Making Policies Work
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Making Policies Work

First- and Second-order Mechanisms in Policy Design

Edited by Giliberto Capano, Michael Howlett, M Ramesh and Altaf Virani

Policy design efforts are hampered by inadequate understanding of how policy tools and actions promote effective policies. The objective of this book is to address this gap in understanding by proposing a causal theory of the linkages between policy actions and policy effects. Adopting a mechanistic perspective, the book identifies the causal processes that activate effects and help achieve goals. It thus offers a powerful analytical tool to both scholars and practitioners of public policy seeking to design effective policies.
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Chapter 3: Structural mechanisms affecting policy subsystems activity: beyond individual and group behavioral propensities in policy design and policy change

Michael Howlett


Many policy mechanisms operate at the level of individual and group behavior and have been discussed in recent research on these subjects. A third class of such “first-order” mechanisms exists, however, that directly affect and change policy subsystem structure and behavior. This chapter explores this category of network mechanisms, one in which policy tools activate structural components of policy subsystems affecting the number of type of nodes and links present in a policy community or network rather than individual or group behavior, per se. Procedural policy tools in particular utilize statecraft resources to activate mechanisms that affect subsystem structural elements – nodes and links – by introducing new actors or reconfiguring relationships in order to affect policy targets and drive policy change. While use of such mechanisms and instruments is common, surprisingly, studies and understanding of the them are not. This chapter helps fill this gap in the policy design and mechanisms literature.

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