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On the Rise of Policy Instrument Constituencies

Friday, September 25, 2015
by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

I read an interesting paper on policy innovation a couple of weeks ago entitled: Instrument constituencies and the supply side of policy innovation: the social life of emissions trading. I wanted to share it specifically in the context of my recent exploration of the #w2p online community (See: The Gentrification of #w2p) because I think it has some explanatory (and predictive) power.

Here's the somewhat academic abstract:
We offer a perspective on the making of policy instruments over time. This sheds light on the work that goes into articulating and maintaining instruments as both models and implemented policies, and the social formations that arise therefrom. Drawing on a brief case study of the innovation of emissions trading, we show the role of both functional promises to deliver public-policy outcomes and structural promises concerning new positions for the actors involved. We show how the making of instruments can coincide with the formation of ‘instrument constituencies’, which consist of entangled practices that cultivate an instrument. Constituencies sustain the instrument and are themselves sustained by the instrument as it persists and expands its realm of validity. We conclude that policy instruments can develop social lives of their own with dynamics that should be taken into account by scholars of innovation in governance.

Plain English tl;dr:
A policy constituency forms alongside the emergence of a new policy instrument. This group of actors has an inherent interest in the successful development and mainstreaming a new policy instrument because that mainstreaming creates an environment where those with instrument expertise (the constituency) are in higher demand and given positions of authority and influence; this is one of the defining characteristics of supply side innovation.

First, this isn't a judgement call on anyone

I think it's important to note that the research is value neutral in terms of whether or not instrument constituencies are inherently good or bad things, they simply are. If anything the authors want to put the constituency issue on the radar because quite often it is overlooked.


Second, this is gentrification by another name

This squares nicely with my earlier analysis of the gentrification of #w2p (again, see: The Gentrification of #w2p); where obviously the policy instrument in question was social media.


Third, this offers us some predictive capability

Namely, that this is likely to happen (or is already happening) in other hot emerging policy areas/instruments right now:

  • Open Data
  • Policy Innovation
  • Design Thinking
  • Behaviorial Economics
  • Social Finance

Fourth, you may want to know how to spot members of the constituency

If you are looking to suss out whom might fall into a particular constituency it may be worth thinking about whether or not a given person more readily identifies with the policy instrument with which they work or the policy domain within which they work. In other words, is he an "open data" guy, or is he a "Treasury Board" Guy?


Fifth, its important to know who's who

Knowing who the members of the constituency are is important because the evidence indicates that these will be the people with greater influence down the road, they are likely people you want to cultivate relationships with now, before everyone else starts coming out of the woodwork.


The only trick is picking the right instruments. 

Not all innovation takes root. Not all new instruments mainstream. There was an early push on crowd-souring years ago. A lot of people took kicks at that particular can, its a tool that is still in use, but not nearly as widely as was originally thought.