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 11: Looping to success (and failure): second-order mechanisms and policy outcomes

Mallory E. Compton and Paul 't Hart

Abstract

The premise of a dynamic policy model – for example, that sequence matters or decision-making is constrained by what has already happened – applies to many, if not most, social-political phenomena. Yet, when contextualized with defined scope conditions, the same mechanism might explain not just stability and change, but the success or otherwise of public policies. In this chapter, the authors first discuss the value of a dynamic and mechanistic perspective to the study of policy success, they elaborate a three-dimensional concept of policy success (programmatic, process, and political performance), and examine how both first- and second-order mechanisms can reinforce or work against these dynamics. Developing a typology of policy loops (driven by configurations of first- and second-order mechanisms) the authors explore how such a perspective can not only inform analytical explanations of policy success and failure, but also purposeful attempts by policy actors to work towards their preferred outcomes.

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