews with civil servants in South Korea, their analysis provides behavioural insights into the conditions under which street-level bureaucrats are more likely to respond to elected politicians’ policy change, as opposed to abiding by existing rules in implementation decisions. Given many students’ interest in bureaucratic discretion, especially related to expertise (as described above), this paper is bound to make a splash.

My final recommendation for this theme is Co-experience, co-production and co-governance: an ecosystem approach to the analysis of value creation by Kirsty Strokosch and Stephen P. Osborne. Here, the authors explore the interplay between the participation of service users and third sector organisations and the implications for creating public value. Their analysis illuminates complex factors that enable and constrain value creation, emphasising the interplay of participatory processes and the wider societal context. As such, this article offers us a deeper theoretical understanding of how different actors influence value creation processes within a policy “ecosystem.”

Policy Diffusion

Finally, many of us who teach cutting-edge theories of the policy process include a lesson on policy diffusion. On this topic, I recommend a recent notable article from Daniel Mallinson entitled Growth and Gaps: A Meta-Review of Policy Diffusion Studies in the American States. Despite its empirical focus in the U.S., Mallinson’s work speaks to policy scholars worldwide by drawing out lessons from a systematic review and meta-analysis of how policy innovation occurs and why. By illuminating important biases in policy diffusion research, the article makes critical recommendations for addressing those biases, increasing international collaboration on policy innovation research, and improving the synthesis of research results to better understand diffusion processes.

The second article I recommend is The role of super interest groups in public policy diffusion. Through an analysis of U.S. state-level gun laws, the authors demonstrate empirically the leverage of the ‘sustained organisational influence’ on policy diffusion. They illustrate how super interest groups can shape policy development and diffusion in a way that undermines the wants and needs of a democratic electorate, which directly links to the discussion of influence on policymaking above.

My final recommended article is Lhawang Ugyel and Carsten Djaugberg’s fascinating piece on Successful policy transfer and public sector reform in developing countries, which describes a pathway by which policies may diffuse from western democracies to developing contexts. Through an empirical analysis of data from the civil service in Bhutan, the authors highlight two conditions that enable domestic control of the policy transfer process: strong internal motivation for engaging in policy transfer and the establishment or adaptation of institutions to manage processes of policy transfer. They conclude that when these conditions apply, developing countries can engage in successful voluntary policy transfer and retain control of the process.

I hope you and your students enjoy the latest insights into this exciting field we work in. We feel privileged to name some of the leading thinkers in the discipline among our authors, and we hope you find their work as stimulating and thought provoking as we do!

Elizabeth Koebele, Digital Associate Editor for Policy & Politics, and Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Nevada, Reno.


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