Dr. Alan Netherwood, Honorary Research Fellow, School of Planning & Geography, Cardiff University

INOGOV workshop on Novel Approaches to Climate Governance and the role of Entrepreneurship, Amsterdam, May 18-19, 2015

Last week I spent two days with a group of academics and some practitioners exploring the role of policy entrepreneurs in climate governance. Attendees came from all over Europe, the US and also New Zealand to the kind hosts IVM in VU University. This was unusual company for me as, I’m usually working as a consultant with local and regional government on our recently adopted Future Generations Act in Wales, or working through the nitty-gritty of climate adaptation with public bodies. I was there because I’d co-authored a paper with a colleague Dr. Andrew Flynn at Cardiff University looking at what our experience in Wales can tell us about the role of individuals in developing ‘beyond the day job’ approaches to climate change.

We were lucky enough to have Michael Mintrom there, who has done more than anyone over the last two decades to develop the concept of Policy Entrepreneurs (PEs from the original work done by John Kingdon). In addition to Michael, we heard from 20 other authors with different takes on the role of PEs at different scales – international, national, regional and local. The format over the two days gave us 5 minutes to ‘pitch’ our paper and we each had two other authors reviewing our work. Nobody got bad tempered, everyone seemed to take advice ‘on the chin’ and hopefully the organisers Dave Huitema, Elin Lerum Boasson and Andy Jordan have some useful raw material for a future publication. We also had input from Jan Jaap van Halem from the Dutch Government who has the unenviable task of getting a 2050 Climate Strategy organised for the Netherlands. Good luck Jan Jaap!

As a practitioner, (and I now realise as a policy entrepreneur myself) PE offers a really interesting frame to consider my work and research. Michael’s work focuses on aspects of successful policy entrepreneurship: comfortable working in established institutions; investment of resources, time, energy, reputation; coalition working; social acuity; networking; defining problems; building teams and conflict management and negotiation ( see Mintrom & Norman 2009 – it’s a good read). So for me the key question coming away from Amsterdam was how can I, and colleagues in similar positions use this frame of understanding to make our work on climate adaptation better?

For me it was interesting to listen to how people applied these characteristics (and others) to different governance contexts. I’m not convinced that some of the examples demonstrated anybody doing anything other than their ‘day job’ –they didn’t seem to be doing anything extra –ordinary. But, in some cases it was really clear that something ‘beyond’ was happening. Another frustration was that many of the contributions focused on the role of institutions rather than the individuals involved in convincing the institutions to innovate. What motivated the individuals? What conditions allowed them to act? How did they take their ‘window of opportunity’? I guess these are good research questions to focus on in this field.

We also got into some very interesting territory – the weird ‘no-man’s land’ between what constitutes ‘academic’ as opposed to ‘practitioner’ research. I have personally wrestled with this through a 20 year career which has bridged both sides of the debate, and found much common ground. I strongly believe that good science should affect change, and in order to do this it needs to be translated effectively to people who can benefit from it. We should be using this sort of ‘political science’ to help people working on policy. I appreciate the ‘bread and butter’ of academia is quality publications – but it is a tension that needs addressing if we are to develop new generations of academics that are more closely linked to people working on the ground. I think PE and other concepts like it present a great opportunity to ‘reframe’ research so that it satisfies both the researcher and the practitioner. Research on PE needs to be read by people who can make a difference. Personally, I think PE research should:

  • Focus on more than theoretical frameworks and passive case studies.
  • Focus more on examples of things beyond the day job, which are extra-ordinary
  • Involve those who implement policy in the research – personal case studies focusing on motivation, emotion and values as well as institutional change
  • Help practitioners understand and implement their role more effectively

On a personal level I found the debate and discussion really stimulating – but found the time constraint meant I couldn’t talk to everyone I would have liked to. There is always next time. I hope to keep involved in the INOGOV network as long as I am welcome. I am lucky enough to advise the Climate Change Commission Wales on climate adaptation. I will certainly be bringing Policy Entrepreneurship to the table to explore how we can create space for them to blossom in our new ‘future generations focused’ policy landscape.

Dr. Alan Netherwood

Email: alan.netherwood@gmail.com


Photo credit: Oliver Thompson/Flickr

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