Punctuated Equilibrium Theory – a pet peeve about graphics

So there are lovely images of Advocacy Coalition Framework

advocacy coalition framework from cairney website

and Multiple Streams Approach (Basic version



and with more recent modifications

howlett et al 2016
But none that I have found for Punctuated Equilibrium.  Someone who knows what they are doing should do something about that gap.  Meanwhile, this.

punctuated equilibrium

Comments very welcome (rude is fine – I dish it out, and for the most part, I can take it).


From “The Wire” to “Heresthetics” – the game is rigged….

The game is rigged, you feel me? (At this point the wife will point out that I am not, in actual fact, a black man from B’more… Sorry “Baltimore”).

Anyway, back to game rigging- the word for the day is “Heresthetics”

William Riker was one of the leading scholars “positive political theory,” or the Rational Choice School of political science. He developed a theory of political action based on a skill he called heresthetics: structuring the world so you can win.

Positive political theory has three central assumptions: 1) Rationality-individuals make reasoned decisions; 2) Component analysis-only small parts of a system are important in predicting human behavior; and 3) Strategic behavior-individuals take into account what others may do before making decisions (interaction as opposed to action). All three assumptions play an important role in his model and attempt to answer the question: Does a distinctly political kind of behavior exist? Riker’s answer is yes: heresthetics. Riker coined this term from a Greek root meaning “choosing and electing.” For Riker, the rational political person wants to win at the game of politics. How they win is using rhetoric (verbal skill in persuasion) and heresthetics (structuring the process so one may win) to build effective coalitions.


The Smugosphere – an academic citation

So, I have been writing cynically about the “smugosphere” – that place where normal rules of performance assessment to not apply because people are Doing Good For The Cause.

And I just kind of stumbled on a very very interesting paper by one Wolfgang Seibel;

Seibel, W. 1996. Successful Failure: An Alternative View on Organizational Coping. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 39, (8), pp. 1011- 1024.

He looks at the reasons behind the continued and tolerated ‘under-performance’ of a shelter for victims of domestic violence and a sheltered workshop for people with intellectual disabilities.

Here are some quotes-

In the business world, though, the hard indicators of performance, namely, figures on profit and losses, will ultimately unveil the truth. But as long as measurement of organizational performance is blurry, information asymmetries between principals and agents may persist. For instance, if the quality of services is hard to evaluate because either reasonable scales of measurement do not exist or the person who purchases a good or service is not the consumer (as in the case of day care services)., the principals have no sound basis for their judgment on performance. Under such circumstances, the agent’s incentive to tell the truth about poor performance is substantially weakened…. Consequently, low-performance organizations may persist or, even worse, due to lower production costs, they may supersede high-performance organisations.
(Seibel, 1996:1012)

Efficient management would publicly reveal the ubiquitousness [sic] of a phenomenon that is subject to public reticence. It would remind a male-dominated public how recklessly males are treating women, and it would remind society of the inappropriate funding for those institutions that take care of what, presumably, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violence against women. Why should a male-dominated public be interested in such kind of efficiency.
(Seibel, 1996:1016)


To acknowledge openly how poorly [women’s shelters] are performing would cause serious cognitive dissonances. According to different ideological stances, it would either mean to acknowledge that a serious societal problem is rather insufficiently being dealt with or that something that in one’s own perception is not a serious problem at all is subject to a waste of money and human energy
(Seibel, 1996:1016)


Efficient… management would put this arrangement into jeopardy. It would destabilize existing networks as well as undermine the role of board members as influential gate keepers in terms of resource mobilization…. Whether or not one of the board members would blow the whistle would be essentially uncertain. This kind of mistrust and uncertainty would destroy the basis of networking. Accordingly, board members must be essentially interested in sustaining the illusion that decent work is being done.
(Seibel, 1996:1017)


Presumably, interests and ideologies are mutually dependent. The interest in low degrees of organizational performance causes the need for justifying ideas. But the ideas would not create a stable veil of ignorance if they were not based on interests. Thus ignorance itself is what those providing resources have to be interested in. One can hardly imagine permanent failure without demand for ignorance.
(Seibel, 1996:1019)


Plausible ideologies are available that protect the organization against the ‘inappropriate’ application of efficiency and accountability standards, thus mitigating the cognitive dissonances caused by the gap between poor performance and the standards of organizational efficiency and accountability.
(Seibel, 1996:1020)

Efficient management may not only jeopardize informal social networks, it may also make the organization independent from single sources of monetary support. Such attempts to reach flexibility and independence are likely to violate the interests of those who primarily use the organization for networking, because these interests are best being served through enduring dependence of a given non-profit organization from a given set of sponsors.
(Seibel, 1996:1021)


Excellent and cynical stuff – and he references an article which I then went and read (and it is a corker).

Meyer J and Rowan, B. 1977. Institutionalized organizations. Formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 83, pp. 340-262.

Nothing like the sun – of (macho) theory and parsimony

“…An explanation becomes more parsimonious than another when it uses a smaller number of explanatory variable while explaining at least as much as its opponent. For example, it is more parsimonious to model the solar system as heliocentric than terracentric, because the former uses far simpler mathematics to account for at least as many planetary movements as the latter. We should be far less impressed with the heliocentrist if he had to say: ‘Forget about the outer planets; this theory is more parsimonious because it just looks at the inner ones.’ But contemporary social science often makes use of precisely this kind of argument, using the idea of parsimony as meaning a kind of rough, tough macho theory that concentrates on the big picture and ignores detail.”

P40. of Crouch, C. 2005. Capitalist Diversity and Change: Recombinant Governance and Institutional Entrepreneurs.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Why we are toast: Aussie Corporate perspectives on #climate innovation

Mikler, J and Harrison, N. 2013. Climate Innovation: Australian Corporate Perspectives on the Role of Government. Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 59, (3), pp.414-428.

Nothing I have learnt in the last two years of reading a lot (no, even by my OCD*-ish standards) has so much as grazed – let alone dented – my sense that our species is toast, sooner than most folks think.    And one of the many latest things I’ve read is the above paper.

Mikler and Harrison got access (on basis of anonymity) to a bunch of Australian corporate executives, at or nearish the top of the food chain.  As you’d expect from ‘agentic deadlock’, they blame the government for not setting the rules of the game.  Believe it or not (and some will not), I have some sympathy for the view – though of course other corporates have been busy white-anting [that’s Australian for ‘under-mining’] all efforts at bringing in predictable/strong rules.  For gory details, see Clive Hamilton’s Scorcher and Guy Pearse’s High and Dry especially.

Here are some quotes (especially ones that contain quotes from interviewees)

Given the lack of a business case for climate innovation purely on the basis of GHG emission reductions, all interviewees stressed that those of the radical variety in particular, entailing the entire redesign of processes or products, were highly unlikely without strong regulatory requirements and substantial support on the part of government. To one degree or another, they echoed the sentiment that “regulatory is by far the strongest driver” of GHG emission reductions and that “regulations drive innovation”.

(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:421)

[compare with 2006 letter to Blair from 14 top execs in UK]

Echoing the point made earlier about price inelasticity of demand, it was interesting to note that nearly all the interviewees said the tax needed to be much higher, with one commenting that although it was high enough to reduce profitability it was not high enough to substantively drive innovation. One interviewee put the case thus:

Either you put it in as a token leadership issue, and awareness issue at something like $10 a tonne which we could easily cope with, or you put it in at $60 or $70 which would actually drive innovation and change. Putting it in at $23 is completely useless, achieves nothing in terms of drivers for innovation and just costs the economy.
(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:422)

The time frames are all wrong, of course.

Another point made by all interviewees was that much more was required of government to drive climate innovation, especially that of the more radical variety. As one interviewee put it, “climate innovation has got to be long term, so there’s got to be a strategy and it’s not about short-term programs”. Given that more radical climate innovation involves substantial capital expenditure and a five to eight year commitment at least, with the prospect of uncertain future returns over a longer period of time after this, “if your legislation is changing on a six monthly basis you just can’t do it”.

(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:422)

And reading this in 2016 makes me cry (with hollow laughter)

It was sobering, to say the least, to hear all of them view the potential for a change of government at the 2013 election with nothing less than a sense of dread. As one interviewee put it, “we’ve got Mr Abbott making a blood oath to repeal the carbon tax, and we’re not too sure what that really means”. Another said “the conservative governments will deliberately stuff it up so that in an election year nothing is working, regardless of the fact it will just mean a few more years of the pain for everybody”. Yet another said “a change of government would be a disaster”.
(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:423)

And it’s the customers fault, natch.

All interviewees stated, often quite bluntly, that they perceived no business case for climate innovation specifically. This is because they did not believe consumers were sufficiently demanding less GHG emissions-intensive products, unless they can be provided at the same or lower cost. With the costs and risks involved in climate innovation for such products, there was therefore limited incentive to invest in them.

As one interviewee said, “the options around the consumer driving it are fairly limited”, while another noted that “we can’t build a model around […] the top two per cent of consumers who will buy green products”.
(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:424)

Hey, guess what. The market will not provide. Neither will the state.  Ooh, here comes the fricking apocalypse.

The sentiment of all interviewees was summed up by one who said “if it’s not supported by government, then they vote with their feet, the public vote with their feet, and whatever’s most cost efficient they’ll move to”. In the absence of this support, none of the interviewees saw market imperatives for climate innovation, either now or in the future, despite raised awareness. Indeed, one said that “what the community expects is that government will reflect their attitudes because they’re not going to pay for companies to reflect it”, while in a similar vein another said that “you can’t afford to create awareness. It costs too much money. The very best way of initiating change is through government regulations.”
(Mikler and Harrison, 2013:424)

This is a good paper. The authors are well into the whole Varieties of Capitalism stuff, (see their book), and this article, based on interviews within a Liberal Market Economy called Australia (aka quarry with a state apparatus attached) is a depressing companion to books by Clive Hamilton, Guy Pearse, Philip Chubb and Maria Taylor.

And once you’re done with them, then these beckon-

Fred Block, “Swimming Against the Current: the Rise of a Hidden Developmental State in the United States”, Politics and Society, Vol. 36, 2 (2008), pp.169-206;

Fred Block and Matthew R.Keller, “Where do Innovations Come From? Transformations in the US Economy, 1970-2006”, Socio-economic Review, Vol. 7 (2009), pp.459-483;

Fred Block and Matthew R. Keller, State of Innovation: The US Government’s Role in Technology Development (Boulder, 2011).

*I know I am probably mis-using the term, but not by so much.  Why do I read so much? A host of reasons from my upbringing, I suspect [as if you could ever say for sure!]. To do with retreat, with a sense of control, physiological [autonomic] responses, then because … oh, who knows. A post for a very slow news day.

“Hormetic consolidation” – Marc’s bid for immortality

So, you adopt just enough of the opposing coalition’s rhetoric and even one or two of their trivial policy recommendations (from what the ACF crowd would call the secondary aspects’).  And this makes you look reasonable, and the opponents look churlish if they don’t applaud your reasonableness.

And either way it (probably) takes some wind from their sails.  Of course, the danger is that you may be perceived to be weak, and further bigger and more substantive demands now get made. It’s a question of timing (within the escalation of a scandal), and of how ideologically united the opponents are. It usually works, but if left too late, can spur opponents on (Mubarak saying he would not stand for re-‘election’ was an example of the latter).

And since this doesn’t seem to have a name (but I could be wrong), I am going to call it…

(drum roll please)

Hormetic consolidation 

Hormesis – is the term for generally favorable biological responses to low exposures totoxins and other stressors. It comes from Greek hórmēsis “rapid motion, eagerness”, itself from ancient Greek hormáein “to set in motion, impel, urge on”.”


“the minor changes supported the position of the major coalition, as they diminished the leverage the opposing, minor coalition had in its efforts to influence the Swiss position toward South Africa.”

Hirschi, C. and Widmer, T. 2010. Policy Change and Policy Stasis: Comparing Swiss Foreign Policy toward South Africa (1968-94) and Iraq (1990-91). Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 38, (3), pp.537-563.

Bristol and public policy geek-out-ery

Lovely 24-ish hours in Bristol, seeing my sainted aunt, and then my oldest UK-friend, whom I have known since 1997.  Lots of good beer, good pizza, good conversation.  #Aintnosintobegladyourealive

Meanwhile, on the journeys to and from and in-between, I read a bunch of policy papers, and have come up with more terms for the ever-expanding A to Z of policy terms.

Perception Management
Agenda entrance
Issue Expansion
Issue salience
Policy legacies
Policy Paradigms (compare policy image – or wider than that?)
Subsystem collapse (PE)
Orders of change – first, second and third (Hall and Policy Paradigms – compare ACF and levels of belief)
Venue  creation
Path Creation (Garud and Karnoe)
Social learning
Path creation

Issue linkage
Free-rider problem
Rational Choice Theory
Policy areas
Policy stages
Policy cycle
Information entrepreneur (Crow 2010, cited in Knaggard, 2015)
Knowledge broker (Litfin, 1994)
Local knowledge (compare with scientific knowledge)
External shocks (focusing events) (ACF)
Internal shocks (focusing events) (ACF)
Mature policy subsystem (ACF)
Negotiated agreements (ACF)
LME Liberal Market Economies
CME Co-ordinated Market Economies

Hidden Developmental State

Encouraging words and help from senior academic

Bless the internet for enabling rapid free communication with clued-up people around the world (as someone just old enough to remember having to send letters to people and getting (with luck) a reply two or three weeks later, this is an under-noticed improvement in our lives.

I contacted a very senior (and also interesting – the two are not always the same thing) academic by email, once to blag an electronic copy of one of his latest pieces of work, another to say “look at ME, I’ve created pages about policy concepts“).  On both occasions I got rapid, gracious, helpful replies that are very encouraging.

He looked over my list of concepts and suggested (for starters) three more, which are now added.

Policy Bubbles
Policy Dynamics
Common Pool Resources

All three of which are important tools for my tasks around theoretical contributions to the Dialectical Issue LifeCycle Model, so huzzah!

And here is a list of other concepts that need (and now have) pages. Additional suggestions welcome!!

Arenas (Hilfgartner and Bosk)
Critical Juncture
Discursive Institutionalism stuff
Evidence-based policy-making
Field Theory
LifeCycles models
Narrative Policy Framework
New Public Management
Path Dependency
Policy-based evidence making
Policy Paradigms (Hall)
Policy Stasis (compare hurtful stalemate)
Policy Transfer
Post Normal Science
Sociotechnical transitions
Super-wicked problems
Wicked Problems

Could also do sites for MLP
Strategic Niche Management
for DILC? TEF?

Adventures in policy concepts…

Public policy for fun and … profit?  I’ve been on a major reading binge over the last month or so (Policy Studies Journal, I’m looking at you).

Most of that has been around three theories/frameworks/models – Advocacy Coalitions Framework, Punctuated Equilibrium and Multiple Streams.

Why? To try to test/extend the Dialectical Issue LifeCycle Model, especially in its phase 3 to phase 4 shift (if you’ve got 10 minutes, you could read this).

And what I realised was that it would be a “public good contribution” to my fellow early career (cough, cough) researchers, AND useful to me, if a website were built.

Or rather, a bunch of interlinked webpages came into existence.  A very patient friend of mine taught me some drupal etc, but for this, I just relied on wordpress and a certain (unusually methodical) approach to linking forward and back.

Next steps – to write the story of Australia and climate policy, 1974-2015 using each of these three theories in turn.  #livingthedream.

Meanwhile, you can find an alphabetical list of the policy concepts (it will be updated over time) with links to individual pages, here.

I might also improve my cardboard and coloured-paper models, ahead of a powerpoint presentation tomorrow, at which I hope to get heckled for long-windedness and conspiracy theories….

Brilliant friend of mine, on #activism

I have brilliant friends. A couple of them are activists, and have turned their brilliant attention to the problem(s) of activism.  I learn a lot from listening to these friends.  In response to a chapter that I have in an upcoming Routledge book (“On Pathological and Ineffective Activism: What is to be Done?), one friend has written thus.  My responses, fwtw,in italics.

On another topic, still thinking about the dysfunctional groups thing, and why your analysis bothers me:

1 – You posit the existence of a large group of great people who would be involved but have been put off by activist crapness. I think there is an element of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence – ie they look like great people because you haven’t seen them in action. Or they have made a rational decision that it’s not worth it for reasons other than the dysfunctionality of the group – ie they ultimately are not sufficiently motivated/don’t think the cause is worth the commitment/having looked harder they don’t think it’s winnable. Otherwise one would expect to find some activist groups formed by these great people which do all things you think functional groups do.

Yep. I have come to that conclusion.  And there are always ‘easier’ ways to virtue-signal; by going to a demo, clicking on a petition.  That’s not to say that if the crap groups didn’t exist, the Revolution would happen (just as the disappearance of the lackeys-of-capitalism-in-Labour is not going to lead directly to the dictatorship of the proletariat.)

2 – What voluntary groups do you know, preferably activist but also others, which meet your criteria for functionality?  How do they avoid the pitfalls you have identified?

Good question.  I suppose groups where there are clear success/failure/performance metrics, and ways of ‘getting rid’ of those who repeatedly and irredeemably under-perform.  I presume, for example, the RNLI doesn’t tolerate people who don’t answer the phone.  The Samaritans probably gets rid of people who say “oh, go jump.” But activists?  In the smugosphere? Nope…

3 – If you can’t come up with convincing answers to point 2, ie if all or almost all of the groups you know are to some extent dysfunctional and not flourishing, or are too new to know whether they will flourish, then the flaws go beyond bad interpersonal relations and inept group process. Your point about rewards and punishments comes in here – as with CCS, activism doesn’t have an internal economy/feedback system to say whether it’s working – this goes beyond how groups operate but is a fundamental problem.

Yep.  Thus I carpe many of the diems.

4 – Might this suggest that in our current social/cultural/political context, activism as we understand it doesn’t work? If so, you’re flogging a dead horse. Anger at the people involved for having failed is fair, but just ends in bitterness, I fear.

Bitte(r) schon!

5 – alternatives – I’m probably not the person to ask 🙂 Go small, maybe, concentrate on one local, winnable campaign and making its organisation as functional as possible while nourishing the people involved. This would require skills I haven’t got, like niceness and diplomacy.

Me too.  I have come to believe in capacity building, but with groups.  I tried a couple of times to stage skills-development stuff for random individuals, and while the time itself was excellent, I doubt there was real impact. And just now people are asking me to do one-to-one FoIA training, and I am going to say “nope, it has to be a group of people who are from the same organisation, and are likely to support each other.”  That is, I can’t be bothered to either try to reform existing groups or to start one of my own.  If I have any role (questionable) it is to be a mentor/sounding board.  I might do a day-thing around movement building, invite only, in August.  Depends….