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Policy-making in the modern state commonly exhibits a contradictor character. Under the press of daily demands for action, often constructed as “crises”, decision-makers feel the need to act without delay. Yet powerful forces are pushing systems increasingly in more decentralized and persuasion-based directions.

Of course, even in notionally rigid high modernist hierarchies, the “command theory” of control was never wholly valid. Orders backed by threats were never a good way to get things done, in an organization and more than in governing a country. Complex organizations can never be run by coercion alone. An effective authority structure, just as an effective legal system, presupposes that the people operating within it themselves internalize the rules it lays down and critically evaluate their own conduct according to its precepts. That is true even of the most nominally bureaucratic environments.

Beyond this stress on complex organization, politics and policy making is mostly a matter of persuasion. Decide, choose, legislate as they will, policy-makers must carry people with them, if their determinations are to have the full force of policy. They need to persuade the people who must follow their edicts if those are to become general public practice. In part, that involves “persuasion” of the public at large.

That is most commonly demonstrated in systems that attempt to practice liberal democracy. But a wealth of evidence shows that even in the most coercive systems of social organization there are powerful limits to the straightforward power of command. Thus there have always been limits to command. But the argument that, increasingly, government is giving way to “governance” suggests something more interesting, and something peculiarly relevant to our “persuasive”conception of policy-making studies:

A common view in the scholarly debate on the democratic status of the European Union is that increased transparency may promote output-oriented legitimacy, which means that political decision-makers who are forced to act in public will have to shape up their acts. Once such “a role” is defined and has become institutionalized, it will act as a constraint, but also as an instrumment, for the role player.

“Transparency has the power to prevent wrong-doing” and make elite decision-makers more responsive to the public and secure the adoption of more impartial decisions (see Gargarella, 2000: Héretier, 1999: Scharpf, 2003).

That governing is less and less a matter of ruling through hierarchic authority structures, and more and more a matter of negotiating through a decentralized series of floating alliances.

Advocacy groups are always an important force, even in routine policy-making. And they are becoming more so, in networked transnational society. But they are often treated as just another interested party, speaking for narrow sectoral interests alone, however much they might pretend otherwise in the public interest.

Policies are debated, and indeed made, in many different fora. Each operates according to a different set of rules, with a different urgencies. Yet there is paradox of partisam conflict and crisis when the need is greatest to make better decisions. The analysis of crises exactly, in particular critical events, can be a powerful aid to institutional learning.

The tools we often do not know, but want to learn is in part a product of what we already have. These tools are social technologies and thus their use and effectiveness are highly contingent on the setting in which they are employed.

The current drive towards increasing transparency in political institutions is not applauded everywhere, however. Some argue that transparency puts the effectiveness of negotiation at risk. A certain degree of secrecy is necessary in order to produce agreements, according to this view. For instance, the famous culture of compromise in the EU Council of Ministers may be damaged by radical transparency reforms. The sceptics may lean towards negotiation theory for support.

There have been only a handful of attempts by scholars to devise typologies of democracies as whole systems, and the most comprehensive of these has been the influential distinction between majoritarian and consensus democracies that was elaborated by Arend Lijphart  in a series of key publications in the 1980s and 1990s (Lijphart 1984, 1999). This was in fact a development of an earlier approach that Lijphart had first developed in 1968.

The new typology of democracies which Lijphart developed in the 1980s was more broad-ranging, and given that it was defined in almost exclusively political and institutional rather than political cultural terms, it also enjoyed almost limitless geographic application. He had drawn a key distinction between what he called the Anglo-American democracies, on the one hand, and the continental European democracies, on the other.

The former model was characterized by a secular, homogeneous political culture in which bargaining actors and associations were interdependent but autonomous, while the letter was characterized by a fragmented political culture with separate and non-overlapping political sub-cultures, in which independent actors came to politics not without bargainable differences but with conflicting and mutually exclusive designs for the political culture and the political system.

In the one case, the political system is likely to be centripetal, moderate, and stable, in the other, it is likely to be conflictual, polarized and unstable.

Two types of political elite behaviour, coalescent and adversarial, and through which he suggested that the choices and strategies pursued by political leaders could offset some of the problems posed by conflicts at the level of the political culture. In other words, divisions at the level of the society and culture could be temprereted by certain types of political institutions and political behaviour.

For democratic choices, institutional research provide guidelines for drafting policy procedures, involving not just making laws but the administrative decision making that inevitably follows. Political feasibility or implementation is worth studying precisely because it is a struggle over the realization of ideas.

The roots of the idea of a policy network lie, in part, in American pluralism and the literature on sub governments. Although there is a broad scholarly consensus that Congress is more polarized than any time in the recent past (more ideologically polarized and rife with party conflict than they have been since 1906, according to new report published in December 2013 by APSA) there is considerably less agreement on the causes of such polarization. Numerous arguments have been offered to explain the observed increase in polarization, and these causes can be divided into two broad categories:

i) explanations based on changes to the external environment of Congress, and

ii) those based on changes to the internal environment.

Perhaps the simplest explanation for an increasingly polarized Congress is one grounded in the relationship between members of Congress and their constituents. If voters are polarized, reelection-motivated legislators would be induced to represent the political ideologies of their constituents, resulting in a polarized Congress. Evidence of voter-induced polarization is elusive,however.

When describing government policy making, the term policy network refers to interest intermediation, interorganizational analysis, and governance. The central question for classical pluralism is how power and influence is distributed in a political process.

The dominant image is that of networked governance (Castells, 2000). Some actors are more central, others more peripheral, in those networks. But even those actors at the central nodes of networks are not in a position to dictate to the others in the policy process. Consultation arrangements and broad cooperation from a great many effectively independent actors is required in order for any of them to accomplish their goals.

In order to negotiating parties to reach a wise outcome, it is claimed within this literature, it is useful to establish private and confidential means of communicating with the other side (Fishe, Ury and Patton, 1999). Secrecy is a necessary condition for positive-sum integrative bargaining, which is characterised by a cooperative attitude, rich information sharing and participants candidly speaking their minds.

  • Transparency, on the other hand, leads to posturing and more rigid position, negotiation theorists argue. The ground for this controversy between the deliberative theory and the negotiation theory perspectives lies in their different assumptions of the basic characteristics of the public sphere.
  • In one hand deliberative theorists assume that the public audience  is an “audience of citizens”, on the other hand in the negotiation theory and game theory models, the public audience is an “audience of constituents”. Constituents have already made up their minds about what they want; maximizing their own interests.
  • The audience is introduced into political science as “public sphere”. Through debates surrounding this theoretical construct, we find discussions surrounding extent to which it is the elite or the public that create policy.

Procedural arrangements for resolving political strife—which the report call “the rules of collective political engagement”—These arrangements include a careful incorporation of technical expertise, repeated interactions, penalty defaults, and relative autonomy in private meetings.

Another strand arrangement, more of democratic theory, reacting against the bargaining model that sees politics as simply the vector sum of political forces and the aggregation of votes is deliberative negotiation or “deliberative democrats” (to make clear “how important negotiation is for democracy), which invite us to reflect together on our preferences and what policies might best promote the preferences that we reflectively endorse.

Some countries incorporate these arrangements into their political institutions and therefore can rely more extensively on cooperation and compromise in the normal practice of politics. Yet even countries without ongoing institutions that facilitate cooperation may adopt these procedural arrangements and thus produce more successful negotiations (see Task Force on Negotiating Agreement in Politics (2013) Chapter 6, titled “Conditions for Successful Negotiation: Lessons from Europe”).

These conceptions, true, are easier to realize in some settings than in others. The place, the institutional site, and the time all matter. Sites of governance matter, as well. Meshing policy advice and policy decision with deliberation is therefore easier in some nations, and at some levels of government, than others. It also seems easier at some historical moments than others. Thus time matters. Arguably more democratic, possibilities emerge when looking at governing as a bottom-up process.

National traditions clearly differ in their receptivity to deliberation and argument. The more consultative polities of Scandinavia and continental Europe have always favored more consensual modes of policy-making, compared to the majoritarian polities of the Anglo-American world. Of course, every democratic polity worth the name has some mechanisms for obtaining public input into the policy-making process.

Letters to Congressmen and congressional hearings, in the USA; Royal Commissions and Green Papers in the UK and so on. But those seem to be pale shadows of the Scandinavian remiss procedures, inviting comment on important policy initiatives and actually taking the feedback seriously, even when it does not necessarily come from powerful political interests capable of blocking the legislation or derailing its implementation (Goodin, 2011).

Policy-making is always a matter of choice under constraint, but not all the constraint are material. Some are social and political, having to do with the willingness of people to do what your policy asks of them or with the willingness of electors to endorse the policies that would-be policy-makers espouse.

to make possible what is necessary – is the condition for responsible government. José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission 2009-2014

Another large source of constraints on policy-making, however, is ideational. Technology is at its most fundamental a set of ideas for how to use a set of resources to achieve certain desired outcomes. The same is true of the technology of policy as it is of the more familiar sorts of technology of production. Ideas of how to pursue important social goals are forever in short supply.

Moreover, there are always multiple tables and multiple fora at which policies are argued out and bargained over. Classical pluralism is the view that politics and decision making are located mostly in the “framework of government”, but that many non-governmental groups use their resources to exert influence.

The argument thus far involves modest claims: Does the Government Selection Process Promote or Hinder Pluralism? And to what extent does the government selection process practised in public consultations promote or hinder pluralism in the policy-making process? This article addresses this question by exploring and analysing the characteristics of voluntary organizations invited to public consultations.

Negotiating Agreement in Politics

Public consultations. Evidence is drawn from the formerly corporatist Scandinavian country of Sweden and the policy-making process referred to as the “remiss procedure”.

It is argued that the policy network literature and the theory of political opportunity structures may further the understanding of the government selection process practised in public consultations.

Not only might certain features of national legislature make that a more deliberative assembly, more in line with the requirements of deliberative democracy.

And not only are certain features of political culture traditions more conducive to deliberative democracy. Policy itself might be made in a more deliberative way, by those charged with the task of developing and implementing policy proposals (Fischer, 2003).

Majority building is the whole point of Swedish politics. ‘A Harmonious Democracy’: this term was used by Herbert Tingsten in 1966 to describe Sweden’s ability to resolve conflict and maintain a high standard of living.

Thomas Anton in 1969 discerned how he thought how Sweden avoided conflict:

i) Policy preparation ‘extraordinarily deliberative’ via the utredning or pre-legislative commission. These were dominated by experts and fed into autonomous central boards rather than individual ministerial decision-making.

ii) Policy-Making is ‘highly rationalistic’ based on extended, thorough investigations and conducted, according to Arter in a ‘pragmatic, intellectual style… Broadly the view was that the government was established to do things, not to talk about doing things or think about doing things.’(Arter 153)

iii) Policy process is ‘very open’: all interested parties are consulted. There is a ‘remiss procedure’ whereby draft proposals are distributed to any party or group likely to be affected by them.

Anton argued that while this procedure did not remove conflict, it ‘domesticated’ it and helped remove it from public view.In public, it is assumed, the force of better argument norm rules, and actors will be sanctioned if they refuse to abide to it. “Public debate induces actors to replace the language of power by the language of reason, i.e. they have to appeal to common norms and values” (Eriksen and Fossum, 200). From a normative point of view this is a shift in behaviour which is welcomed by deliberative theorists. The heart of democracy, in their view, is the exchange of rational arguments concerning the common good, rather than bargaining or voting.

iv) Policy-making is consensual, with the agreement sought and reached with ‘virtually all the parties to them’ with even the dissenting statements of a commission not challenging the consensus.

Note: this briefing draws heavily upon the superb Scandinavian Politics Today by David Arter, the foremost scholar in this area of study.

The Kingdom of Sweden, flanked by Norway to the west and the Baltic Sea to the east, expands across much of the Scandinavian Peninsula and is one of the largest countries in the European Union by land mass. Despite its militaristic roots, Sweden has remained neutral in times of war for centuries. Instead, commitment to human rights, public service and sustainability have helped to make it a respected leader in international affairs.

Almost certainly the so-called ‘Nordic Model’ is based to a large extent upon the Swedish social democratic system of government which has been impressing and horrifying for many peopel, according to taste, since the thirties. In 1936 the American journalist, Marquis Childs, wrote a book called Sweden: The Middle Way and it became a best seller. This was because it was written at a time when 20 million Americans were out of work while countries like Germany and the USSR provided full employment but no political liberty.

‘Up to date statistics and common sense observation depict a society that has found a viable mean between equitable distribution and solid economic performance.’ Henry Milner 1989, p16.

For the left the Soviet Union was especially difficult to comprehend as in theory- having abolished private property- it was ‘socialist’ and represented the shape of things to come. US journalist Lincoln Steffens visited and returned to pronounce: ‘I’ve seen the future and it works’.

‘A Harmonious Democracy’: this term was used by Herbert Tingsten in 1966 to describe Sweden’s ability to resolve conflict and maintain a high standard of living. Thomas Anton in 1969 discerned how he thought how Sweden avoided conflict: