Big Questions, Small Policy Analysis? What Policy Instruments tell us about Governance Outcomes

Prof. Claudio Radaelli
Prof. Claire Dunlop

Policy research has generated profound insights on the policy process. But the granularity of policy research makes it difficult to integrate policy analysis into the ‘grand debates’ on governance, representation, democracy and the ‘big issues’ such as trust in government, corruption, and sustainability. It is on these grand debates and big issues that the future of policy scholars and their research will be defined. We demonstrate the scale of the challenge and how it can be address by taking the case of policy research on the tools of government - that is, the academic literature on regulatory policy instruments. This body of research has developed several strands and produces an immense range of findings. However, it has not been able to show how the adoption, usage, and implementation of policy instruments matter for final outcomes. We make two conceptual steps in this paper. First, we claim that regulatory policy instruments should be approached as combinations of instruments. Second, we suggest an effect-of-causes research design. This way, we argue, policy researchers can theorize the implications of regulation for outcomes like the level of corruption. Empirically, we present a research strategy based on fuzzy-sets that shed light on the effects-of-causes of regulatory policy instruments across the EU-28 countries and present conclusions on the nexus regulation-corruption. In the conclusions, we reflect on how this strategy can be extended to other outcomes, thus leveraging the potential of policy research to address grand debates and big issues.