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Policy Inertia and Interest Representation: An Information Signalling Model of Policy-making

Matia Vannoni

In the last two decades the concept of policy inertia has come predominantly to the fore, especially as one of the central foci of analysis of what is labelled 'new institutionalism' (March and Olsen, 1984; Hall and Taylor, 1996). Nonetheless, theoretical and empirical investigation has hitherto concentred on the macro level and, on top of that, through post hoc explanation or ad hoc modelling. I argue that in order to properly theorise and analyse this phenomenon the level of analysis needs to move towards the micro level. In doing so, I concentre on policy-making (or analysis, in Lindlom's, 1979, terms) and I introduce an 'information signalling' model of policy-making where interest groups represent the primary information sources for decision-makers. The argument is that the denser is the network of interest groups on which decision-makers rely, the more homogenous information signals will be and the more policy-making will tend towards 'simple incrementalism' (Lindblom, 1959; 1979), which is associated to policy inertia. I conclude with an exploratory research on the policy-making process of the European Commission across policy areas. The findings suggest a significant relationship between the homogeneity of the network of interest groups on which decision-makers in a policy area rely and the degree of (at least tentative) policy change in that field.

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