Step 2: evaluate the current situation

What does an analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of the current policy and governance frameworks say? Are there existing standard solutions which may not be valid anymore? Such a SWOT analysis might take the form as shown in Table 9.2.

Other methods can be found in academic literature and in practical guidance such as the Better Regulation Toolbox (revised 2017) of the European Commission (European Commission, 2017b). It is important that the latter report explicitly refers to the normative dimension of assessment methods and tools - normative, because they contain (often implicit) assumptions about reality, about human behaviour, about what is right and wrong. These assumptions may be related to the values linked to a specific governance styles (Meuleman, 2015). The EU Toolbox argues that assessment methods should be combined and tailored to the needs of a specific situation. Since 2015 ex-ante evaluation is obligatory for the European Commission departments, before a new initiative is allowed to be launched; when it is launched, the first action is starting a full impact assessment process, which combines regulatory and sustainability impact assessment. In Section 5.3 (Feature 29), the relation between governance, metagovernance and impact assessment was discussed.

Table 9.2 Model for a SWOT analysis of existing policy and governance frameworks

Existing policy framework

Existing governance framework











Box 9.5 Ex-ante evaluation, the Environmental Implementation Review and the EU Plastics Strategy

The E1R is a good example that a new initiative does not always start with an evaluation of what was done before. It could also be said the other way around: a thorough evaluation may not have a follow-up until the stars have reached a certain constellation. In the case of the EIR, evaluation reports existed already for years, the EU member states were periodically reporting about their implementation of EU water, waste, air, nature, etcetera policy and law, and the European Commission reacted to this in various ways - but until 2015 there was never a sufficient sense of urgency and of opportunity to do more than sectoral action: it was not possible to approach the issue holistically.

The European Commission’s (2018a) Plastic Strategy is a different case. Plastics was included in the existing legislation on waste management and - prevention, but had turned out to be a more serious problem for the environment and human health than was believed in the past. It took the broader scope of the Circular Economy - which added the whole value chain to the standard focus on products - to shed more light on plastics. The fact that China closed its border for import of plastic waste, and that pollution through plastics is close to citizens’ experience, also helped developing a higher political priority.

Step 3: define, reframe, and refine the problem

This step is about what the policy and governance challenges to be addressed in a specific context (e.g. country) are, and if there is agreement on the problem definition. A list of questions such as in Table 9.3 (Meuleman, 2003) could be used to analyse the complexity of the issue at stake.

Problems can be defined in different ways in order to trigger certain types of solutions: hierarchical instruments and disasters are a good match, as well as complex ‘wicked’ problems and network governance tools, and routine, undisputed problems and market governance methods. Many sustainable development challenges are of the ‘wicked’ type (Rittel and Webber, 1973). A useful model to distinguish different problem types is depicted in Figure 9.3.

Metagovemance: sketching a method 237 Table 9.3 Model for analyzing the complexity of the problem

Aspects of the complexity of the problem



Is there sufficient ‘objective’ information available?

Are there unified standards to weigh different solutions?

Can the problem be solved without solving other problems?

Can the problem be solved without cooperation with other parties?

Is the level of contradictions of the interests low?

Is the problem expected to stay stable (i.e. not dynamic)?

(After Meuleman, 2003)

Problem types

Figure 9.3 Problem types

(After Hisschemoller and Hoppe, 1996)

Although implementation of the SDGs is a complex challenge for govern- ment organizations, it is good to realize that in daily life at a ministry or other public organization not all problems are complex. Simple, routine and complex problems mingle or succeed each other. At the same time, policy issues are often fuzzy, contested and equivocal and require an ‘appropriate’ rather than the ‘best’ answer (Noordegraaf, 2000). Public sector managers/governors should be able to deal with the whole range of problem types. Especially the multi-level, multisector and multi-actor character of many contemporary challenges requires design, implementation and tailoring of comprehensive approaches through novel governance practices.

Understanding the dominant or politically given main governance style is important for the analysis of the problem type. Hierarchical governance normally works well with urgent problems and disasters, network governance stimulates addressing complex, multi-faceted and disputed issues, and market governance is at its best when problems are not very complex and have aspects of routine.

Sometimes a problem definition is given by political leaders, which then almost necessitates a specific governance framework. When I started as project manager of a complex, multi-level and multi-actor project in the Netherlands on regulating land purchase for urban development, 1 had already designed a network-based governance approach when the Minister told me that we should not involve stakeholders at all: in the past, three governments had fallen already on this sensitive issue and he didn’t want to be reason for the fourth. So, the approach was redesigned (Meuleman, 2003, p. 86). 1 like this example because it showed that the political framing power has its limits. The topic was not only sensitive but also hugely important for local authorities and project developers. They started a consensus-oriented network approach among themselves, from which 1 benefited. The example also shows that metagovemance is not possible under all circumstances.

Framing (see also Section 4.3) can make or break an initiative. In the example of the EU Environmental Implementation Review (Box 9.6), framing and timing went hand in hand: an existing frame (implementation gaps) was reformulated to link it to the political priority of the moment, which was in this case ‘better regulation’.

Box 9.6 Problem definition of the Environmental Implementation Review (EIR)

The fact that the implementation of the EU’s environmental policy and law was lagging behind in many areas and across countries, with high costs, was not new. Already in 2011, the overall costs of weak implementation were estimated around 50 billion Euros. It was the presentation of the European Commission’s Better Regulation package in May 2015 that offered the political opportunity to take additional action. Better regulation included shifting the priority from making new legislation to better implementation of existing law. The EIR was initiated to help closing implementation gaps in order to increase environmental quality, to reduce social and economic costs, and to improve the level playing field of economic operators across the EU. To this frame it was added that existing tools (legal enforcement - hierarchical governance) and EU funding for e.g. waste and water infrastructure (market governance) would remain. In addition, the new tool would not result in additional administrative burden for the member states. This comprehensive problem frame made the EIR initiative politically feasible, even attractive, where earlier attempts had failed. For example, from 2003 to 2010 so-called Environmental Policy Review (EPR) reports were published which had relatively little impact, although they stressed similar themes (namely implementation, integration and involvement (Jordan, 2012, p. 4)) as the EIR does.

Human behaviour and appropriate intervention types (European Commission, 2018b)

Figure 9.4 Human behaviour and appropriate intervention types (European Commission, 2018b)

Trying to change human behaviour - when it is harming the common interest - is a general objective of government interventions. This plays an important role in all SDGs, in the social domain (employment, gender balance), economics (poverty, sustainable production) and environmental issues (climate, energy, water). Figure 9.4 gives an example of an analysis of types of behaviour and what could be appropriate responses, prepared during the preparation of a governance framework to promote compliance with EU environmental law.

Step 4: formulate context-specific goals and options

The fourth step is translating (internationally agreed) goals into national context; formulating country-specific goals and policy options; assessing their benefits and costs on environmental, economic and social parameters; and proposing targets, indicators and time frames. This has the risk of cherry-picking but is also an opportunity to take advantage of a national context to become a regional or global forerunner. A set of principles and priorities as given in Table 9.4 could be the starting point for translation of the SDGs in overall government policies. Box

Box 9.7 Contextual goal definition of the Environmental Implementation Review (EIR)

The political Communication launching the first EIR package in 2017 mentions as a main goal to improve EU environmental implementation through analysis, dialogue and concrete collaboration - three typical network governance concepts. The Communication recognizes that challenges per country are different, but that they still could learn a lot from each other. For the first time, the administrative and governance root causes of weak implementation were addressed, including in the 28 country reports mentioned for each environmental theme the relevant SDG(s). The holistic approach made clear that the same cause, e.g. lack of capacity at the local level, was responsible for a range of different environmental implementation problems which had been dealt with separately. The 2017 Communication ended with three concrete goals: (1) organize inclusive dialogues per country on the main implementation gaps - both on substance and on root causes; (2) stimulate exchange of good practice (peer-to-peer learning); and (3) bring implementation problems to the political level in order to create breakthroughs.

9.7 gives an example of contextual goal definition.

Table 9.4 Principles and priorities for SDG integration

Characteristics of integration



What needs to be coordinated/integrated!

Agenda 2030 principles [and some challenges1

Policy sectors/ areas




Multiple sectors: economic, social and environmental policies

Integrative character, for achieving policy coherence [break down silos]

Policy levels




Multiple levels: local, subnational, national and supranational

Fostering bottom-up and top-down [break down silos]



Multiple actors: from politics, business and civil society

Shared responsibility Leave no one behind

[different levels and styles of consultation and participation]



Knowledge from different sources (‘transdisciplinarity’)


Continuous reflection and (peer) learning, evidence- based policy making (e.g. impact assessment)




Long- and short-term thinking

[Election cycles]

(Niestroy, 2014, pp. 154-168, adapted 2017)

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