Archive for the 'Policy & Politics' Category

An American Future for Australia’s Universities: derailing the moral mission

Guest blogger and Policy Press author Salvatore Babones shares his concerns about the reforms proposed by the new Australian government to deregulate university fees. These will be considered and debated, as part of the wider suite of  budget proposals, by the Australian Parliament when they return in August. 

Salvatore Babones applauds Australian universities 'moral mission'

Salvatore Babones applauds Australian universities ‘moral mission’

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s new government is proposing to deregulate university fees as part of a series of changes announced in the budget in May. Education Minister Christopher Pyne has said the country has a lot to learn from the American system.  But how accurate is this statement?

Australia’s university system should be the envy of the world: research productivity is high, financial bars for students are low, and academic salaries are among the highest in the world. Unionization ensures basic procedural fairness and relative equality across the sector. Forty-five percent of people aged 25-34 years old have completed tertiary degrees.

Australia’s population of 23 million is 10% smaller than that of Texas, yet multiple Australian universities regularly feature in global top 100 rankings: the Universities of Sydney, Melbourne, New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia, plus the Australian National University.

Reasonable cost

These world-class outcomes are achieved at very reasonable cost: Australia spends about 1.6 percent of GDP on tertiary education, exactly equal to the OECD average. Inclusivity is ensured by the fact that students can defer 100 percent of tuition payments until their incomes rise well above the national median. High productivity + low cost = policy paradise.

So why is Australia’s new government determined to revolutionize the Australian higher education sector?

The government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott has proposed to deregulate fees so that universities can charge whatever tuition the market will bear. Universities will have to set aside 20 percent of any funds raised through increased tuition to provide scholarships for disadvantaged students. At the same time, government subsidies will be cut by 20 percent across the board, shifting more costs onto students and their families.

The expected result is that students will bid up the price of degrees at the top universities, while regional and rural universities may find it difficult to make up the 20 percent shortfall in government support. Universities like Sydney, Melbourne and ANU will benefit at the expense of the rest of the system.

“The government’s program will result in a massive financial transfer from Australian families to elite university researchers”

The government’s program is designed to give Australia “at least one university in the top 20 in the world.” If fees are pushed high enough, it might give Australia three.

But this propaganda victory will come at a high cost. The government’s program will result in a massive financial transfer from Australian students and families to elite university researchers, many of us expats from the UK and US. In other words, from ordinary Australians to people like me.

A better budget would allow modest across-the-board increases in tuition and require universities to plow these increases back into reduced class sizes. Research-only positions should be eliminated and top researchers should be required to spend serious face time in the classroom, just as they do in the world’s most prestigious universities.

Most importantly, the Australian government should recognize and embrace the fact that the best universities do much more than just teach and conduct research. Universities are important sources of guidance, advice and — yes — criticism. At their best, universities are forces for positive social change.

Vital moral mission

Today, Australia’s universities perform this vital moral mission as well as any universities in the world, and maybe better. For example, the University of Sydney is the only major university in the world to have a deputy vice chancellor solely focused on indigenous issues. No major American or Canadian university has an officer at that level devoted to Native American or First Nation issues.

Another Sydney initiative is the new Charles Perkins Centre for the study of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Obesity is not a sexy, big-money area of medical research. But when more than 60 per cent of the population is overweight, someone has to find a solution.

Along with research and teaching, moral leadership for positive social change is the indispensable third mission of the modern university. The great strength of the Australian university system is not research or teaching but its fundamental morality. Australia should build on this strength, not jettison it in the vain pursuit of academic rankings.

For decades Australian universities evolved in isolation from the rest of the world. They inherited an Oxbridge tutorial system that they creatively stretched into a modern system of mass education. Higher education unions ensured relative equality across a diverse sector. Australia blazed its own trail with remarkable success.

Australia’s universities have problems, but these problems will not be solved by a massive redistribution of resources from ordinary students to elite researchers. Australia can learn from UK and US academic achievement, but it should also embrace its own moral traditions. Someday soon UK and US universities may wake up to find they have something important to learn from Australia.

In the end, no more than twenty universities can ever be in the top twenty. The rest still have important work to do. We should get on with it.

Salvatore Babones is Associate Professor of Sociology & Social Policy at The University of Sydney. His books Social Inequality and Public Health and The Future of Development: A Radical Manifesto are both published by the Policy Press

If you liked this you might be interested in these:

Regulating international students’ wellbeing

Social inclusion and higher education

Education and social justice in a digital age 

The impact of research in education

And, coming soon….

Australian public policy: progressive ideas in the neoliberal ascendancy

 

Once upon a time there was a country called Europe

Authors Dimitris Ballas, Danny Dorling and Benjamin Hennig, whose forthcoming book The Social Atlas of Europe publishes on Wednesday 25 June, share their views on Europe.

Dimitris Ballas Danny Dorling Benjamin Hennig 2

‘We cannot aim at anything less than the Union of Europe as a whole, and we look forward with confidence to the day when that Union will be achieved’

It may sound inconceivable today that a statement such as the above could be made by a British Prime Minister and even more so by the leader of the Conservative Party. Yet, this is an extract from a speech delivered by Winston Churchill at the Congress of Europe in The Hague on 7 May 1948. It is just an example of numerous similar statements and activities supporting European integration and union. These were part of wider efforts and actions by the people of a continent shattered by war towards a common purpose and future, which have been imaginatively ‘narrated’ by a member of Europe’s next generation in an award-winning video ‘We are Europe’ – see below. These efforts have been steadily leading towards a Europe United in Diversity and to the formation of a European identity underpinned by common values and ideals such as the establishment of democratic institutions, the respect of human rights and the protection of minorities, as well as solidarity and social cohesion.

However, Europe has now reached a critical crossroads after several years of a severe economic crisis and austerity measures that have disproportionately and brutally hit the most disadvantaged. There has also been an apparent revival of old nationalisms and divisions coupled with the rise of extremist far right and populist parties.

The performance of such parties in last month’s European parliament elections has highlighted the need for reform and change. But there are very different perspectives taken with regards to what the response to the rise of Eurosceptic parties should be. On the one hand, there are Eurosceptic calls for a stop or even a reversal of the plans for further integration and political union. In contrast, there are also strong voices of support for changes that are “needed to keep the European dream alive”, shifting the focus from austerity towards supporting “investment on jobs and on growth” and for a new radical manifesto for Europe calling for “less Europe on issues where member countries do very well on their own, and more Europe when union is essential”.

European identity

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things" Goodreads 2013

The Social Atlas of Europe, Map 13 – “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” Goodreads 2013

As three European geographers whose first languages are Greek, English and German respectively, we hope that our book The Social Atlas of Europe can be used to enhance the perception of European identity and solidarity. The Atlas, which includes all countries that have shown a clear and strong commitment to a common European future, not only shows how different are the separate countries, regions and great cities of this continent, but also how often they are so similar. There are a huge number of ways in which people living in different parts of Europe have so much in common. Often the real differences are not found across national borders but between villages and cities or between rich and poor quarters of a town. And the rich quarters of Europe are all more similar to each other than to the poorer areas that are nearer to them. Looking at the maps in this atlas you can begin to believe that you are looking at the geography of a single large group of people. You can see what happens to all the people of Europe collectively and have a better grasp of their collective hopes, fears and lives.

“What does it mean to be European today?”

In The Social Atlas of Europe we offer a new human geography and human cartography perspective and contribution to debates about the above issues by bringing together a great many maps and facts about Europe and its people. Our approach is underpinned by the view that Europe is something much more than just a world region and a collection of nation states and by the idea that we are hopefully moving more towards the belief that so many of us are a “European people” instead of a “Europe of nations”. We argue that the EU needs to be thought of as an entity that is more than just a union of member states, more than just a common market or just a potential monetary or fiscal union. What does it mean to be European today? To what extent do the citizens of EU member states feel that they are citizens of something larger than their own country?

One way of moving towards a “European people” instead of a “nation-state” mentality and of bolstering European identity further is to think of Europe and its economy, culture, history and human and physical geography in terms of a single large land mass. This is already happening to some extent, especially in the minds of the rapidly increasing numbers of Europeans who live in a member state other than their country of birth perceiving Europe and its people in a more fluid way. An example of this is the story of a 7-year old boy from Valencia in another award-winning video.

In The Social Atlas of Europe we highlight the notion of Europe in these terms by looking at its physical and population geography whilst simultaneously utilising the latest available demographic, social, and economic data on a wide range of topics. Using state-of-the-art geographical information systems and new cartography techniques we reveal beautiful versions of Europe shaped by its social values, culture, education, employment, environmental footprints, health and well-being, and social inequalities and cohesion. The Social Atlas visualises and maps Europe in a way that makes it more likely for Europeans to make more sense of their local area’s physical and human geography and also to think of Europe as one place: the place they belong to or their “home” (which is perhaps the way in which the next generation of Europeans will think when asked ‘where do you come from?’).

Overall, The SoThe social atlas of Europecial Atlas of Europe offers a fresh perspective and a new way of thinking about Europe as a continent of cities rather than states, a continent of people rather than power and one of hope rather than decline, reminding its people how much they have in common and highlighting that there is now, more than ever, a need to carry on working together rather than pulling apart.

Click here if you’d like to purchase your copy of The Social Atlas of Europe and receive a 20% discount on the list price – £19.99 (RRP £24.99)

New Policy & Politics blog

We now have a new Policy & Politics blog at http://policyandpoliticsblog.com/ 

Policy & Politics Conference 2014

Policy & Politics coverThe challenges of leadership and collaboration in the 21st Century

16th and 17th September 2014, Marriott Hotel, Bristol

The recent global financial crisis and associated austerity measures have led to a reconfiguration of the role of the state and a fundamental reshaping in the design and delivery of public services. State and non-state actors are struggling to cope with the scale of change, the speed with which adjustments are being made and managing a range of ‘wicked issues’ in the absence of necessary resources. In this uncertain environment, policy issues and objectives are often ill-defined, constantly shifting and lack clear direction. There is also huge variability in the coping strategies and creative responses being enacted by public leaders in different contexts. Partnerships, co-production and networks have been viewed as an antidote to the ‘ungovernability’ of complex issues in public and social policy. However, collaborative governance is also fraught with difficulties and pitfalls and raise questions about legitimacy, accountability and social justice. Within this context, the 2014 conference seeks to address questions around the themes of leadership and collaboration. We ask participants to interpret this call broadly but some key questions might include:

  • What scope is there for creative leadership in contemporary policy and politics?
  • How can leadership and/or collaboration drive innovation in the design and delivery of public services?
  • What capacity do non-state actors have to influence policy and politics?
  • What impact can leadership and collaboration have on legitimacy, accountability and social justice in public policy?
  • What are the challenges for public leadership and collaboration in a global context?

Papers are invited in any areas of public or social policy. In writing their papers authors are requested to reflect on the conference theme.

Plenary Speakers

Professor Chris Ansell, University of California, Berkeley, US – ‘Collaborative governance of transboundary problems’

Professor Erik-Hans Klijn, Erasmus University, Netherlands – ‘Public leadership between ‘front’ and ‘back’ stage’

Professor Helen Sullivan, University of Melbourne, Australia – ‘Collaboration as the new normal? Global trends, public policy and everyday practices’

Professor Jacob Torfing, Roskilde University, Denmark, – ‘How to lead and manage collaborative innovation’

Academic organisers

Professor Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield; Sarah Ayres and Noemi Lendvai, University of Bristol.
For academic enquiries please email pp-conference@bristol.ac.uk

Administrative organiser
For conference enquiries relating to bookings, venue, travel details and timetable please email pp-conference@bristol.ac.uk

Governing local partnerships: does external steering help local agencies address wicked problems?

Steve Martin and Valeria Guarneros-Meza

Steve Martin and Valeria Guarneros-Meza

Steve Martin and Valeria Guarneros-Meza discuss their article Governing local partnerships: does external steering help local agencies address wicked problems? from the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics. This issue is available free until 30 November.

Reflecting on developments in public policy over the last forty years, we argue that collaboration has become a hegemonic discourse and partnerships a dominant feature in the local governance landscape. However, there is still considerable debate about what makes for good partnership working. Some scholars believe that governance networks are self-organising and self-sustaining. Seen from this perspective, external steering by national governments is not just an insult to local democracy but also an impediment to local collaborative efforts. But others have argued that local partnerships inevitably operate in the shadow of hierarchy and that external steering is helpful, perhaps even essential, for them to succeed.

We analysed these arguments through an investigation of the factors that influenced the ability of three local multi-sectoral public service partnerships to address complex public policy issues (or ‘wicked problems’). These case study partnerships served contrasting areas of Wales, they focused on very different types of wicked problems, and they adopted different integration strategies. However, in spite of their differences, all three needed external support. The Welsh Government eschewed what we call ‘hard steering’ (attempts to dictate how the partnerships operated through the imposition of top down targets and performance regimes). Instead, it provided funding, information and expertise, what we call ‘soft steering’.

This soft steering was important, but it was not the whole story. The success of the partnerships also depended on the actions of local actors. We found that partnerships needed a combination of soft steering and self-steering capacity to establish and mobilise collaboration, and to enable them to begin to address ‘wicked problems’. But whilst the type of self-steering they required varied according to the contexts they operated in and the kinds of collaborative activities they attempted, all three partnerships needed the same kinds of government support.

We argue that theories of local partnership working should pay more attention to the positive impacts of the right kind of government support, and we put in a plea for future research to test out our findings in other countries and contexts. On a gloomy note, we speculate that austerity could pose a threat to the ability of local partnerships to address wicked problems if it means that national governments are no longer willing or able to offer the kinds of support which our case studies benefitted from.

Governing local partnerships: does external steering help local agencies address wicked problems? is available free until 30 November as part of the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics.

Toward Policy Coordination: Alternatives To Hierarchy

B. Guy Peters

B. Guy Peters

B. Guy Peters, Department of Political Science, University of Pittsburgh, discusses his article Toward Policy Coordination: Alternatives To Hierarchy from the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics. This issue is available free until 30 November.

Policy coordination and coherence have been a challenge to government since the inception of government. The development of the public sector has been primarily through continuing specialization and the creation of organizations that perform a limited number of functions. Hierarchical control from central agencies and political leaders has been the conventional response to the coordination problem, but other methods such as networking and collaboration are also available to coordinators.

This paper discusses coordination from two seemingly contradictory analytic perspectives. The major part of the analysis will be attempting to understand coordination as a collective action problem. Coordination involves multiple actors whose self-interest, or ignorance of the possibilities for improving public services, may prevent them from cooperating in ways that would improve overall performance. Thus, coordinating public policy involves many of the same issues as forming governing coalitions, and I will develop an argument about how to address the issue analytically, if not necessarily practically,

The other, and to some extent competing, perspective about policy coordination is identifying some means for promoting cooperation and collaboration among the actors. This approach to coordination is not based so much upon rational calculation and bargaining but more on perceived needs to work together, and also on ideational approaches. That is, the assumption of these collaborative approaches is that most people working within the public sector tend to want to produce better outcomes for their clients. Therefore, when those opportunities can be identified the actors involved will indeed cooperate. Even then, however, good ideas may not be enough and cooperation may not emerge autonomously and some agency will be required. Thus, effective coordination may require the utilization of a variety of instruments.

Toward Policy Coordination: Alternatives To Hierarchy is available free until 30 November as part of the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics

Where is public policy? And where next?

Alex Marsh

Alex Marsh

by Alex Marsh

This blog post was originally published on www.alexsarchives.org on November 3. If you would like to read more on this topic, Alex’s article, Reflections on contemporary debates in policy studies, written with Sarah Ayres, can be found in the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics. This issue is available free until 30 November.

There seems to be quite a bit of reflection on the current state of play in the study of public policy at the moment. I have recently offered something on the topic myself.

A couple of months ago Peter John posted a draft paper online entitled New directions in public policy: Theories of policy change and variation reconsidered. The paper offers a perspective on the state of the debate and identifies what may constitute a novel way forward. As always with Peter, the paper is thought-provoking and well worth reading.

The thought it provoked in me was that he is both absolutely right and very possibly not quite so right at one of the same time.

Peter’s paper divides the history of the study of public policy into three. The focus is on policy continuity and episodes of policy change, so the paper leaves out quite a bit that is interesting about public policy – for example, implementation theory or processes of adaptation.

But, accepting the focus upon policy change, Peter maps out the three phases as the early classic studies – encompassing rational decision making, but also incrementalism and Simon’s bounded rationality – a second phase focused on the synthetic approaches of the 1990s – multiple streams, punctuated equilibrium, advocacy coaltion framework – and the current phase. John’s argument is that the current phase has been characterised by a relative lack of theoretical innovation. With the exception of a rise in interpretative policy analysis and behavioural public policy – which are, one has to concede, rather large exceptions – nothing has emerged that has had an impact similar to that of the three big beasts of 1990s US policy studies.

Peter then proceeds to argue that if you look over the fence at other subfields within political science and at the intersection of political science and economics then you will find there is interesting and innovative work going on. It is seeking to shed light upon the determinants of public policy. Hence, public policy scholars have much to gain from expanding their horizons.

At one level I agree with Peter’s analysis of the state of play. But at another level I would say that it implicitly relies on some rather heavy-duty boundary work. You could argue, for example, that some of the most interesting work relevant to policy that has been done since the 1990s draws on historical instutitionalism. I’m thinking of the 2005 collection edited by Streeck and Thelen or, in particular, the 2010 collection edited by Mahoney and Thelen which develops the case for taking endogenous incremental change seriously. But this work does not tend to make any reference to the big three, or much else from the canon of the ‘public policy’ literature. While the application of these ideas to policy is relevantly straightforward plenty more needs to be done to work them through in a policy context.

We can conclude that research in public policy has been a little moribund only if we are prepared to draw the boundaries of what constitutes ‘public policy research’ quite tightly.

The other interesting aspect of Peter’s argument is that he works towards the conclusion that a potentially fruitful way forward for public policy research is political economy, and comparative political economy is particular.

Now I am absolutely in agreement that expanding the compass of explanation to locate policy processes more explicitly in their socio-political context would be a valuable theoretical sophistication. But “political economy” is a treacherous concept. Or rather it can mean very different things to different people.

Peter favours the version of political economy that flows from the encroachment of mainstream economics into political science. This is the sort of field where political economy is as likely to carry the prefix “positive” or “constitutional” as it is “comparative”.

It is undoubtedly true that this flavour of policy economy has thrown up some interesting findings. These findings can be used to critique some of the myths and taken-for-granted assumptions that underpin contemporary political discourse. Peter briefly reviews some of them.

But I would argue that if we are to expand the analysis of public policy into the realm of political economy then there is an urgent need to embrace the sort of political economy preferred by social scientists who are not mainstream economists – human geographers, sociologists, anthropologists, institutional economists.

Here the focus is much more clearly upon the impact of values and ideologies, structures of power, agnotology, the ways in which local decision making is framed and stabilised by global discourses, or where – drawing inspiration from Polanyi – the idea that there is a meaningful binary divide between “the state” and “the market” and that policy processes are constrained by “the market(s)” is challenged as a fundamental misunderstanding of structure of society.

That is a route that would, it strikes me, be just as likely to prove illuminating. But would it be “public policy”? I’ll leave it to others to adjudicate on that point. Personally, I’m happy to look wherever the mood takes me and wherever it looks like there are theoretical resources that offer the potential to advance our understanding.

Reflections on contemporary debates in policy studies is part of the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics, available free on Ingenta until the end of November.

The Politics of Engaged Scholarship: Impact, Relevance and Imagination

Matthew Flinders

Matthew Flinders

Matthew Flinders, co-editor of Policy & Politics, discusses his article The Politics of Engaged Scholarship: Impact, Relevance and Imagination from the 40th anniversary issue of the journal. This issue is available free until 30 November.

I promise that I never planned to use the word ‘masturbation’ (offered in the context of methodological debates) three times in my April 2012 opening address to the Political Studies Association annual conference in Belfast. There was no carefully made plan to achieve a record-breaking ‘twitter-spike’ or to create a wide-ranging stir. It just sort of happened. The results of this rhetorical flourish have, however, been largely positive in the sense that it initiated a professional debate about the role of political studies in the twenty-first century. More specifically it initiated both research and discussion into the available evidence that the discipline had become either ‘more’ or ‘less’ visible or influential vis-à-vis the public, social groups, politicians or policy-makers, while at the same time unleashing a more fundamental debate about the meaning and political implications of terms such as ‘impact’, ‘relevance’ or ‘engagement’ when applied to political science.

My simple argument throughout this debate is that political science is kidding itself if it really believes it is visible, engaged or relevant beyond the academy. There are clearly exceptions to this argument. Some sub-disciplines and specialist fields have cultivated and maintained a social relationship that delivers a visibility and level of influence far beyond the lecture theatre and seminar room. There are also a small number of what I might term ‘hyper-engaged’ scholars but these are very much the exception rather than the rule. Several scholars have criticised me for making such arguments and have argued that the discipline has never been so relevant. My response is that if this is the case – and it’s a very big ‘if’ – then a serious perception gap exists (i.e. if high-quality theoretically informed but policy-relevant research is being undertaken by political scientists then it is simply not percolating down into Whitehall and Westminster). Debates about the existence or explanations for this ‘gap’ could form the focus of a hundred books or journal special editions and yet to engage in such an intellectual exercise risks simply reinforcing the view of many social commentators that political science has become ‘self-referential as well as self-reverential, and often unreadable to anyone but a specialist… a narcissistic world of academics writing for each other’.

It is exactly this context that my focus falls not on the ‘tragedy of political science’ (to adopt the title of David Ricci’s wonderful 1984 book) but on the ‘potential of political science’ or what C Wright Mills termed ‘the promise’ of the social sciences. This potential and promise will, I suggest, only be realised once political scientists accept that they possess a professional responsibility to the public in terms of engaging with society in the broadest sense about why their research and writing matters. This argument has absolutely nothing to do with the corporatisation of the universities, with the dumbing-down of scholarship or with ‘clipping-the-wings’ of academic autonomy or independence. I am not interested in producing purely instrumental knowledge or in narrow definitions of ‘impact’ or ‘relevance’ but I do believe that a new model of ‘engaged scholarship’ provides ways of increasing the visibility of the discipline as well as increasing its leverage with potential funding bodies. (Moreover, I’ve said many times before that it is political theorists and political philosophers and not the governance and public policy specialists who have most to gain from the ‘tyranny of relevance’). ‘The promise’ of the social sciences relates to being able to promote an understanding of the world that allows individuals to locate themselves within the bigger picture. There are no simple solutions to complex problems and academics must push back against unrealistic expectations but there is a great public appetite for new ways of understanding the world. Frameworks of understanding, a new marketplace of ideas, novel opportunities to embed ‘impact’ within both teaching and research, clear and direct ways of dealing with the ‘so what?’ question that scholars of all disciplines are increasingly asked …the notion of engaged scholarship provides a way of turning what is frequently interpreted as a threat into an opportunity.

The specific characteristics of this argument and its surrounding debate – as well as an important and novel attempt to tease-apart and tie-down the concepts of ‘impact’, ‘engagement’ and ‘relevance’ – can be found in this article and it is sufficient here for me to sign-off by recalling a famous passage in C Wright Mills The Sociological Imagination (1959) [I make no apologies for its length]

“Just now, amongst social scientists, there is widespread uneasiness, both intellectual and moral, about the direction their chosen studies seem to be taking. This uneasiness, as well as the unfortunate tendencies that contribute to it, is, I suppose, part of a general malaise of contemporary intellectual life. Yet perhaps the malaise is more acute among social scientists, if only because of the larger promise that has guided much earlier work in their fields, the nature of the subjects with which they deal, and the urgent need for significant work today… Not everyone shares this uneasiness, but the fact that many do not is itself a cause for further uneasiness among those who are alert to the promise and honest enough to admit the pretentious mediocrity of much current effort. It is quite frankly my hope to increase this uneasiness, to define some of its sources, to help transform it into a specific urge to realize the promise of social science, to clear the ground for new beginnings… my conception stands opposed to social science as a set of bureaucratic techniques which inhibit social inquiry by ‘methodological’ pretensions, which congest such work by obscurantist conceptions, or which trivialize it by concern with minor problems unconnected with publicly relevant issues. These inhibitions, obscurities and trivialities have created a crisis in the social studies today without suggesting, in the least, a way out of that crisis.”

Over half a century later it is possible to detect a new or continuing ‘widespread uneasiness’ about the direction of the social sciences, in general, and political science in particular. This is also forms part of a wider set of concerns about the state of contemporary intellectual life (the role and future of universities, the impact of the internet and social media, the decline of public intellectuals, etc.) while the Perestroika movement in the United States and the ‘Perestroika-lite’ agenda across much of Western Europe raises both methodological and normative questions that resonate with Mills’ position. The aim, however, of my focus on engaged scholarship is to suggest ‘a way out of that crisis’.

The Politics of Engaged Scholarship: Impact, Relevance and Imagination is part of the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics, available free on Ingenta until the end of November.

Complex Causality in Improving Underperforming Schools: A Complex Adaptive Systems Approach

van twist et al

Clockwise from top left: Martijn van Der Steen, Mark van Twist, Sara Le Cointre and Menno Fenger

Martijn van Der Steen, Mark van Twist, Menno Fenger and Sara Le Cointre provide a commentary on their article Complex Causality in Improving Underperforming Schools: A Complex Adaptive Systems Approach, part of the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politics. This issue is available free on Ingenta until the end of November.

Policy makers’ intentions and attempts to shape the state of the world in accordance with their beliefs and expectations through policy interventions is based on their perceptions of cause and effect in the policy domain, which they then try to influence through policy: through compliance with new regulation, they presume situational changes for the better. Practitioners, as well as scientists, have a hard time coming to grips with this linear understanding of policy intervention. How is it that intervention works in one case and not in another, even when cases share similarities? Is it the manner of policy intervention design that is misinformed? For ages, scientists have racked their brains for answers to problems of unintended and unanticipated consequences: what are they, how do they evolve and can we do anything to stop them? As the world around us, including the world of policy intervention, grows increasingly more complex, we find ourselves understanding the effects of policy intervention better in some ways, but also worse in others, and struggle to determine whether interventions under such circumstances can be at all effective. Different questions are raised about what is going on. Yet the age-old question for policy makers remains the same: what works?

In an attempt to help scientists and practitioners understand the intricate relationship between the effects of a policy with its produced results and interactions it causes in a complex world, we combine different theories. Theories about complexity (system dynamics, complex adaptive systems, causal loops), combined with those of unintended effects and unanticipated consequences, together shed new light on the workings of policy interventions. In the article we question the notion of the concept of causality, on which most policy interventions and the theories explaining them are based. We introduce the notion of mutual causality in policy interventions, based on a study of underperforming schools in the Netherlands. We show that some schools end up in vicious cycles where situations deteriorate as a result of intervention, whereas other schools are propelled into a virtuous cycle that markedly changes for the better. The cases show the dynamics of intervention processes and the ways in which interactions of circumstances, contexts and factors emerges. Understanding these processes and the loops of causation that are involved depends to a great deal on local knowledge and the ability of local actors to signal the relevant changes. Therefore we claim that a change in perspective and language about causality and consequences in designing policy interventions is needed in science and in practice. Rather than linear conceptions of causality and one-size-fits-all policies, designing effective policy interventions is about positive and negative feedback loops, observation, monitoring and tailor-made interventions. That implies that the broader regimes and systems in which policy-interventions are designed become better equipped to deal with local complexity and the local judgement of professionals or policy-makers that intervene in those local systems.

Martijn van Der Steen, Mark van Twist, Menno Fenger and Sara Le Cointre

Complex Causality in Improving Underperforming Schools: A Complex Adaptive Systems Approach is part of the 40th anniversary issue of Policy & Politicsavailable free on Ingenta until the end of November.

What’s to be done about capitalism? Everyday making and changing the world

Jonathan S. Davies

Jonathan S. Davies

Jonathan S. Davies discusses his article, Just do it differently? Everyday making, Marxism and the struggle against neoliberalism, part of the 40th anniversary special issue of Policy & Politics. The issue is available free online until the 30 November.

Decades of political domination by free marketeers have been very damaging for the left. With partial exceptions in some Latin American and northern European countries, varieties of ‘free market’ fundamentalism are now so ingrained as to be unquestioned, even unquestionable, by political elites. Mainstream social democratic parties have largely accepted the terms of this neoliberal hegemony: all prosperity depends on a healthy market economy, argued Tony Blair. With mass strikes being defeated and membership falling for decades, the trade unions too seem impotent in the face of this market hegemony. Worse still, far from provoking a successful challenge to neoliberal domination, the economic crisis of 2008 and after seems only to have entrenched it. At the sharpest end of the crisis in Greece, heroic struggles on the streets and in the workplaces, have failed to halt the relentless austerity drive. On the contrary, the Greek Labour Party (PASOK) chose to sacrifice its own political base and electoral credibility to drive through an unprecedentedly brutal cuts agenda, in order to save Greece’s membership of the Euro and make the country ‘competitive’.

With the organised left on the sidelines, many thinkers and activists have started looking for other ways of challenging the dominance of markets, corporations and authoritarian ‘austerian’ states. The basic idea of ‘everyday making’ is that despite everything, we have the capacity to do things differently if we choose. If only we stop devoting all our attention on criticising ‘the system’ and focus on our immediate experiences and capabilities, then another world is possible in the here and now. Everyday makers typically focus on practical action at the small-scale: from those in the craft movement trying to recover creative skills lost in mass production, to those wanting to build new economic practices through cooperatives and other forms of mutual endeavour. Everyday making is to build painstakingly in small spaces ignored or vacated by the profit economy.

My article explores the rich variety of approaches to everyday making, arguing that it is a mistake to give-up on challenging capitalism. I draw on the ideas of Karl Marx to argue that capitalism is no illusion, but very real and by its nature profoundly unstable and aggressively expansionary. This is not because capitalists necessarily want to behave like that, but they have to do so to continue making profits in ageing market economies. The governance of European austerity illustrates all too well how, driven by authoritarian states, the market encroaches further and further into public welfare and public space. Nothing is sacrosanct, including the economic alternatives celebrated by everyday makers. Since the crisis, for example, cooperatives have been firing employees and cutting wages just like ordinary businesses. They cannot do otherwise if they want to continue trading in the market economy. This is not to deny the importance of grassroots community campaigning – London Citizens has made a real difference through its fight for a living wage. It is rather to say that sustaining and building on success requires a challenge to market domination. In other words, everyday making itself poses questions about how economy and society as a whole are organised.

At the same time, it is clear that there is a strong, constructive relationship between everyday making and large-scale protest. In Turkey recently, we saw how a small-scale ‘everyday’ protest against the development of Taksim Gezi Park could quickly mushroom and generalise to encompass far more radical political demands. I argue that despite many defeats over the past 30 years, it is these mass demonstrations and strikes that have come closest to defeating austerity – and still have the greatest potential to do so. If so, the question is not whether to give up on system change in favour of everyday making, but rather how to further radicalise the explosive struggles that emerge from everyday life; how, that is, to take that final step from heroic resistance to victory. There are no easy answers to that question and the ideas of everyday makers have much to contribute to our visions of how another world may be possible. But they are not enough on their own.

Jonathan S. Davies

Just do it differently? Everyday making, Marxism and the struggle against neoliberalism is part of the 40th anniversary special issue of Policy & Politics. The issue is available free online until the 30 November.


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