Policy Capacity: What is it and how can we assess it?

Stream: Panel 68 - Public Policy & Social Justice: Evaluating and Improving Public Sector Performance
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 9.00 am – 10.30 am


While it is widely perceived that public policy capacities of governments have degraded, there is no publicly available empirical evidence or data that elucidates the nature, causes and consequences of the perceived ‘capacity problem’ (O’Flynn 2011; Tiernan 2011). It is also unclear what policy capacity actually is, let alone how is can be assessed. Part of the analytical challenge is that policy capacity has many possible dimensions, and different elements come to the fore depending on the stage of the policy process and whether it is being predicted or evaluated post-hoc. That is, capacity can often be demonstrated if a policy intervention was effective. In this paper we focus on predictive or forward-looking conceptions of capacity, to theorise what makes a government capable, in terms of what does government need to be able to produce the outcomes it wants. Here we are not referring to financial resources and political commitment, but rather administrative resources, such as personnel, policy advice and expertise, analysis, and the ability to implement different policy instruments. While implementation in particular often involves non-government actors and other sectors, our focus is on the public sector’s ability to coordinate, collaborate and manage stakeholder relationships.


Erik Bækkeskov (Presenter), University of Melbourne
My work focuses on factors that shape policy-making and other decision-making in the public sector. I have studied the impacts of framing by political leaders, of stakeholder groups and their levels of engagement, of bureaucratic organizations and their competing interests, and of experts and the ideas and information they depend on. My empirical contexts have included contracting-out of technical services in Britain, Denmark and Sweden, and crisis management of pandemic influenza within public health agencies and by the Swedish, Dutch and Danish governments.

Scott Brenton, University of Melbourne
Scott Brenton is a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Melbourne.