The power distributional appeal of policy (-analytical) tools

To be clear, when highlighting the power distributional appeal of analytical tools as a third ideal type, I do not argue that conventional policy analysis disregards power in policy-making. Rather, as the Introduction and Section 2.2 highlighted, parts of the literature treat policy tools and, particularly, analytical tools as rather apolitical and instrumentally subordinated to the outcomes of political struggles over policy goals. Others acknowledge that tools have an “impact on the distribution of power within the policy field” (Capano and Lippi, 2017, p. 279) but conflate actors’perceptions about such an impact with their rational problem-solving intentions under a more general notion of “instrumentality”. Yet other scholars of policy tools have, however, considered more systematically how the design, choice, and use of tools are embedded in positional struggles over “whose ox will be gored or whose nest will be feathered” (Peters, 2002, p. 554). It is to these accounts that I turn last.

The “structural promises" of policy tools

The instrumentation literature argues that policy tools always also (re-)define roles and relationships in a domain. This is because they imply, at their very core, specific theories about the “relationship between the governing and the governed” as well as a “condensed form of knowledge about social control and ways of exercising it” (Lascoumes and Le Gales, 2007, p. 1). Not only do policy tools have unintended structuration effects from this perspective but can also be promoted for how they promise to (re-)structure a policy domain and the relationship of actors within it. As Simons and Voß (2017, p. 8) put it, instruments entail “structural promises” that concern “structural features of a future world that an instrument is expected to bring about, especially regarding the roles and positions this world offers for different actors” (emphases added). This means that a decision maker’s meaning-making of a policy (-analytical) tool can include rationalization of their own position and decision-making powers in a policy setting relative to others. It is secondary for the interpretivist focus of this book that the “structural promises” that actors had envisaged when adopting a tool may often be disappointed in practice.

In elaboration of their basic argument, Lascoumes and Le Galès refer to examples around the rise of statistical analytical tools in 18th-century Germany (p. 8). They highlight that these had the initially unintended structural implication of creating conceptual divisions among various populations, which were later on used more strategically to target policies, related to taxation, social insurance, or the governance of the mentally ill, among others (cf. also: Kose, 1991). This draws explicitly on the seminal work of Desrosières (2002), introduced as one of the intellectual prompters for my perspective on polity policies in the Introduction. His social history of statistics stresses the mutually constitutive relationship between governmental authority and the growth of mathematical artifacts as tools for governing populations and subnational state entities. A good example of how implied regulatory concepts within a policy tool purposefully re-structure relationships in a policy field is offered in a study on the introduction of “partnership” instruments in British social policies (Carmel and Harlock, 2008). This examines the implications of partnership contracts for voluntary and community organization providers of social care services. The study highlights that contracts serve as a new procedural tool for operating service provision, enabling the government to “carve out a newly governable terrain, - the third sector - which is to be organized through the operational governance mechanisms of procurement and performance” (Carmel and Harlock, 2008, p. 155).

From a slightly different entry point, scholars of instrument constituencies describe processes of collective identify formation as well as the strategic advancement of supportive infrastructures for their preferred policy tool. Once a policy tool has been able to “attract and generate agency” (Simons and Voß, 2017, p. 9) for contingent initial reasons, a reinforcing process is set in motion: actors gather around the tool, develop a shared identity through tool-related interactions, jointly and individually seek opportunities to advance, and promote their tool as efficient and appropriate. They also - and this is most explicitly related to positional struggles over influence - create “infrastructures” that allow the tool and its constituency to flourish (cf. Simons and Voß, 2017). This focus on constituency and infrastructure formation around a tool perceived as “appropriate” by some actors straddles the boundary between legitimacy-seeking and power-distributional interpretations of policy tools. Thus, it usefully specifies a notion of strategic agency in relation to analytical tools. Such agency, for scholars of instrument constituencies, is endogenously strategic in the sense of a dedicated promotion of the tool (rather than the promotion of the tool relating to one’s own strategic position in a domain). Indeed, the notion of instrument constituencies

1 cuts across formal decision-making structures and unites actors from across levels, from most diverse organizations (government departments, international organizations, NGOs, interest groups and social movements, scientific associations, the media, etc.), and with potentially conflicting ideas about their “interests” in a domain, and

2 informs a distinctly endogenous process of generating new collective identities (= constituencies) around and through the joint promotion of a policy tool and the joint strategic effort in keeping the tool “alive both as a model and as an implemented practice” (Beland and Howlett, 2016, p. 397, cf. Voß and Simons, 2014).

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