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Pathways to impact in local government: the mini-Stern review as evidence in policy making in the Leeds City Region

Abstract

Although in recent years great emphasis has been placed on global agreements and national commitments on climate change, ultimately action on mitigation and adaptation must take place at the local level. Many local authorities have to face questions of whether they should develop policies on climate change, and if so, on what evidence should policies be designed and delivered. This paper describes how academic research on the economics of low carbon cities (the ‘mini-Stern review’) helped create such an evidence base for the Leeds City Region and its constituent local authorities. We describe how the response to the evidence and the pathways to impact were different in the individual local authorities and what this means for our understanding of evidence in local policy making. In terms of Weiss’ (Social sciences and modern states: national experiences and theoretical crossroads. Advances in political science, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991) classification, the study was mainly useful as an argument and idea rather than being used instrumentally. We find that the policy and political context in each authority determines to a large extent whether such an academic study is useable as evidence. The contents and timing of the study need to align with existing policy and/or political agendas: is climate change on the agenda at all, with what priority and how is it framed. We find confirmation of a relationship between the policy problem type and the role of evidence as argument, idea or data. The mini-Stern study itself was just one contribution to wide-ranging processes of informing, convincing, pressurising, etc., not just within the different councils but also within the wider communities. Other contextual factors include composition, agenda and activities of local civil society and the local business community. Finally, it depends on the expertise of policy officers in the councils what use is made of evidence. Making policy takes (much) time, translation and negotiation across levels and sectors. Policy work describes how policy officers bring their diverse forms of knowledge to bear on policy questions; how this work is done is something that is learned from practice rather than from the study.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The latter is evidenced, e.g. in the current UK Research Excellence Framework (REF), the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions to be completed in 2014. Evidence of impact on international policy attracts the highest scores, while sub-national impact scores lowest.

  2. 2.

    The CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme (formerly known as Carbon Reduction Commitment), a mandatory scheme aimed at improving energy efficiency and cutting emissions in large public and private sector organisations through allocation of carbon emission allowances and fines when these are exceeded.

  3. 3.

    http://www.1010global.org/uk.

  4. 4.

    The Green Deal is a new government scheme to finance energy-saving home improvements, like insulation, with repayments channelled over time through the home’s electricity bill.

    http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/tackling/green_deal/green_deal.aspx

  5. 5.

    http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/tackling/green_deal/green_deal.aspx

  6. 6.

    National Index NI185 = percentage CO2 reduction from local authority's own LA operations; NI186 = per capita CO2 emissions in the local area.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the interviewees for discussing their work with us. We would also like to thank our colleagues Phil Webber and Niall Kerr for their comments and discussions. Anna Wesselink’s contribution to this article was financially supported by the European Union (European Commission, European Reintegration Grant PERG08-GA-2010-276934) and by the Higher Education Funding Council for England Strategic Development Fund project ‘How modern social science research helps shape public policy, market forces and social understanding: mapping influences and developing metrics for the digital era’.

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Correspondence to Anna Wesselink.

Appendix: baseline interview protocol

Appendix: baseline interview protocol

Sign consent form

Explain briefly purpose of research.

Interview questions

  1. 1.

    What is the role/goal of your organisation in the low carbon economy?

For example:

  • agreed targets for reducing CO2 emissions (NI185 or NI 186?)Footnote 6

  • reduce own CO2 emissions

  • use control and influence in their area (planning, transport, …)

  • deliver/roll out national policy (smart meters, green deal, …)

  1. 2.

    What are your own tasks regarding the low carbon economy?

For example:

  • position in organisation

  • how long have you been doing this?

  • how big a part of your job is this?

  1. 3.

    How do you achieve these tasks?

For example:

  • with whom do you liaise and coordinate on issues related to the low carbon economy (internal & external) + concrete examples

  • from whom do you experience resistance on issues related to the low carbon economy (internal & external) + concrete examples

  • what sources of information do you use

  1. 4.

    Where can you see your organisation’s CC agenda going? What impact do you think the mini-Stern study will have?

  2. 5.

    What is the single most important factor limiting low carbon development, and what is the most important factor driving it?

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Wesselink, A., Gouldson, A. Pathways to impact in local government: the mini-Stern review as evidence in policy making in the Leeds City Region. Policy Sci 47, 403–424 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-014-9196-3

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Low carbon policy
  • Local government
  • Evidence-based policy making
  • Policy work