On credit and blame: disentangling the motivations of public policy decision-making behaviour
While the idea that policy-makers are motivated by the desire to earn “credit” for their work has a long history, policy studies since Weaver (J Public Policy 6(4):371–398, 1986) have also used the concept of “blame” to help understand these often observed but little studied aspect of policy decision-making activity. Observed credit- and blame-related activities range from the agenda-denial behaviour of politicians to the use of policy evaluations to paint overly positive pictures of the effectiveness of policy efforts. Despite their frequent invocation by analysts, however, the status of “blame” and “credit” and their component parts is not well understood and different uses and conceptions of the term abound in the policy literature. This article addresses three issues surrounding the concepts which require clarification: first, the relationship between “blame” and “credit” as motivators of policy agents and activities; second, the related but not synonymous behavioural notions of “blame avoidance” and “credit claiming” and their relationship to more primordial ideas of “blame” and “credit”; and third, the notions of “reactive” versus “anticipatory” blame avoidance and credit claiming. The article develops a framework to help move the discussion of these three issues and of the basic concept forward. It argues that blame especially should be studied more widely from the view of the public as well as that of the public official, and that both concepts should be analysed as part of the larger issue of the legitimation of public actions, rather than, as is often the case, solely as an aspect of the utilitarian calculations and risk management activities of politicians and officials.