#Awalkinthepark – Radical Institutional Change? Bin juice!!


The sixth lap is usually fairly unproductive, from a reading point of view, but probably where the calorie burn comes from.  Somehow I only managed to finish one article – (and tbf, most of another)

Lorenzoni, I. and Benson, D. 2014. Radical institutional change in environmental governance: Explaining the origins of the UK Climate Change Act 2008 through discursive and streams perspectives.  Global Environmental Change, Vol. 29 pp.210-21.

They use two analytic lenses – discursive institutionalism (DI) and multiple streams model  (SM)– to look at the before and during of the passage of the UK Climate Change Act 2008.

As for DI – well, I’ve blogged a LOT about that over the last few days.  SM – Well, Bismark said that laws are like sausages, in that it doesn’t pay to look too closely at how they are made.  John Kingdon could have said laws are ‘bin juice’ –

Kingdon argues that problems and solutions generated by participants are dumped into a political garbage can and become a ‘primeval soup’ from which the policy process emerges as three distinct streams (problems, policies and politics). When these three streams converge at critical junctures they interact, thereby opening the opportunity (‘policy windows’, or ‘windows of opportunity’) for advocates to place their solutions to particular problems on the political agenda, leading to new policies or changes to existing policies (Kingdon, 1984, 1995; also Farley et al., 2007).
(Lorenzi and Benson, 2014:11)

They give good brief descriptions of both DI and SM, and explain their (mixed) methodology which involved a lot of reading and some interviews duly triangulated.

They then tell the story of the CCA via both lenses, drawing out useful detail, and evaluate the usefulness of both theories.  They think that Multiple Streams Model may understate the ability of policy entrepreneurs/actors to force the pace/make things happen.

The DI account emphasises the constitutive role of Bryony Worthington, working for Friends of the Earth in shifting the mental mood music, and the role of an Early Day Motion.

There are some unfortunate mistakes-

  • “begs the question” (p.10) when it simply means “raises the question”
  • Secretaries of State are appointed by the Prime Minister, not “elected” (p. 14)
  • The Stop Climate Chaos coalition was not ‘international’ (p.15) in the normal sense of that.
  • Straight-jacketing instead of ‘strait-jacketing’ (p.16)
  • ‘Towed the line’ instead of ‘toed the line’ (p17)

This is more about policy formation than policy implementation, (targets and fine pronouncements about the year 2050 are easy. Confronting inertia and vested interests in the day-to-day? #notsomuch.  But these guys have written a very useful paper nonetheless.

They conclude –

Firstly, in our theory testing it remains difficult to generalise from our single, albeit significant, case, making more general claims about the supportive ‘value’ of DI somewhat premature. Secondly, Discursive Institutionalism itself remains an emerging agenda within the wider discipline of new institutionalism. We therefore advocate greater testing of propositions, not only in parallel climate change cases but also across different policy sectors and even national contexts (e.g. see Benson and Lorenzoni, 2014). The reward is not only more innovative theory building and, potentially, better explanatory frameworks. In the case of climate change policy, the scope for learning on the conditions necessary to countenance ambitious, legally binding mitigation targets is high. Such normative lessons will be of comparative interest to countries as they seek to reduce their emissions whilst still maintaining cross-societal consensus, a conundrum that will occupy future policy makers worldwide as climate change occurs.
(Lorenzi and Benson, 2014:19)


Things to read

Benson, D., Lorenzoni, I., 2014. Examining the scope for national lesson-drawing on climate governance. Polit. Q. 85 (2), 202–211, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467- 923X.12080.

Brunner, S., 2008. Understanding policy change: multiple streams and emissions trading in Germany. GEC 18, 501–507.

Davies, P.H.J., 2001. Spies as informants: triangulation and the interpretation of Elite interview data in the study of the intelligence and security services. Politics 21 (1), 73–80.

Farley, J., Baker, D., Batker, D., Koliba, C., Matteson, R., Mills, R., Pittman, J., 2007. Opening the SM for ecological economics: Katrina as a focusing event. Ecol. Econ. 63, 344–354.

Nerlich, B., 2012. ‘Low carbon’ metals, markets and metaphors: the creation of economic expectations about climate change mitigation. Clim. Change 110, 31–51. Pidgeon, N.F., 2012. Public understanding of, and attitudes to, climate change: UK and international perspectives and policy. Clim. Policy 12, S85–S106.

Rayner, T., Jordan, A., 2010. The United Kingdom: a paradoxical leader. In: Wurzel, R.K.W., Connelly, J. (Eds.), The European Union as a Leader in International Climate Change Politics. Routledge, London, pp. 95–111.

Schmidt, V.A., 2010. Taking ideas and discourse seriously: explaining change through discursive institutionalism as the fourth ‘new institutionalism’. Eur. Polit. Sci. Rev. 2 (1), 1–25.






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