Policy Assemblages and Policy Resilience: Lessons for Non-Design from Evolutionary Governance Theory

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

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Policy Assemblages and Policy Resilience: Lessons for Non-Design from Evolutionary Governance Theory


  • Kris Hartley Department of Asian and Policy Studies, Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong S.A.R.
  • Michael Howlett Department of Political Science, Simon Fraser University, Canada


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Abstract:  Evolutionary governance theory (EGT) provides a basis for holistically analyzing the shifting contexts and dynamics of policymaking in settings with functional differentiation and complex subsystems. Policy assemblages, as mixes of policy tools and goals, are an appropriate unit of analysis for EGT because they embody the theory’s emphasis on co-evolving elements within policy systems. In rational practice, policymakers design policies within assemblages by establishing objectives, collecting information, comparing options, strategizing implementation, and selecting instruments. However, as EGT implies, this logical progression does not always materialize so tidily—some policies emerge from carefully considered blueprints while others evolve from muddled processes, laissez faire happenstance, or happy accident. Products of the latter often include loosely steered, unmoored, and ‘non-designed’ path dependencies that confound linear logic and are understudied in the policy literature. There exists the need for a more intricate analytical vocabulary to describe this underexplored ‘chaotic’ end of the policy design spectrum, as conjuring images of ‘muddles’ or ‘messes’ has exhausted its usefulness. This article introduces a novel metaphor for non-design—the bird nest—to bring studies of policy design and non-design into lexical harmony.

Keywords:  Evolutionary Governance Theory; policy assemblages; policy design; policy instruments; policy metaphors; policy mixes; policy non-design; public policy

Published:   25 June 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v9i2.4170


© Kris Hartley, Michael Howlett. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.