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Designing policies that intentionally stick: policy feedback in a changing climate

Abstract

Policy feedback is a widely used concept, but many who use it only focus on the positive and/or unintentional feedback effects of certain types of policy. The literature as a whole is therefore poorly equipped to make sense of the negative policy feedbacks that often appear in more regulatory areas such as climate change, where target groups are put under pressure to shoulder concentrated costs. Advocates of the ‘new’ policy design have an opportunity to address this gap by exploring how policy makers approach the design of policies that intentionally generate positive policy feedbacks and/or are resilient to negative ones. This paper contributes to that effort by identifying the conditions under which specific instrument designs are likely to have opportunity enhancing and/or constraining effects. It relates these expectations to a design situation where positive feedback seemed unlikely, and hence, the challenge of designing locked-in policies was correspondingly greater. It concludes by drawing on the findings of this exploratory case to investigate what the ‘new’ policy design can do better to explicate the temporal aspects of design.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Here, policy design is understood as a verb (Howlett 2014).

  2. 2.

    In fact, he relegated it to a footnote—fn59.

  3. 3.

    These are reordered into different categories such as information, administrative capacities and financial resources (Jacobs 2010; Patashnik 2008).

  4. 4.

    A central theme of the ‘policy makes mass politics’ literature (Campbell 2012).

  5. 5.

    It is telling that Pierson (1993: 599) originally referred to ‘spoils’. Later, he admitted that ‘not all aspects of political life are subject to positive feedback’ (Pierson 2004: 49), and later, still (Pierson 2006: 124) urged analysts to explore other policy areas.

  6. 6.

    Here, it is understood as a ‘noun’ (Howlett 2014).

  7. 7.

    To quote Campbell (2012: 347), ‘they show the feed but not the back (or they just assume the back)’.

  8. 8.

    Although he was primarily interested in understanding what made policies resistant to dismantling, as opposed to intentionally more sticky.

  9. 9.

    For the purposes of our argument, we set aside climate adaptation policies.

  10. 10.

    Which are likely to be less amenable to intentional design.

  11. 11.

    As famously occurred in US air pollution control policy (for a summary, see Bardach 2006: 340).

  12. 12.

    See for example the extensive evidence that VAs are far less effective at stimulating technological innovation (Oosterhuis 2006: 19; but see also Kemp and Pontoglio 2011).

  13. 13.

    In the sense that the Commission continually pushes the European Union to a higher level of ambition in the international climate regime.

  14. 14.

    Although as the threat of regulation increased in the 2000s, the difference between the German manufacturers seeking  slower progress and the rest became more pronounced (Keating 2013a: 4–5), perhaps suggesting that positive feedback effects may grow in the future.

  15. 15.

    Interestingly, the first dominates the social policy literature, where the state is mainly (re)distributing money.

  16. 16.

    For reasons that are well known, regulation is the standard instrument of EU environmental policy (Wurzel et al. 2013).

  17. 17.

    Many of the most heated design disputes often concern the choice between instruments, rather than their internal characteristics (Jordan et al. 2012).

  18. 18.

    A recent meta-analysis suggested that inter-instrument differences are less important than the design features of single instruments (Kemp and Pontoglio 2011: 34).

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Acknowledgments

We are indebted to four referees who kindly provided detailed comments on earlier drafts of this paper. We are of course wholly responsible for any remaining errors and omissions. Andrew acknowledges the support of the Leverhulme Trust (Grant No. F00204AR) and the COST funded Action - INOGOV (No. IS1309).  Andrew and Elah are grateful to the family of Solly Zuckerman, which kindly supported Elah’s PhD work in the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA.

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Jordan, A., Matt, E. Designing policies that intentionally stick: policy feedback in a changing climate. Policy Sci 47, 227–247 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-014-9201-x

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Keywords

  • Policy design
  • Policy feedback
  • Policy instruments
  • Path dependence
  • Climate change