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Best Book Award (2021)

The IPPA Best Book Award is awarded biennially at the Association’s International Conference on Public Policy (ICPP). The award is given to a single- or co-authored monograph that makes an original and significant theoretical, methodological and/or empirical contribution to the field of Public Policy and/or Public Administration. 

The prize is open to works by both academic and non-academic authors. The nominated book must have been published by a university or commercial publisher in the preceding two years. (For example, the prize awarded in 2021 will be for a book published in 2020 or 2019, the year of publication being the year as stated in the book).

The monograph may be single- or jointly- authored.  Edited books are not eligible.

The work should preferably be in English; however, a submission written in another language can be nominated as long as it is accompanied by an English summary of the work of 5,000-7,000 words.

Self-nomination by authors is not allowed. An eligible book should be nominated by three persons.

Nominators (either individuals or publishers) may only nominate once in each category.

The call for nominations is now closed

Winner

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Uneven Social Policies: The Politics of Subnational Variation in Latin America
Sara Niedzwiecki
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Sara Niedzwiecki

Sara Niedzwiecki is Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She received her PhD in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research is on the process through which social policies are formed and implemented as well as on the territorial structure of government in Latin America. Niedzwiecki’s book, Uneven Social Policies: The Politics of Subnational Variation in Latin America (2018 and 2020, Cambridge University Press) explores the political factors that shape the implementation of social policies in decentralized countries. A second, co-authored book, Measuring Regional Authority: A Postfunctionalist Theory of Governance (Oxford University Press, 2016), presents the Regional Authority Index for 80 OECD+, Asian, and Latin American countries from 1950 to 2010. Niedzwiecki’s work has been published in Comparative Political Studies, Electoral Studies, Latin American Politics and Society, Studies in Comparative International Development, Journal of Politics in Latin America, Regional and Federal Studies, PS: Political Science and Politics, International Political Science Review, Saúde Coletiva (Brazil), and Revista de Ciencia Política (Chile). During 2020-2021 academic year, Professor Niedzwiecki is a fellow at University of Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies where she is working on a new project on social policy and immigration in Latin America.

Jury Members

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Fritz Sager
University of Bern
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Andrea Lenschow
University of Osnabrueck
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Charlotte Halpern
Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po)
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Michelle Morais de Sa e Silva
The University of Oklahoma

JURY EXPLANATION

Sara Niedzwiecki’s “Uneven Social Policies: The Politics of Subnational Variation in Latin America” asks the important question why some regional and local governments adopt new social programs quickly while others refuse to do it. The study is based on an impressive amount of empirical work consisting of a combination of regression analysis and a comparative case study of two policies (conditional cash transfers and primary health care) in two countries (Argentina and Brazil), four regions and eight localities. Sara Niedwiecki importantly shifts the focus of classic social policy studies from the politics of policy-making to the politics of policy implementation. Connected to this shift of focus are, on the one hand, a shift from the national to the subnational level where central government decisions are put into practice, and on the other hand, a shift from the role of clientelistic distribution of policies towards the political determinants of nondiscretionary policy implementation. As she does so in a scientific and empirical context dominated by comparative politics rather than public policy, her work is a major contribution to the study of social policy in South America. Sara Niedzwiecki’s book transports an utterly important insight from policy studies to the worlds of development studies and comparative politics, namely that policy implementation by no means is the mere mechanical realization of decided policy as mainstream political science still is prone to see it in a scaring persistency. Policy implementation is politics.

Sara Niedzwiecki contrasts two types of social policy. One, there are policies that clearly ‘belong’ to the national government and in which the attribution of responsibility for the policy is very obvious to voters. Second, there are policies that grant much more discretion to the implementing entities so that accountability is more difficult to attribute to a specific layer of government, be it the national or the subnational level. Her argument is that in the first case, local politics has a major incentive to obstruct implementation if the subnational government belongs to the opposition of the central government. In the second case, political alignment does not play an equal role as the subnational authorities can claim responsibility for successful implementation. Third, drawing on the literature on state capacity, she further examines the implementation of national social policies through two additional variables, namely policy legacies and territorial infrastructures, and confirms their analytical added value in accounting for success.

Uneven Social Policy stands out as a rigorous and theoretically important piece in considering the many encounters between policy and politics. Her work is grounded on extensive comparative research that bears relevance beyond the region she is studying and outside of the social policy field.

Sara Niedzwiecki presents us with a great study with important lessons for both comparative systems scholars and public policy implementation research. Comparative politics benefits from the insight that politics does not end with decision-making. Quite the opposite, this is when the true story of public policy takes off. Implementation studies benefit not only from the convincing turn to subnational differences, but even more so from drawing attention to the politics dimension influencing regional decision making. In its ambition to underscore the relevance of state-society relations for state capacity and policy implementation, it broadens our understanding of where state capacity comes from. The study is topical but also somewhat disconcerting research given the socio-economic situation in Brazil and Argentina – redirecting analyses of regional differences from structural features to questions of political choice. Ultimately, Uneven Social Policy is a wonderful and exciting read, captivating not only by thoughtful analysis, but also by deep insights into the dynamics of national and regional social policy-making and implementation. Sara Niedzwiecki’s book is a greatly valuable reference for all scholars who, in trying to make sense of the policy dynamics during and after the pandemic, will have to address the many policy and political variables involved in policy centralization and decentralization.  

The jury congratulates Sara Niedzwiecki for this topical, painstakingly thorough, and impressive book.

Previous Winners

Edition 2019
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Customized Implementation of European Union Food Safety Policy - United in Diversity

Eva Thomann

Edition 2017
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The Politics of Information: Problem Definition and the Course of Public Policy in America

Bryan D. Jones

Edition 2017
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The Politics of Information: Problem Definition and the Course of Public Policy in America

Franck R. Baumgartner

Edition 2023
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Making Bureaucracy Work: Norms, Education and Public Service Delivery in Rural India

Akshay Mangla

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