Dynamics and directions of change in governance

This research line conceptualises and analyses continuity and change in policies, polity, and politics and how they enable and constrain the dynamics and directions of societal change. Because of the wicked nature of the challenges facing governance actors in the domains of climate and water and food and agriculture, it is very important that policy systems respond to new insights, and do not become locked into old problem definitions and understandings.

Policy dynamics in the direction of greater sustainability are of paramount importance, but they are often hard to get by because policies are often deeply entrenched, surrounded by constituencies that benefit from them, and existing power constellations.   

This research line aims to capture the mechanisms that drive or inhibit policy dynamics in the direction of greater sustainability. Policy dynamics can occur because of policy-oriented learning, experimentation, evaluation, public dialogue, as well as  political power play, compliance with international norms, diffusion, path dependency, or sensemaking.

Policy change that emanates from these dynamics is often characterised in the literature as either transformational or incremental, but our research has shown that it helps to distinguish between the depth, scope and pace of change, and that change be continuous and transformational through accumulating small wins. That is why we pay extensive attention to the conceptual, methodical and empirical challenges of tracking (policy) change, and the influence of underlying mechanisms that make it possible to describe and analyse change patterns. Moreover, interdisciplinary collaborations allow for normatively assessing the extent to which change contributes to more sustainable outcomes, such as a circular food system and economy.

Insights in the mechanisms and directions of change are used to identify the levers for change in designing new governance arrangements to manage wicked problems.