Technological Change and Policy Change – A Literature Review

Dr. Sebastian Sewerin

Technological change (TC) is central to society’s most pressing political challenges – both as cause and potential solution. Climate change and environmental degradation, for example, are driven by technology (i.e. previous TC) while TC is also seen as a means to mitigate (the worst effects of) climate change. Addressing and, more importantly, steering TC is thus a core objective of public policy. Yet, public policy literature rarely engages with TC on a conceptual or theoretical level. True, innovation or regulation scholars are interested in the effect of policy on (emerging) technologies (i.e., TC as outcome) – but the reverse, the effect of TC on policy change (i.e., TC as input) is rarely explicitly conceptualised. One important factor behind this is that prominent theories of policy change do not systematically discuss TC; in most theories, it is (implicitly) subsumed under ‘shocks’ or punctuations that, despite what we know about the importance of policy intervention for TC, are conceptualised as being completely external/exogenous to a policy system. Only very recently have researcher turned towards TC as being a function of policy change and as being part of a long-term feedback loop that impacts on subsequent politics.
To stimulate the debate about TC and policy change, this paper provides a systematic overview of how it is conceptualised and measured/applied in public policy literature. Systematically reviewing publications in a broad sample of public policy journals over the last 20 years, we will identify papers that explicitly include TC in either their theorisation/conceptualisation, measurement/research strategy or policy recommendations. Regarding theorisation, we are particularly interested in whether TC is given an explicit role/specific function in the overall framing. In terms of measurement/research strategy we will focus on whether TC is used as dependent or independent variable and how it is measured (directly or via a proxy).
This paper intends to provide a systematic overview of how public policy research TC, both on a theoretical or conceptual and the empirical level. The findings of the review are meant to trigger a broader discussion about how public policy can endogenise TC in its theorisations/conceptualisations and into its empirical applications.