T14P02 - Designing Sticky Policies: How to Steer the Co-evolution of Policy and Technology

Topic : Science, Internet and Technology Policy

Panel Chair : Tobias Schmidt - tobiasschmidt@ethz.ch

Panel Second Chair : Benjamin Cashore - benjamin.cashore@yale.edu

Panel Third Chair : Sebastian Sewerin - sebastian.sewerin@gess.ethz.ch

Objectives and Scientific Relevance of the panel

Call for papers

Session 1


Tobias Schmidt - tobiasschmidt@ethz.ch - ETH Zurich - Switzerland

Sebastian Sewerin - sebastian.sewerin@gess.ethz.ch - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), Energy Politics Group - Switzerland

A Theoretical Framework for Systematic Analyses of Policy Feedback

Philipp Pechmann - philipp.pechmann@ps.au.dk - Department of Political Science, Aarhus University - Denmark

In this paper, I develop a theoretical framework for systematic analyses of policy feedback. The framework focuses on the strategic action of political actors and their attempts to design - within given constraints - policy feedback effects, i.e. the effects of policies on the political dynamics and politics and, hence, the future policy development in a given policy field.


The policy feedback literature typically views these kinds of effects as unintended and unanticipated by political actors. The assumption is that effects of policies on, for example, group formation and mobilization or on political norms and beliefs, unfold over time and that they can render policies path-dependent and “sticky”, but that constraints such as information scarcity, time constraints, or the need to delegate, render it almost impossible for actors to anticipate or strategically design them. Since the idea of an intentional design of policy feedback is rejected, the literature fails to explore if and how political actors can strategically attempt to craft such feedback effects, and how these attempts – be they successful or not in the future - influence policy formulation in the present.


The literature on policy design, on the other side, focuses on strategic policy formulation, but examines mainly how policy goals can be given effect through the knowledge-based selection of means and instruments to achieve desired substantive public policy outcomes. Hence, while this literature emphasizes intentional, deliberate forms of policy formulation, it does not focus on the above mentioned kinds of feedback effects on the politics in a policy field and on potential strategic, deliberate design attempts behind them.


Problematizing the two literatures in this way, I develop a novel theoretical framework for the systematic analysis of policy feedback that views policy reforms as acts of political architecture. Political architecture means the strategic design of policies by actors considering the implications and effects of a policy on future politics and, hence, policy development. In particular, I conceptualize architectural policy design strategies that suggest affinities between three interrelated elements in policy-making: first, contextual factors that shape and frame policy-making (e.g. veto barriers, institutional discretion); second, policy instruments or tools actors can choose (e.g. compartmentalizing resource flows, enhancing or delimiting bureaucratic capacities); and, third, intended, or anticipated, feedback effects (e.g. group formation or mobilization). I illustrate these affinities drawing on a variety of recent empirical studies from different policy fields.


The framework combines insights from literatures on public policy, policy feedback, historical institutionalism, policy change, and agency/strategic action in novel ways. Its contribution lies in advancing public policy scholars’ theoretical and conceptual toolkit for identifying sources of policy feedback, conditions for its (successful or failed) unfolding, and in improving our understanding of gradual policy development and policy change over time. Furthermore, it helps us exploring and uncovering how political actors’ strategic considerations of feedback effects influence the formulation of public policies.  

The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research: A Lesson in Depoliticizing Science and Technology

Matthew Shapiro - mshapir2@iit.edu - Illinois Institute of Technology - United States

The U.S. Department of Energy-funded Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) fuses together basic research, battery design, and pathways to market, exemplifying the high-risks, high-costs, and market entry-challenges of sustainable energy technology. There are many remarkable characteristics of JCESR, particularly its dedication to networking across research sectors, institutions, and countries. In just three years, JCESR has surpassed its goal of annually producing 100 research publications on advanced battery technology, thus expanding and consolidating the global network of battery-related R&D. These networks are difficult to establish due to concerns about knowledge spillovers, high investment costs with no guarantees of success, and coordination problems. Beyond this goal to advance basic science, however, JCESR is intent on creating a prototype of a compatible electrical grid and transforming the transportation sector. In other words, JCESR’s impact, if successful, will be wide-sweeping, radical, and require industrial changes both domestically and abroad. It is remarkable how JCESR has managed to continue to retain political support – even grow steadily in size – while offering a significant threat to the bottom lines of the fossil fuel and automobile industries. Given the current practice of publicly castigating publicly funded science, particularly making claims of its wastefulness, frivolousness, and detachment from the needs of the American public, JCESR’s ability to advance relatively unhindered must be understood. Basically, JCESR frames itself as an advocate for the public and for policy makers by ultimately reducing energy costs and pollution. Framing in terms of climate change mitigation or greenhouse gas emissions reductions is entirely absent despite the fact that they are the long-term targets for JCESR’s sustainable energy technology. Is JCESR’s approach representative of the future of science and technology directives? Is JCESR an anomaly? What JCESR has done is apparently learn from many of the challenges faced by previous recipients of Department of Energy funding as well as embrace the tenets of the Triple Helix model of innovation, thus relying on the private sector from the outset in order to incrementally address the needs of the marketplace.  

Evolving interest coalitions and deployment policy design: Comparing the Swiss and German feed-in tariffs for renewable energy

Leonore Haelg - leonore.haelg@gess.ethz.ch - ETH Zurich - Switzerland

Tobias Schmidt - tobiasschmidt@ethz.ch - ETH Zurich - Switzerland

Sebastian Sewerin - sebastian.sewerin@gess.ethz.ch - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), Energy Politics Group - Switzerland

Research on the origins of policy inventions and the socio-political conditions that allow them to be implemented has received little attention compared to, for example, research into the effect of specific policy interventions. Only recently, studies have begun to systematically analyze the pivotal early phase of major energy-related policy schemes. Yet, these policy innovations set the scene for the long-term trajectories of policy mixes, with subsequent developments primarily reproducing existing patterns of policy instrument use and policy design. Against this background and in line with the debate about policy design being more decisive than instrument types for reaching intended policy outcomes, we seek to shed light on the differentiation across technologies and applications within the design of low-carbon technology deployment policies. Comparing the invention and subsequent evolution of the German feed-in tariff of 2000 (EEG) with the later establishment of the Swiss version of 2009 (KEV), we use process-tracing methods to investigate the causal mechanisms between technology diffusion, technology architecture, technology-related stakeholders, and policy design characteristics of the EEG and KEV, focusing on application and technology specificity. To collect empirical material, we analyze policy documents and parliamentary debates, and conduct interviews with experts and stakeholders who were involved in the respective policymaking processes.

Based on our research we derive the following hypotheses: First, the more adaptations at the core of the technology architecture an application requires, the more the interests of technology suppliers and users become aligned resulting in stronger advocacy coalitions in favor of application-specific policy design. Second, the fewer adaptations at the core of the technology architecture an application requires, the less the interests of technology users and producers become aligned resulting in users and producers supporting different policy designs in terms of application specificity and technology specificity. Third, the more the interests of different groups are aligned and, consequentially, the stronger the advocacy coalition in favor of a specific policy design is, the stickier the policy design proves to be, i.e. the harder it will be for opposing advocacy coalitions to remediate the policy design in place.

Our study helps to explain and understand differences in policy design between countries which is shaped by the co-evolution of technology diffusion and technology-related actors. Specifically, we shed light on actors’ involvement in the invention and subsequent design of deployment policies.

Export PDF