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The Comparative Historical Analysis of Public

Management Policy Cycles in France, Italy, and

Spain: Symposium Introduction gove_1476 209..224


In recent studies of public management reform in France, Italy, and Spain

inspired by historical institutionalism, the Napoleonic tradition is cast as a
causal factor whose overwhelming strength explains how these countries
reforms proceed and nish. This symposium pursues the same research
interest in the politics of public management reform and goal of under-
standing how reforms begin, proceed, and nish in these countries.
However, the features of this research project include (1) a focus on
instances of public management policymaking, (2) original research on
public management reform episodes in each country, and (3) explanatory
research arguments that place causation within events. Based on a com-
parison of explanatory research arguments developed in each case study, the
symposiums conclusion extends earlier institutional processualist
accounts of causal tendencies of public management policymaking and
offers a critique of the historical institutionalist studies mentioned earlier.

Within the practice context of international organizations, such as the

World Bank, a commonplace notion has been that policy and public man-
agement reforms occur if and when politicians face up to reform chal-
lenges and exercise the political will required to take effective action.1 This
conception of reform dynamics would strike political scientists of a past
generation as familiar, if strangely quaint. For Herbert Simon, for example,
the notion that reform requires political will could be seen as no more
incisive or useful than were the principles of administration he called
proverbs (Simon 1946, 1948). Richard Neustadt might have questioned the
unstated premise that heads of government actually enjoy quite as much
powerand thus scope for exercising political willas their apex posi-
tions in executive government would seem to allow (Neustadt 1960).
Living political scientists have their own reasons for skepticism. Some
would allege that any theoretical image of reform as policy choice is pro-
foundly reductionist (Colebatch 2002). For them, policy change and
reform result from complex streams of activity, in many ways loosely

*London School of Economics and Political Science

**Autonomous University of Barcelona

Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, Vol. 23, No. 2,
April 2010 (pp. 209223).
2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main St., Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington
Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK. ISSN 0952-1895

connected to one another, as well as inuenced by unplanned occurrences

and political conditions of a diverse nature (Heclo 1974; Kingdon 1984;
Lindblom 1980). From this standpoint, the exercise of political will is more
like a resultant of the reform process than its motive force.
Political scientists studying public management reform have generally
avoided reductionist accounts (Barzelay 2001, 2003; Barzelay and Gallego
2006; Campbell and Halligan 1992; Peters and Olsen 1996; Pollitt and
Bouckhaert 2000). Reform processes and choices are seen as inuenced by
combinations of factors, including shifts in the direction of economic
policy choices, political and policy inferences drawn from earlier reforms,
and partial equilibrium conditions, such as the public management policy
subsystem. Here again, political will is seen as implicated in a more
complex narrative of public managements politics and policymaking.
The comparative literature has translated shared research interests
about the politics of public management reform into distinct research
issues. For the most cited study, the primary research issue has been
cross-national patterns in the content of reform choices (Pollitt and Bouck-
haert 2000). For others, the primary research issue is the reform-inhibiting
role played by historically rooted, legalistic administrative traditions
(Ongaro 2008; Peters 2008). For yet another group of researchers, the
primary research issue is how novelty in public management policies
comes about through policy cycles (see International Public Management
Journal 6 [3]), and then followed up with implementing actions (Campbell
and Halligan 1992; Ongaro 2006; Zifcak 1994). This symposium chooses to
build on the third of these approaches in order to contribute to research
knowledge about the politics of public management reform.
This symposium addresses an established research interest in the poli-
tics of public management reform in the south of Europe (Ongaro 2008).2
Researchers have examined these country cases because their institution-
alized politics is different from the English-speaking family of nations. So
far, the primary research interest has been to illuminate ramications of
these countries similar institutional heritage, especially for the fate of
public management reform initiatives. The general contention is that cul-
tural and institutional aspects of public administrationnot least,
legalismdetermine the fate of reform initiatives in these European
This general contention would be seen as overdrawn, however, if this
symposiums evidence and arguments become accepted. The symposium
adopts the spirit of comparative historical analysis in the social sciences
(Mahoney and Rueschemeyer 2003) to develop an understanding about
public management reform,3 conceived as a public policymaking process.
The case studies are consistent in following a variation-nding approach
to case selection, an in-depth elite interviewing approach to data collec-
tion, an event-centric approach to explaining policy choice, and a case
comparison approach to generalizing about political processes. Each
article in the symposium describes and explains a major episode of public

management policymaking in one country case. Each case is a policy

episode (McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001)the empirical counterpart of
the theoretical concept of policy cycles (Kingdon 1984). A policy cycle
episode is a slice of history, centered on a policy issues career as affected
by agenda-setting, alternative specication, and decision making. A public
management policy cycle is one where the issue career relates to public
management, considered mainly as an observer concept.
The policy episode in the France case culminated with enacting the
LOLF (Loi Organique relative aux Lois de Finance). This constitutionally
signicant legislation provided for politically sensitive changes in the
institutional rules and prescribed managerial practices governing expen-
diture planning and control throughout public administration in France.
In Spain, the policy choice was to enact the LOFAGE (Ley de Organizacin
y Funcionamiento de la Administracin General del Estado) and the Law of
Government. These laws modied features of senior ministerial roles and
restructured administrative roles in the central governments network of
eld-based ministerial service organizations. In Italy, the policy choice was
to create a program within the Ministry of Public Administrations, initially
branded as Projects for Change, to encourage and reward novel develop-
ments in public administration throughout the country.
As we will see, some measure of policy novelty occurred in the France
and Italy cases. In the France case, policy innovation was exhibited in
bundling together the long-simmering issue of Parliaments strikingly
weak control over state expenditure planning and control, on the one
hand, with the ascending issue about the need to expand adoption of
performance-oriented systems of management in French public adminis-
tration, on the other. In the Italy case, policy innovation was exhibited in
framing the novel issue of government innovation, as well as in designing
and implementing a program through which the central governments
Ministry of Public Administration would pursue it. In Spain, novelty
involved the formal (legal) acknowledgment of the need to adapt the
central administration function role to the decentralized state structure, on
the one hand, and to revise predemocratic government regulations, on the
other. For each case, the symposium offers an explanatory research argu-
ment about why such novelty in the politics of public management has
come about.
The symposiums research arguments take account of effects of insti-
tutional conditions in the respective country cases while also identifying
effects of other political conditions and pivotal occurrences. At the risk of
oversimplication, the symposiums generalizing research argument is
fourfold. First, the volitional conduct of executive or legislative politicians
is pivotal to the path and outcome of agenda-setting activities in public
management policy cyclenot least in lending political authority to the
framing of issues that have appeared on systemic agendas but remained
off formal policy agendas. Second, alternative specication is shaped by
policy agenda conditions in combination with both prerogatives of insti-

tutional actors within public management policy subsystems and condi-

tions in the policy stream that arise from previous initiatives and
deliberations. Third, when administrative authority is sufcient to resolve
policy issues on decisional agendas, public management policy sub-
systems play a strong causal role in policy choices. Fourth, when policy
cycles involve government clearance of primary legislation and/or parlia-
mentary action, political stream conditionssuch as the state of partisan
competition or relations between the executive and parliamentary
politiciansare pivotal to policy choices.

The Symposiums Approach to Research Design

The specic choice of policy episodes as cases could prompt some readers
to raise reservations about the symposiums research design. The most
predictable reservation is that such an empirical focus overstates the case
that public management policy change has occurred in France, Spain, and
Italy. Our response is to declare that we do not wish to make any claims
about the overall pattern of public management reform in these countries,
one way or the other. We take our general cues from the Chicago School of
Sociology, which has long concentrated on developing process theories of
sociological phenomena, including policymaking (Abbott 2001; McAdam,
Tarrow, and Tilly 2001). Finding out whether change is prevalent or scarce
is a perennial issue of public administrationists and their tradition of
surveying practice in various jurisdictions (Selden, Ingraham, and Jacob-
son 2001; White 1933), but it is simply not an issue for us. A similar,
predictable reservation coming from political scientists is that the selected
cases are not representative of the population of policy cycles in the
countries considered. The reservation may be phrased differently, but our
response is identical. We concede a lack of interest in generalizing to the
population of reform cycles within these countries.
We adopt the view that political scientists should give priority to devel-
oping an analytical understanding of the politics of public management
reform, using contemporary historical cases as the means. We are gener-
alizing to a concepta process. In this respect, the study reported here
adopts the idea that research knowledge about social phenomena should
take the form of claims about types of processes (Abbott 2001; Becker 1997;
Park and Burgess 1926). Such knowledge is thought to develop by choos-
ing cases that exhibit variety in their occurrences and conditions, provided
that such variety is analyzable and relevant to research knowledge about
the process concerned (McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001; Ragin 1987;
Sewell 2005). Research arguments explain selected characteristics of the
case, taking into account established research knowledge about the same
and related types of processes. Such research arguments tend to adopt
event causation as an explanatory approach, distancing themselves from
the more prevalent approaches known as covering law explanations and
statistical generalizations (Hedstrm 2005). The generalizing research

arguments are based on such explanations. The form of such arguments

has been called analytical generalizations (Yin 2003) and limited gener-
alizations about historically dened phenomena (Ragin 1987).
Event-centric explanation offers a rough indication of the kind of analy-
sis we pursue. The event-centric approach has been exhibited in the U.S.
political science literature on policymaking and policy change for decades
(Allison 1971; Baumgartner and Jones 1993; Kingdon 1984). What is new is
the chance to draw systematically on a sociological literature that has made
the event-centric approach explicit and has subjected it to rigorous meth-
odological analysis. The result is a copious and immensely clear literature
about this meta-theoretical stance, which is also lled with invaluable
advice for how to contribute to research literatures (Abbott 2001; Abell
2004; Becker 1997; Elster 1989; Hedstrm 2005; McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly
2001; Ragin 1987; Sewell 2005). As just indicated, we adopt historical
sociologists approaches and heuristics for conducting case study research
about policy processes and public management reform.
Kingdons (1984) research on public policymaking has become a main-
stay of analysis in political science. In our view, the goal of Kingdons
study was to develop a middle-range theory of the politics of public policy
decisions. Its narrower aim was to develop a theory of policy cycles within
the setting of the U.S. political and governmental systems. The overall
study included two exploratory case studies, each of which an episode
ending with authoritative policy choices about policy intentions, policy
instruments, and policy delivery arrangements, known as Acts of Con-
gress. The case evidence was drawn from archival and interview data
about the actors, conduct, activities, and incidents that were involved in
the episodes. Kingdons study is famous for arguing that policy decisions
happen when three streams of factors happen to be brought into a
certain kind of conguration called an open window of opportunity
thanks in some measure to the impact on events of intentional action by
actors described as policy entrepreneurs.
The impact of Kingdons book is partly due to the choice of topic, as
well as to its effort to develop a process theory of policymaking in a
country case (with a large political science discipline). It also appealed for
two related reasons. Because policy change is seen as happening for
reasons that can be discernedthough not always because anyone
intended that it occur in precisely the form it came to takethe study
appeals to those whose attention is attracted to explanations of events that
give a certain pride of place to social structure. Because policy entrepre-
neurship is argued to be such an important explanatory factor, the study
appeals to those whose attention is attracted by explanations of events that
give a certain pride of place to human agency.
From Kingdon, we borrow the very concept of a policy cyclethe type
that denes the episodes as cases (Platt 1992). Policy cycles are seen as
converting issues that reach the governmental policy agenda into authori-
tative policy choices. The conversion process involves two sequentially

interdependent phases. The process in the decisional phase gives rise to

authoritative choices, whether to give legal or administrative sanction to a
course of public action or to withhold such sanction. The upstream pre-
decisional phase is the source of the decisional agenda of issues and
alternatives encountered by lawmakers or peak-level decision makers
during the decisional phase.
The predecisional phase involves two temporally intersecting pro-
cesses: agenda-setting and alternative specication. The agenda-setting
process converts representations of policy issues that circulate in and
around government into representations that have considerable bearing
on the attention and understanding of actors situated within governmen-
tal institutions. The alternative-specication process converts (motivated)
social knowledge about policy problems, instruments, and institutions
into a short list of politically relevant social objects known as policy alter-
natives. Such objects include standardized accounts of alternatives that
spokespeople present in venues to which actors situated in diverse roles
have access, as well as accounts that are coded in terms that are accessible
to actors in relevant epistemic communities.4
Both agenda-setting and alternative specication are understood to be
socially complex processes, with a degree of historicity involved in each.
Once representations of policy problems stabilize, they become social
factsat least until they themselves become problematized by the effects
of social action. Once networks of actors become committed to rhetorical
accounts and inner features of policy alternatives, these social objects are
also social facts in the same sense.
Kingdons study has become a locus classicus in part because its theory
sketch and analytic narratives together offered a satisfying operationaliza-
tion of event causation as an explanatory approach. The study exemplies
this approach for several reasons. The outcomes of policy cycles are
explained in terms of socially complex activities that occur during events
that hypothetically come to a close before policy implementation begins.
What happens during these events affects the conditions facing legislating
actors at the outset of the decisional phase. If we overlook the fact that
Kingdons book was published before accounts of event causation in the
social sciences began to reach a critical mass, we can condently say that
Kingdons approach not only marches to the event causation drumbeat but
also offers a workable method for utilizing this approach to explain policy
choices in government.
We do not embrace Kingdons descriptive and explanatory heuristics
uncritically. Our research design reects reservations about Kingdons
seminal work. First, policy entrepreneurship is poorly theorized by com-
parison with that exhibited in McAdam, Tilly, and Tarrows Dynamics of
Contention (2001). Following McAdam, Tilly, and Tarrow, we can say that
Kingdons analysis of policy entrepreneurship employs the explanatory
device known as attribution of opportunity. This explanatory device ts
the category of social mechanisms, as this term is used by McAdam, Tilly,

and Tarrow and by Hedstrm (2005). A central part of this idea in sociol-
ogy is that conduct is inuenced by how actors use each others responses
to a situation as a source of information about the opportunities they face,
individually and collectively. However, compared with Kingdon (1984),
McAdam, Tilly, and Tarrow offer a more satisfying account of entrepre-
neurial conduct. The additional aspect is a social mechanism McAdam,
Tilly, and Tarrow term actor certication. A dening aspect of this explana-
tory device is that it demands that an analyst explain how situational
conditionsstationary and transitoryinuence actors properties, such
as the way their identities come to be framed.5 In policy cycles, stationary
conditions include role systems and their institutional locations, while
transitory conditions include issue inclusion, issue rank, and formalized
policy development activities. We do not claim that Kingdons discussions
of policy episodes were insensitive to the issue of actor certication but
rather that McAdam, Tilly, and Tarrows explanatory device of actor cer-
tication would help translate such sensitivities into more signicant
research contributions (Barzelay 2003; Barzelay and Jacobsen 2009; Barze-
lay and Shvets 2006).
A second reservation relates to the tendency for Kingdon commentators
and revivalists to focus on the political, problem, and policy streams
(Zahariadis 1999). This type of account suggests, misleadingly, that the
three streams, together with the idea of an opportunity window, consti-
tute the central explanatory heuristic of Kingdons book. Taken one at a
time, each stream is simply a container category for transitory conditions
within policy cycles. The partitioning and grouping of antecedent transi-
tory conditions into the streams, in our view, does not do much explana-
tory work, apart from keeping track of pieces of the story. Lists of
conditions, even when grouped together, help with description but do not
open up the black box (Hedstrm 2005), act as cogs and wheels in event
explanations (Elster 1989), or provide a process-tracing explanation of the
fate of policy issues in policy cycles. The explanatory work of Kingdons
research argument is done by using other concepts, including some of the
concepts and relations in the garbage can model and, above all, by the
general commitment to event causation (Hedstrm 2005) as a way of
explaining events and conditions in social life.
A third reservation is that Kingdons discussion of alternative speci-
cation suffers from the attachment to the garbage can model as an
approach to description and explanation. It should be recalled that this
model is meant to analyze organized anarchies rather than, say, Weberian
bureaucracies. Under conditions of organized anarchy, what gets decided
depends on who shows up at the meeting that considers a given issue:
Who shows up inuences what arguments are made about how a decision
would represent a solution to a problem under discussion. The relation
between issues and locations where decisions can happen is a many-to-
many mapping, and participation is eeting in the sense that actors par-
ticipation in decisional locations is unsteady. Our reservation is that the

socially complex activity of alternative specication sometimes resides

within Weberian institutional contexts (Barzelay and Shvets 2006). Under
these conditions, the process of alternative specication is more accurately
analyzed in terms of models of procedural rationality in organizational
hierarchies, such as the concept of problemistic search (Cyert and March
1963). For the sake of argument, we accept that the conceptual metaphor
that policymaking is a garbage can organizational process is an insightful
theoretical image of the decisional phase of policy cycles and its immediate
antecedents. Because the alternative specication process is not well
theorizedcertainly by the standards of the Carnegie School (e.g., Cyert
and March 1963)Kingdons discussion of this aspect of policy cycles
remains more descriptive than analytic.
The second and third of our reservations are two sides of the same coin.
It is understandable that the three streams have come to gure so promi-
nently in the works that recount Kingdons study, even though the three
streams are not more than afnity groups of factors that are generally
accepted as potential causes of events leading to policy choices. We can
think of two reasons for this tendency. One is that it is hard to disentangle
Kingdon studys descriptive heuristics from its explanatory heuristics
and either from the substantive claims about policymaking. The other is
that while the garbage can model may be a serviceable theoretical image of
the decisional phase of a policy cycle, it offers less analytic purchase on
agenda-setting and, especially, alternative specication. The way out of this
cul-de-sac is to view the garbage can model as theoretical imagery for
policy cycles as a whole and for the decisional phase in particular, but not
as theoretical imagery for the alternative-specication process. Accounts
of the Kingdon approach should be guided by knowledge of the research
tradition from which it implicitly springs, the Chicago School of Sociology.
Top billing should be given to its insightful and versatile conception of the
interdependent socially complex activities that occur during policy cycles:
agenda-setting, alternative specication, and decision making.
This symposium takes some steps to compensate for these difculties
with Kingdons inuential book, considered as a heuristic guide to
designing, conducting, and reporting instrumental case studies about
public policymaking (specically in the area of public management). As
for policy entrepreneurship, the concluding article in the symposium
develops analytical generalizations about agenda-setting and alternative
specication by using the social mechanisms of actor certication and
opportunity attribution to give form to its research argument. As for
circumventing the diversionary aspects of the three streams, all of the
articles in the symposium organize their narrative reporting and explana-
tory arguments around the three conceptually partitioned events, called
agenda-setting, alternative specication, and decision making. Especially
in the concluding article, the typical form of these explanatory arguments
is to offer an event-centric causal account of conditions and occurrences
within each of these events.

The Internal Structure of Description and Explanation

Perhaps the most fundamental theoretical idea involved in our theory-
evidence dialogues (Ragin 1987) is event causation (Hedstrm 2005), as
just implied. Under this form of dialogue, the conditions cast as
explananda are explained by theorized relationships among occurrences
that come about successively during the course of events. Occurrences
are typically conceptualized as arising from socially complex activities,
which are comprised by actors interactions, whether repetitive or
unique. The event causation perspective challenges analysts to proceed
on the assumption that the causal consequences of any single explanatory
factor may vary over the course of episodes, even when its properties
remain constant (Abbott 2001). This assumption coheres with the view
that the consequences of any single explanatory factors properties
during a particular interval of time will be affected by the properties of
some other explanatory factor during the same interval of time. Ragin
(1987) has called this methodological principle that of multiple conjunc-
tural causation.
Given the dening characteristics of event causation, it is not easy to do
so, in ways that readers can follow. Social mechanisms help in constructing
research arguments because they allow a study to present cogent event-
centric explanatory arguments, in abbreviated form, without dumbing
down the analysis. They can help the study fulll this requirement because
they are pregured forms of explanatory argument, or what Hedstrm
and Swedberg (1998) called sometimes true theories of particular and
types of events. With mechanisms, we can give an appropriate interpre-
tation of parsimonious explanation without falling into covering law or
statistical generalization as ontologies of explanation. Crucially, explana-
tions that are conceptualized and presented in terms of social mechanisms
also offer some advantages at the stage when such explanations become
evidence for generalizations about the processes (Hedstrm 2005;
McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001).
A rule of thumb is that mature analysis of events gives an explanatory
account of event-level conditions, placed in the role of explananda. A
promising form of explanandum is the path of ow conditions6conditions
whose attributes change in the course of the event. Examples of ow
conditions are issue inclusion, accounts of alternatives, and decisional
agendas. In episodes that depart from the state of a partial equilibrium
(Baumgartner and Jones 1993), ow conditions can include public man-
agement policy subsystems, collective representations of problems and
solutions (issue images), and the taken-for-granted landscape of policy-
related enterprises (domain structures). Under event causation, the
explanandum can be explained, in part, by the very same ow conditions,
which can combine to operate as partial causes of changes in their own
attributes. The notion of a feedback loop, or what Myrdal called circular
causation, is a commonplace way to point to this idea (Kelman 2005).

The immediate subject of this study is the politics of public management
reform in France, Italy, and Spaincountries considered by some special-
ists in comparative public administration as Napoleonic in their adminis-
trative traditions. In contrast to other studies on this subject, the primary
research interest in this symposium is how episodes of public manage-
ment policymaking process eventuate in authoritative choices. Within this
context, the primary research issue is how such episodes eventuate in the
exercise of political will and the introduction of some degree of novelty in
the politics or substance of public management policies. This research
issue has yet to gure in the research literature on the politics of public
management reform in France, Italy, and Spain. As a consequence, gener-
alizing arguments about either this immediate subject or about the politics
of public management reform, more generally, are subject to reservations.
The symposium seeks to make progress on both fronts: expanding
research knowledge about the politics of public management reform in
these country cases and widening the scope of generalizing argumenta-
tion about how public management policymaking eventuates in novelty
and authoritative choices.
The symposiums generalizing arguments rest on research arguments
that trace event-level conditions in episodes conceived as public manage-
ment policy cycles. Each case study in the symposium corresponds to one
such episode. Each offers an explanation of why the episode eventuated in
one or more historically specic authoritative choices.
The shared form of the answers to this uniform research question is a
research argument that rests on several general assertions about social
inquiry and explanation, all reecting what some have called the Chicago
School of Sociology. These assertions are that explanation precedes gener-
alization (Abell 2004), attributing causality to conditions as they variably
combine throughout events is advantageous when developing research
arguments that explain how episodes have eventuated in outcome condi-
tions of historical and analytical interest (Abbott 2001; Ragin 1987; Sewell
2005), and that generalizing arguments are sensibly cast in terms of pro-
cesses, such as decision making, policymaking, and macro-social change
(Becker 1997; Cyert and March 1963; Kingdon 1984; McAdam, Tarrow, and
Tilly 2001).
The shared form of the answers to the uniform research questions also
rests on some assertions about how to study policymaking, which have
collectively been labeled as institutional processualism (Barzelay and
Gallego 2006). These assertions include the broad notion that how a policy
cycle eventuates in an authoritative policy choice is inuenced by socially
complex activities, situated within contextual conditions. These conceptu-
ally distinct activities are agenda-setting, alternative specication, and
decision making. Movement within these activities alters a number of
conditions, including problem representations, accounts of alternatives,

and decision agendas, which affect how policy cycles eventuate in authori-
tative choices (Kingdon 1984). The contextual conditions include political
stream inuences, such as public mood, government turnover, and bases
of partisan or factional competition (Kingdon 1984); congurations of
policy subsystems and domain structures (Baumgartner and Jones 1993);
forms of government; and emergent, if historically patterned, qualities of
governmental systems, such as their administrative traditions.
We nd that the causal sources of political will and novelty in public
management policies are not so different in France, Italy, and Spain than
they are in other country cases that have been researched using a similar
approach (Barzelay 2003). The following three commonalities are worth
stressing. First, the volitional conduct of executive or legislative politicians
is pivotal to the path and outcome of agenda-setting in public manage-
ment policy cyclesnot least in lending political authority to the framing
of issues that have appeared on systemic agendas but had remained off
formal policy agendas. Second, alternative specication is shaped by pre-
rogatives of institutional actors within public management policy sub-
systems, as well as conditions in the policy stream traceable to previous
initiatives. Third, when administrative authority is sufcient to resolve
policy issues on decisional agendas, public management policy sub-
systems play a strong causal role in policy choices. This generalizing
research argument implies that the politics of public management reform
in France, Italy, and Spain, from a policy process standpoint, exhibit
similar causal tendencies as has been discerned elsewhereand for other
domains of public policymaking.
The case studies included in this symposium reveal an intimate and
sometimes intense interplay between the politics of public management
reform, on the one hand, and political controversy about public gover-
nance, on the other. In France, contention over the attenuated role of
Parliament in expenditure planning and control under the Fifth Republic
had been evident for decades; it reached a feverish pitch in the midst of
the policy cycle eventuating in the LOLF. In Italy, the central administra-
tions established forms of ofcial activity had been questioned in the
1970s, notably among administrative law professors; this pattern of argu-
ment became mainstream thinking during the 1990s, as the dirty hands
scandal brought about the political party systems collapse and strength-
ened regional parties and governments. In Spain, controversy about the
central administrations internal structures and relations with Autono-
mous Communities ebbed and owed ever since the transition to consti-
tutional democracy at the end of the 1970s; it emerged as a ashpoint in
national politics during the 1990s as the Socialist Party lost its absolute
parliamentary majority and was later replaced by a minority Popular Party
This symposium strongly suggests that the relation between contention
over forms and features of public governance and the politics of public
management policy making deserves to be in the forefront of research

issues. The important issue for our symposium is how such contention has
inuenced the making of authoritative choices about public management
policy. In all three case studies included here, some established public
management policies became discredited during the episodes that they
report and analyze. The discrediting of established policy in agenda-
setting eventuated in the exercise of political will to change public man-
agement policies, introducing at least some novelty in politics and/or
substantive measures. This historical analysis of the cases brings out a
main reason why researchers should hold severe reservations about gen-
eralizing arguments that focus on the inexorable tendencies toward sta-
bility in countries whose administrative tradition is Napoleonic.
All in all, the symposium is intended to make three contributions: to
qualify the generalizing arguments of the small extant research literature
on the politics of public management reform in France, Italy, and Spain; to
enlarge the comparative scope of research knowledge on public manage-
ment policymaking by giving these countries due research attention; and
to take a few additional steps to improve the practice of approaching the
study of policymaking processes from the standpoint of comparative his-
torical analysis in the social sciences.

1. The general point has been made to the authors by a number of staff
members of the World Bank Group who have been critical of this frame of
discussion. For a published discussion, together with empirical treatment of
a contrasting approach, see Taliercio (2009).
2. We use terms such as research interest is a specic way. The semantic
organization of our terminology is presented in the Appendix to this intro-
duction. One part of this semantic organizationin which the concept of
argument is used to draw inferences about researchis borrowed from
Booth, Colomb, and Williams (2008).
3. As an observer concept, public management policies are authoritative
choices made by law-making power centers or central agencies that poten-
tially affect governmentwide rules and routines in the conventional areas of
expenditure planning and nancial management, civil service and labor
relations, organization and methods, procurement, and audit and evaluation
(Barzelay 2001).
4. The language used here reects Colebatchs (2002) outstanding, social con-
structivist, account of policymaking.
5. It should be mentioned that this argument has long-standing roots in the
Chicago School of Sociology (see Goffman 1959).
6. The term path of ow conditions corresponds to Abbotts (2001) more
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Topics are concepts whose role is to demonstrate the coherence and con-
tinuity of thoughtful inquiry and argumentation about individuals or soci-
etys standing volitions.
Issues are questions whose role is to elicit thoughtful inquiry and argu-
mentation about volitions.
Claims are statements whose role in argumentation is to set forth a
speakers or writers considered views about issues.
Reasons are statements whose role in argumentation is to persuade an
audience to accept a claim because inferences from other statements,
playing the role of premises, can reasonably be drawn.
Evidence is presented in statements whose role is to warrant claims on
the basis of claims about what exists and/or what has happened.

Reservations are statements whose role in argumentation is to indicate

doubts or disagreements about what a speaker or writer has contributed
to a discussion.
Acknowledgments are statements whose role in argumentation is to indi-
cate a willingness to engage in further inquiry or thought about issues,
especially by addressing doubts or disagreements.
Responses are reformulated claims that have taken into account a pre-
vious round of claims making and critique; responses are claims that
typically are qualied, in the sense that their scope is narrowed or uncer-
tainty is articulated.

Research Argumentation
Research knowledge is a thoughtful discussion about how research arguments
have so far fared in a competitive process for attention and credibilitya
process shaped by a elds institutions of organized skepticism.
Cases are discrete subjects of descriptive, explanatory, and generalizing
research arguments in a study. Under conventions of comparative historical
analysis in the social sciences and the research eld of executive politics, coun-
tries are often described as cases. Another conventional approach within
this movement regards cases as episodes instantiating political processes.
Descriptive research arguments are statements that indicate the research-
ers informed and thoughtful views about occurrences that have taken place
and conditions that have come to exist in the entities or events that fall within
the scope of the study, including conduct. Conduct refers to actions,
whether individuals or bounded organizational units.
Descriptive research arguments convert accounts of data into information
about entities and/or events and play the role of evidence in explanatory
research arguments.
Explanatory research arguments are statements that indicate the research-
ers informed and thoughtful views about why conditions relevant to the
studys research issues have come to exist. Explanatory research arguments
convert information about entities and/or events into claims speaking to
explanatory research issues and play the role of reasons and evidence in
generalizing research arguments.
Generalizing research arguments are statements that play roles in the
critical assessment or extension of research knowledge. Generalizing research
arguments convert research arguments about study-level problems and issues
into research arguments about eld-level research knowledge.