A wind turbine in a field, powering up with scale-up innovations, at sunset.

PD Dr. Lena Partzsch (Institute of Environmental Social Sciences and Geography, University of Freiburg)

Policy entrepreneurs often successfully push the kind of policy inventions and innovation processes that the climate change issue seems to need (renewable energies, carbon disclosure etc.). Analyses of their techniques and strategies tend to assume that policy entrepreneurs compete against others and exercise power over them to accomplish their innovations in the ‘political marketplace’. Challenging this perspective our paper argues that, to accomplish transitions in governance, policy entrepreneurs may not exercise power over or against others; they rather exercise power with others and climate adaptation may become an end in itself for the sake of collective empowerment.

Power with is a term that refers to Hannah Arendt’s definition of power.[1] For Arendt, power is about finding a common ground for action. According to Arendt, power always refers to a group or to a collection of individuals. She defines power positively as the coactions of free people in the political sphere. From this perspective, the policy entrepreneur’s efforts may not (only) serve the assertion of their particular (material and ideational) interests but diverse forms of learning to achieve a common end.

In my earlier work, I developed a multi-dimensional framework to analyze both, power over and power with, as well as the interrelations between the two categories.[2] Together with colleagues at VU Amsterdam, I ‘reduced’ my qualitative framework to quantitative survey questions to be ‘tested’ on the basis of 18 climate adaptation experiments conducted in the Netherlands. Ten of these cases aimed for more decentralized water management, and nine cases for more flexible management approaches overcoming purely technocratic, command and control strategies (one case aimed for both). We defined those people as policy entrepreneurs who facilitated the experiments in order to achieve respective aims.

The survey data brought no significant result and tends to confirm our hypothesis: The policy entrepreneurs exercised as much power with as anyone else participating in the experiment, i.e. they did not use the experiment to strategically push their own particular ideas about how to manage climate adaptation. Rather they were open to learning as much as any other ‘ordinary’ participant in the experiments. Non-expert knowledge was acknowledged as much as the experts’ knowledge. The only difference we found was that policy entrepreneurs said to have known more about the issues at stake before the experiment, compared to the ordinary participants indications. The study and results briefly summarized here will be published in a forthcoming paper ‘Experimenting with power: How policy entrepreneurs scale up climate innovations’.

I spent a Short Term Scientific Mission (STSM) at the Department of Environmental Policy Analysis, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam in May and June 2015.  

[1] Arendt, H., 1970. On violence. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World.

[2] Partzsch, L., 2014. Die neue Macht von Individuen in der globalen Politik. Wandel durch Prominente, Philanthropen und Social Entrepreneurs. Baden-Baden: Nomos.

Photo credit: K.H.Reichert/Flickr

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