Monthly Archives: March 2022

Save the Date: Conference on Policy Process Research, January 10-14, Denver, USA

Save the Date: January 10 – 14 2023 | Denver, CO USA
Advancing Policy Process Theories and Methods
Call for papers, roundtables panels, and workshops coming soon!
The Conference on Policy Process Research (COPPR) mission is to advance the scholarship of policy process theory and methods. It embraces a broad interpretation of theories and methods, supporting a plurality of theoretical perspectives. It welcomes both emergent and established theories and methods and questions of what it means to conduct science and engage with our communities. COPPR seeks to support both established and emerging research communities and build bridges among them. COPPR includes critical assessments of the lessons learned from the past, challenges to contemporary boundaries, proposals for innovative research agendas, and arguments of what our future should be. 
Find Out More
COPPR targets seven components of policy process research:
Advancing research within policy process theories and methods;
Developing connections between different theories and methods;
Establishing a critical, constructive, creative, and congenial culture;  
Enlarging the network among policy process researchers, particularly among under-represented and minority communities;
Mentoring students and early career researchers;
Learning from our history and supporting innovative and emergent ideas for our future;
Engaging the challenges facing society and developing scholarship that advances human dignity.  

COPPR ORGANIZERS & SPONSORS
CO-COORDINATORS
Tanya Heikkila and Chris Weible, University of Colorado Denver; Michael D. Jones, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

JOURNAL SPONSORS
Policy & Politics
Policy Studies Journal


ORGANIZING COMMITTEE
Gwen Arnold, University of California, Davis
Paul Cairney, University of Stirling
Claire Dunlop, University of Exeter, UK
Raul Pacheco-Vega, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO)
Evangelia Petridou, Mid Sweden University
Osmany Porto de Oliveira, Federal University of São Paulo, São Paulo
Caroline Schlaufer, University of Bern
Saba Siddiki, Syracuse University
Mallory SoRelle, Duke University
Samuel Workman, West Virginia University

INSTITUTIONAL SPONSORS
School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver
Center for Policy and Democracy, University of Colorado Denver
University of Tennessee, Knoxville Department of Political Science
Howard Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, University of Tennessee
Linda and Peter deLeon Fund for Policy and Democracy

LOCATION
The COPPR 2023 is hosted by the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado, Denver, in Denver, U.S.A. Denver is the capital of Colorado and the second-largest city in the Mountain West region of the United States. Known as “The Mile-High City”, Denver sits at an altitude of 5,280 feet (1,600 m) above sea level and lies where the Great Plains give way to the Rocky Mountains. Denver is home to nearly 700,000 people in a fast-growing metropolitan area of nearly 3.5 million people. The city embraces its cowboy and mining past but also looks toward the future with a thriving innovative economy, vibrant arts scene, dozens of great outdoor festivals, and distinct neighborhoods, each offering a unique experience. You’ll find everything a cosmopolitan city has to offer, including spectacular views of, and easy access to, the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Downtown Denver and the campus is approximately 26 miles from the airport and takes 40 minutes by light rail. Information about recommended lodging will be provided in fall 2022.

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Policymaking to reduce gender inequalities: Lessons and challenges

Dr Emily St.Denny, Lecturer in Public Policy, University of Copenhagen

Dr Paul Cairney, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, Faculty of Arts and Humanities

Dr Sean Kippin, Lecturer in Public Policy, Faculty of Arts and Humanities

Every year, March 8th marks International Women’s Day: an official UN holiday to draw attention to women’s rights and gender equality, celebrating achievements and highlighting challenges. There is a strong consensus that reducing gender inequality is the right thing to do and has wider economic and social benefits. There is also evidence that some gender gaps have narrowed, for example in education.

Nevertheless, significant inequalities still persist, despite policy interventions from states and organisations like the European Union and the United Nations. For instance, women remain underrepresented in politics and in corporate leadership, are more likely to be poor, and are frequently victims of gendered violence, harassment and discrimination.

As part of our research for the IMAJINE project, we studied how governments might make better policies to reduce gender inequalities. Ideas abound, and feminist civil society and policy actors have generated new visions to improve gender equality policy and policymaking.

Despite this, many advocates remain disappointed by slow progress and poor outcomes. We therefore sought to analyse the rich literature on gender inequality policy to identify potential lessons to help policymakers more effectively tackle the issue. In particular we looked at the case of ‘Gender mainstreaming’ as one example of an influential policy agenda that has gained global prominence.

Overall, we identify three challenges facing policymakers seeking to make and deliver effective inequality reduction policies:

Challenge 1: Defining equality

Gender equality is an ambiguous and contested term. Interpretations of how and why gender inequality constitutes a problem vary significantly and beliefs about how best to address it are subject to ongoing debate. We can identify some common ground, with broad consensus that ‘gender inequality’ refers to the fact that some individuals, especially women, face discrimination, hardships, or missed opportunities on the basis of their gender. Nevertheless, when policy actors seek to make sense of gender equality as a policy goal, they contribute to three different interpretations of the problem based on what they consider ‘equality’ to mean. These different interpretations lead to different diagnoses of the solution and, ultimately, different forms of public action.

  • Equality of treatment: women and men are the same and therefore deserving of equal treatment (e.g. establish of anti-discrimination laws).
  • Equality of opportunity: there are differences between men and women that identify women as deserving of special protection or affirmative action to redress socially and historically entrenched inequalities.
  • Equality of outcome/impact: focus on equal outcomes, for example through ‘gender mainstreaming’ – a strategy to ensure that the goal of advancing gender equality is actively integrated into all stages of the policymaking process across all sectors.

This ambiguity can be assessed in different ways. On the one hand, it has allowed broad coalitions to mobilise in its defense and elevate it as an important issue. On the other, ambiguity has made it possible to label a wide range of policies as ‘gender equality policies’, some of which are (intentionally and unintentionally) ineffective or become so in the absence of coordination with other policy efforts.

Policymakers seeking to improve gender equality through public action must therefore grapple with a trade-off: define the term very specifically and perhaps increase its meaningfulness as a concrete policy goal but risk narrowing the possible impact of policy and alienating those with alternative interpretations.

Challenge 2: Designing effective policies

Policymakers can choose from different instruments to craft their response, but options are limited by calculations of what is feasible.

One choice is between ‘soft’ instruments that rely on voluntary take-up, such as benchmarking and the issuance of recommendations, and ‘hard’ instruments, which are imposed and include penalties for non-compliance.

For example, in the case of the EU, we can contrast the publication of gender equality data by the European Institute for Gender Equality, which is intended to incentivize Member States to continually strive to improve their position, with the introduction of the EU Work-Life Balance Directive, which requires Member States to introduce earmarked paternity leave.

There is a tendency for soft instruments to be associated with a weaker commitment to gender equality, held responsible for a dilution of policy efficacy over time. Our research suggests, however, that soft instruments have their uses. In particular, since they do not require strong consensus to adopt, they are easier to introduce and adapt to local circumstances. For this reason, they may also serve as a useful way to prime support across the policy community ahead of trying to introduce harder and more binding instruments.

Policymakers seeking to improve efforts to reduce gender inequality should therefore think carefully about policy design in relation to overall coherence, or the extent to which policy actions mutually reinforce each other. Seen this way, policy coherence becomes an ongoing and everyday concern about the extent to which instruments and actions work effectively together over time, rather than simply at the moment of introduction. This may involve trade-offs over instrument selection as well as policy goals, such as whether to focus on securing immediate material objectives or achieving longer-term strategic goals. 

Challenge 3: More than an implementation gap

An ‘implementation gap’ refers to the discrepancy between policy choices and actual outcomes. Thinking of the challenge of contemporary gender equality policy as an implementation gap is too reductive. It is not just that effective gender equality policy is hard to make and even harder to implement effectively. It is also that the way we make policy, and many of the people involved, actively contribute to sustaining gender inequalities.

Some of this can be attributed to resistance by some policymakers to gender equality as a legitimate and desirable goal. However, a lot can be attributed to the fact that many well-intentioned policy actors have not grasped the structural nature of gender inequality. Consequently, they are ill-equipped to address inequalities and inadvertently reproduce them. This can be seen when gender equality policy takes the shape of bureaucratic  instruments and ‘tick box’ exercises rather than a more meaningful commitment to reforming the way we make and deliver policy. At the same time, making gender everybody’s business also risks making it nobody’s business if specialized equality institutions are dismantled for being redundant.

Overall, what our research suggests is that policymakers must let go of the illusion that gender equality can be achieved as a matter of mundane routine, without having to make fundamentally political decisions about big questions including: what do we mean by equality, what does it look like in practice, and are we willing to get out of our comfort zone to achieve it?

This post first appeared on the University of Stirling Public Policy blog

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Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: Contradictions in policy and policymaking

It would be a mistake to equate public policy with whatever a government says it is doing (or wants to do).

The most obvious, but often unhelpful, explanation for this statement is that politicians are not sincere when making policy promises, or not competent enough to see them through.

This focus on sincerity and ‘political will’ can be useful, but only scratches the surface of explanation.

The bigger source of explanation comes from the routine, pervasive, and inevitable contradictions of policy and policymaking.

The basic idea of contradictory aims and necessary trade-offs

I want to eat crisps and lose weight, but making a commitment to both does not achieve both. Rather, I cycle between each aim, often unpredictably, producing what might appear to be an inconsistent approach to my wellbeing.

These problems only get worse when more people and aims are involved. Indeed, a general description of ‘politics’ regards trying to find ways to resolve the many different preferences of many people in the same society. These preferences are intransitive, prompting policy actors to try to manipulate choice situations, or produce effective stories or narratives, to encourage one choice over another. Even if successful in once case, the overall impact of political action is not consistent.

The inevitable result of politics is that policymakers want to prioritise many policy aims and the aims that undermine them. When they pursue many contradictory aims, they have to make trade-offs and prioritise some aims over others.  Sometimes, this choice is explicit. Sometimes, you have to work out what a government’s real priorities are when they seem sincerely committed to so many things. If so, we should not deduce government policy overall from specific statements and policies.

This basic idea plays out in many different ways, including:

  • Policymakers need to address many contradictory demands

Contradictions are inevitable when policymakers seek to offer policy benefits to many different groups for different reasons. Some benefits are largely rhetorical, others more substantive.

  • Ambiguity allows policy actors to downplay contradictions (temporarily) when generating support.

Contradictions are masked by ambiguity, such as when many different actors support the same vague ambition for very different reasons.

  • Policy silos contribute to contradictory action

Contradictions are exacerbated by inevitable and pervasive policy silos or ‘communities’ that seem immune to ‘holistic’ government. They multiply when governments have many departments pursuing many different aims. There may be a vague hope for joined-up policy, but a strong rationale for policy communities to specialise and become insulated.

The power to make policies – or create or amend policy instruments – is spread across many different venues of authority. If so, a key aim – stated often – is to find ways to cooperate to avoid contradictory policies and practices. The logical consequence of this distribution of powers, and the continuous search for meaningful cooperation, is that such contradictions are routine features, not bugs, of political systems.

Contradictions are a feature of organisational and systemic rules and norms, in which the rules on paper are not the rules in use.

  • Policymaking systems exacerbate contradictions

Contradictions emerge from  complex policymaking systems, in which unexpected outcomes emerge despite central government action.

Some of these outcomes simply emerge from routine policy delivery, when the actors carrying out policy have different ideas than the actors sending them instructions. Or, implementing actors do not have the resources or clarity to do what they think they are being told.

Examples of contradictions in policy and policymaking

Most governments are committed rhetorically (and often sincerely) to the public health agenda ‘Health in All Policies’ but also the social and economic policies that undermine it. The same goes for the more general aim of ‘prevention’.

Governments and organisations promote anti-racist policies (or softer-sounding equality, diversity, and inclusion policies) while reproducing racist institutions and practices.

In these kinds of cases, it is tempting to conclude that governments make promises energetically as a substitute for – not a signal of – action.

Levin et al note that the governments seeking to reduce climate change are also responsible for its inevitability.

The US and EU have subsidised the production and/or encouraged the sale of tobacco (to foster economic aims) at the same time as seeking tobacco control and discouraging smoking (to foster public health aims).

Governments seek to combine contradictory ways to encourage centralism/ localism and the use of evidence for policy.

Further reading

Key policy theories and concepts in 1000 words

Policy in 500 words

Few theories and concepts in these series use this term, but many help to explain many elements of policy and policymaking contradictions.

See also this note on policymaking in Scotland, also containing the not-entirely-helpful crisp analogy.

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