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en The study of multilevel governance (MLG) is fundamentally concerned with the capacity of MLG to effectively deal with policy problems. However, the notion of problem‐solving itself remains vague. Moreover, MLG research prioritizes questions of structure and agency, while neglecting the role and nature of policy problems themselves. This symposium defines problem‐solving in both procedural and operational terms. The introduction reviews relevant attributes of policy problems and existing assumptions about their influence on problem‐solving. By adding uncertainty, tractability, and three political attributes (power, conflict, salience), we propose an extended list of attributes of policy problems that matter for problem‐solving, and link them to different notions of procedural and operational problem‐solving in MLG. The contributions address the challenges facing problem‐solving in the European Union, adopting a particular focus on the characteristics of policy problems. Empirical cases include the European Semester, Brexit, the governance of the swine flu pandemic, and climate change. ¿Cuál es el problema? Gobernanza multinivel y resolución de problemas es El estudio de la gobernanza multinivel (MLG) se ocupa fundamentalmente de la capacidad de la gobernanza multinivel para abordar con eficacia los problemas de políticas. Sin embargo, la noción de resolución de problemas sigue siendo vaga. Además, la investigación de MLG prioriza las cuestiones de estructura y agencia, mientras que descuida el papel y la naturaleza de los problemas de políticas en sí mismos. Este simposio define la resolución de problemas tanto en términos de procedimiento como operativos. La introducción revisa los atributos relevantes de los problemas de políticas y las suposiciones existentes sobre su influencia en la resolución de problemas. Al agregar incertidumbre, capacidad de tratamiento y tres atributos políticos (poder, conflicto, prominencia), proponemos una lista extendida de atributos de problemas de política que son importantes para la resolución de problemas, y los vinculamos con diferentes nociones de resolución de problemas operacionales y de procedimiento en MLG. Las contribuciones abordan los desafíos que enfrenta la resolución de problemas en la Unión Europea, adoptando un enfoque particular en las características de los problemas de política. Los casos empíricos incluyen el Semestre Europeo, Brexit, el gobierno de la pandemia de gripe porcina y el cambio climático. 问题是什么? 多层治理和问题解决作者 zh 有关多层治理(MLG)的研究本质上聚焦于多层治理在有效应对政策问题时的能力。然而,问题解决 (problem‐solving)这一概念本身还较为模糊。此外,MLG研究优先关注有关结构和政府机构的问题,却忽视了政策问题自身扮演的角色和本质。此论文集从过程和操作两个方面对问题解决进行了定义。论文集导论检验了政策问题的相关性质,并检验了关于这些性质对问题解决所产生影响的现有假设。通过引入不稳定性、易处理性、和三种政治性质(权力、冲突和显著性),笔者提出.了更多有关政策问题的性质,这些性质对问题解决尤为重要。笔者随后将这些性质与MLG中属于过程性还是操作性的问题解决概念进行关联。通过特别聚焦于政策问题的特征,笔者的研究贡献应对了欧盟问题解决所面临的挑战。实证案例包括欧洲学期、英国脱欧、猪流感大流行治理和气候变化。
What’s the problem? Multilevel governance and problem-solving
Preprint of
Thomann, E., Trein, P. and M. Maggetti. 2019. What’s the problem? Multilevel governance
and problem-solving. European Policy Analysis 5(1): 37-57.
Dr. Eva Thomann, Department of Politics, College of Social Sciences and International Studies,
University of Exeter, United Kingdom
Dr. Philipp Trein, Institute for Political, Historical and International Studies (IEPHI), Faculty
of Social and Political Science, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Institute of European Studies (IES), University of Berkeley, CA, USA
Prof. Dr. Martino Maggetti, Institute for Political, Historical and International Studies (IEPHI),
Faculty of Social and Political Science, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
The study of multilevel governance (MLG) is fundamentally concerned with the capacity of
multilevel governance to effectively deal with policy problems. However, the notion of
problem-solving itself remains vague. Moreover, MLG research prioritizes questions of
structure and agency, while neglecting the role and nature of policy problems themselves. This
symposium defines problem-solving in both procedural and operational terms. The introduction
reviews relevant attributes of policy problems and existing assumptions about their influence
on problem-solving. By adding uncertainty, tractability, and three political attributes (power,
conflict, salience), we propose an extended list of attributes of policy problems that matter for
problem-solving, and link them to different notions of procedural and operational problem-
solving in MLG. The contributions address the challenges facing problem-solving in the
European Union, adopting a particular focus on the characteristics of policy problems.
Empirical cases include the European Semester, Brexit, the governance of the swine flu
pandemic, and climate change.
Multilevel governance, problem-solving, problem tractability, wicked problems
1 Introduction
“Not all problems are created equal. Problem-solving approaches that are effective for one
sort of problem are not likely to work for other sorts.”
Chisholm (1995:472)
This symposium highlights the importance of accounting for the characteristics of policy
problems in understanding problem-solving dynamics in multilevel systems. Multilevel
polities, such as the European Union (EU), facilitates the governance of “wicked”
transboundary policy problems such as environmental governance or health risks (Adelle and
Russel 2013). These problems need to be tackled with an approach that goes beyond the
boundaries of the nation state. At the same time, however, maintaining and reforming multilevel
systems can open up policy challenges themselves (Maggetti and Trein 2019). The current
legitimacy challenges facing the EU illustrate this dilemma: on the one hand, the EU derives its
justification as a governance system above the nation state partly from its problem-solving
capacity resulting in high output legitimacy (Schmidt 2013). On the other hand, the intensified
political integration that came along with it is meeting fierce resistance, as recently expressed
in the Brexit vote.
Multilevel governance constitutes a “system of continuous negotiation among nested
governments at several territorial tierssupranational, national, regional and local(Hooghe
and Marks 2003), such as the EU. Therein, decision-making is shared between public and
private actors situated at different levels (Benz 2009; Hooghe and Marks 2016). Multilevel
governance systems vary in their degree of political, institutional and policy integration as well
as in their extent of functional differentiation (see, Hooghe and Marks 2016; Trein 2017).
Functional differentiation refers to the delegation of authority to task-specific jurisdictions that
integrate different levels to deal with a given policy challenge (Hooghe and Marks 2003, 237-
9); Leuffen et al. 2012).
Although scholars have frequently referred to problem-solving in multilevel governance, since
the early scholarship (e.g., Scharpf 1997; Benz; 2000) to more recent literature (e.g., Lodge and
Wegrich 2014; Falkner 2016), the concept has remained somewhat fuzzy and metaphorical.
Yet, understanding the capacity to solve complex policy problems is crucial for maintaining
multilevel structures such as the EU. A recent collection of articles examined how structural
factors affect problem-solving (Trein et al. 2019b) by specifically pointing out how multilevel
arrangements can also generate new problems (Maggetti and Trein 2019). In the present
symposium, we argue that the attributes of policy problems are important for understanding the
processes, outputs and outcomes of multilevel governance settings (Peters 2005; Thomann
2018a, b), and therefore, for their problem-solving capacity. Problem-solving in multilevel
systems is particularly relevant with respect to problems which imply high degrees of
uncertainty with regard to risks, technologies and consequences of policies (Head, 2008).
However, the relevant attributes of policy problems and their implications for problem-solving
remain an under-researched aspect of the MLG literature.
This symposium addresses the challenges of problem-solving in multilevel governance by
adopting a particular focus on the attributes of the policy problems whereby instances of
policy problems are Brexit, the European Semester, the governance of health risks,
environmental governance, and the enforcement of EU law. We adopt Sabatier’s (2006: 3)
encompassing definition of policymaking as a process in which “problems are conceptualized
and brought to government for solution; governmental institutions formulate alternatives and
select policy solutions; and those solutions get implemented, evaluated, and revised.” Problem-
solving can thereby be conceived of either as a process, for example, a specific policymaking
mode, that aims at dealing with pressing policy challenges (Héritier 1996; Scharpf 1997; Trein
et al. 2019b). Or we can think of problem-solving from an outcome-oriented, operational
perspective, that is, whether and how a policy achieves results that solve the original policy
problem at stake (Thomann and Sager 2017). Accordingly, problem-solving happens at
different stages of the policy cycle such as decision-making, instrument choice, and policy
In this introduction, we contribute to the literature by reviewing and synthesizing the existing
scholarship on policy problems and problem-solving in MLG. This review addresses two
questions: first, what are the relevant attributes of policy problems? We propose to extend the
previous work by Peters (2005) and Hornbeek and Peters (2017) in order to account also for
the uncertainty and tractability of policy problems, as well as for political attributes (power,
conflict, and salience). And second, how do policy problems relate to different modes of
problem-solving in multilevel governance? We then outline how the contributions of this
symposium illustrate the link between the attributes of policy problems and the unfolding of
corresponding problem-solving processes in multilevel governance.
2 Policy problems in multilevel governance
The choice of governance tools should match the characteristics of a given policy problem. Yet,
as Peters (2005: 349) points out,
“Although conceptions of policy design have well-developed conceptions of the
instruments used to address public problems, they have much less developed
conceptions of those problems themselves.”
Hoornbeek and Peters (2017: 369) define a policy problem as a situation in which society and/or
political systems define and frame particular disconnections between the current state of affairs
and desired states as appropriate for pursuit of resolutions by government(s). Thinking about
the nature of policy problems requires to acknowledge that the characteristics of policy
problems are seldom “objectively given” or set into stone. Instead, the definition and framing
of problems is fundamentally subjective, prone to social and political constructions and change
(Chisholm 1995; Turnbull and Hoppe 2018). The ways in which policy problems are defined,
put on the political agenda, framed, and tackled depend, for example, on the social construction
of target groups in society as regards their power and deservingness (Schneider and Ingram
1997) and other biases (Jones and Baumgartner 2005). Problem definition and framing are also
decisive for understanding mechanisms and outcomes of problem-solving in multilevel
governance (Peters 2005; Chisholm 1995). Accordingly, Hoornbeek and Peters (2017: 381)
stress that:
“the assessment of problems is tied to the ways in which political processes yield
definitions of policy problems. Indeed, the very definition of a problem as a
disconnection between existing conditions and desired states of affairs means that some
persons(s) or group(s) must agree on desired states of affairs (Hoppe, 2010). This
process of determining how policy-makers will define what is desirable is inherently
political and it means that recommendations for policy design and policy
instrumentation will be tied to the underlying politics associated with the problem’s
definition to at least some degree.”
If problems are socially constructed, this raises the question of what counts as an accurate
problem definition (Turnbull and Hoppe 2018). Dery (1984) offers three criteria for a “good”
problem definition from a problem-solving perspective. First, the definition should fit a feasible
solution; second, it should be amenable to organizational and inter-organizational action; and
third, the problem definition should be seen as a realistic opportunity to improve a problematic
situation according to a majority opinion.
What are the relevant attributes of policy problems that influence the processes and outcomes
or problem-solving in multilevel governance? We start by identifying an ongoing discussion in
the policy sciences about “wicked” policy problems and alternative conceptualizations based
on the notion of “structuredness”. Related to this, the regulation literature has dealt with issues
of complexity, conflict, uncertainty, and crisis, and with the appropriate governance responses
to them. Furthermore, research on policy implementation distinguishes different degrees of
“problem tractability” and emphasizes the importance of issue salience. These different
concepts overlap to some extent. Yet they also point to different attributes of policy problems
which have most comprehensively been captured with a recent synthesis of the attributes of
policy problems (Peters 2005; Peters and Hornbeeck, 2017). Our review enables us to refine
and complement Peters (2005) model in order to account for aspects of policy problems that
are sensitive to social and political construction.
2.1 “Wicked” or “unstructured” problems
Borrowed from the planning literature, the concept of “wicked” problems draws a distinction
between ordinary or “tame” policy problems and complex, intractable, open-ended, and
unpredictable policy problems for which conventional strategies or techniques do not apply
(Alford and Head 2017; Newman and Head 2017; Rittel and Weber 1973). Wicked problems
and even more so “super wicked” problems (Levin et al. 2012)—are often seen as immune to
linear, rational or scientific methods of problem-solving (Newman and Head 2017). Given that
Rittel and Weber (1973) propose no less than ten criteria for wicked problems, the concept is
too vague to be meaningfully confined to certain problems only, and difficult to operationalize
empirically (Alford and Head 2017; Peters 2017). The answers to the question of what wicked
problems are and how they should be tackled vary widely (Turnbull and Hoppe 2018) although
a recent review identifies increasing agreement between authors (Danken et al. 2016).
Turnbull and Hoppe (2018) point out that “wickedness was initially introduced in order to
(falsely) distinguish all social problems from science problemsthus, by definition, all policy
problems are wicked (see also Newman and Head 2017; Peters 2017). Hisschemöller and
Hoppe (1995) reiterated in Turnbull and Hoppe (2018), argue instead that problems differ in
the degree they are well-defined or structured. Ill-structured problems are difficult to manage
effectively and defy the development of simple policy designs (Peters 2017). This
structuredness or “problematicity” of problems comprises two elements. On the one hand,
policy problems vary in the extent to which there is agreement or conflict about underlying
values and norms about means or ends of the policy. The most extreme manifestation of this
can be with so-called morality policies that concern fundamental questions about which no
compromise is possible (Engeli and Varone 2011; Mooney, 1999: 675; Thomann 2018b). The
other dimension of “structuredness” is the extent to which certainty about the required and
available knowledge needed to address a policy problem. Uncertainty corresponds to risks for
which it is impossible to assign probabilities to their occurrence (Tosun 2013). Similar to
Hisschemöller and Hoppe (1995), Alford and Head (2017) propose a nine-fold typology of
wicked problems along two main dimensions. First, the complexity of the problem refers to the
question whether the problem and/or its solution is clear. Second, the difficulty with respect to
stakeholders relates to the propensity of those involved to enable the problem to be properly
addressed. This includes the locus of relevant knowledge, the existence of conflicting interests,
and the relative power of policy managers and stakeholders.
2.2 Problem tractability and issue salience
Issues of uncertainty, complexity, and conflict have also been discussed under the umbrella
term of “problem tractability”. Schrefler (2010) for instance defines problem tractability as the
question whether a policy issue can be routinely addressed with available scientific knowledge
and whether the medium-and long-term consequences of possible policy approaches are
unknown or risky. Alford and Head (2017: 404) provide a somewhat different definition
according to which a problem is tractable when neither knowledge nor interests are fragmented
between the managers and the stakeholders, and neither has a relative power advantage. A
“moderately intractable” problem prevails when knowledge is fragmented among various
parties, taking time and effort to access, but the stakeholders broadly consent or are at least
indifferent about the nature of the problem and the possible solutions. Finally, an intractable
problem is where both knowledge and interests are fractured among the various actors.
Hisschemöller and Hoppe (1995) in turn define intractable problems as fully unstructured
problems with low certainty about the relevant knowledge and a lack of consensus regarding
norms and values where policymakers almost inevitably persevere in addressing the “wrong”
problem and do not take seriously certain viewpoints or interests.
Sabatier and Mazmanian (1980) provide a more distinctive and principled definition of problem
tractability as those aspects of a social problems which affect the ability of actors involved in
the policy process to achieve the policy’s objectives (see also Thomann 2019). This entails three
questions. First, is there a clear understanding of the behavioural changes necessary to resolve
the problem? This can be measured through the availability of valid technical theory and
technology. Second, is the behaviour of the regulated target group heterogeneous, does it
involve a large proportion of the population? We can capture this aspect through the diversity
of target group behavior, as well as the size of the target group in relation to the population.
Third, how extensive is the amount of behavioural change required? In this vein, Thomann
(2019), for instance, distinguishes “micro-issues” that refer to very rare situations, merely
administrative procedures, and/or imply only negligible costs or benefits for the addressees,
from macro issues that refer to frequently occurring situations and have notable consequences
for the addressees.
Research on agenda setting and policy implementation has also emphasized the importance of
issue salience for how actors react to different policies (Jones and Baumgartner 2005; Versluis
2003, 2007). Salience is about to the visibility of and the importance attached to a topic, the
main indicator being public attention. As such it captures an important aspect of how problems
and target groups are shaped by social and political processes. Salience can indicate either the
high importance of a policy or its political contestation (Versluis 2003). When responding to
EU policies, domestic actors pick and choose where to focus their attention and tend to ignore
issues they deem less salient (Spendzharova and Versluis 2013).
2.3 Policy problems: an integrated approach
Peters (2005; see also Hoornbeek and Peters 2017) suggests seven attributes of policy problems
that are relevant for problem-solving. In assuming that policy problems are “real” and have
relatively unambiguous characteristics, Peter’s (2005) framework is more “objectivist” than
other approaches (Hoornbeek and Peters 2017). We now discuss Peter’s (2005) criteria and
integrate the previous discussion (see Table 1). We argue that Peter’s list neglects some relevant
attributes of policy problems. First, uncertainty is a core attribute of policy problems. Moreover,
the notion of problem tractability put forward by Sabatier and Mazmanian (1980) is more
precise than Peter’s (2005) categories of scope and scale in capturing relevant aspects of
problems which affect the ability of policy implementers to achieve the policy’s objectives.
Finally, the list does not feature key attributes that are shaped by the politics of problem-solving.
We identify three political attributes in the literature: power, conflict, and issue salience.
Table 1: Synthesis of attributes of policy problems
Core attributes of policy problems
Can the problem be solved?
Is the problem likely to reoccur/ in need to be readdressed over time?
How complex is the problem?
Political or programmatic (causal and technical)
Is the problem a large one that is not subject to disaggregation?
Unpredictability of occurrence and effects of solutions
Attributes tied to instruments
Are the solutions divisiblecan they be disaggregated to the advantage of particular
Is the problem identified and/or solvable in terms of money?
Are there large numbers of persons, organizations, or activities involved in creating the
Can the problem be addressed well by a single agency or ministry?
Aspects of problems affecting the ability of policy implementers to achieve the policy’s
- clear understanding of the behavioural changes required
- diversity of target group behavior and size of the target group
- extent of behavioural change required
Political attributes
Relative power of managers and stakeholders
Degree of agreement or conflict about underlying interests, values and norms (means or
Visibility of and importance attached to a topic
Source: adapted from Hoornbeek and Peters (2017: 367). Bold: attributes added by authors.
According to Peters (2005), three core attributes of policy problems are solubility, complexity,
and scale.
Problem solubility refers to the question whether a problem has a finite and definable solution
or whether it is an acute and chronic problem that is likely to appear again and again on the
agenda of government (Peters 2005). As such, (in)solubility bears resemblance with wicked
problems resisting a clear solution as well as with the aspect of (un)certainty defining problem
structuredness. It also emphasizes the time dimension as it the case with “super wicked”
Complexity is a multi-faceted attribute of policy problems. Political complexity refers to the
number of different actors involved, and hence the difficulty of reaching an agreement among
them. Political complexity has also been discussed in view of the potential conflict resulting
from diverging values and interests in the wicked problems and structuredness literature, which
touches also upon the question of their power. The size and diversity of target groups is a core
aspect of problem tractability. Programmatic complexity can refer to the extent of technical
expertise required to understand the problem. Moreover, and importantly, there can be multiple
and competing causal models for a given policy problem, which leads to conflict among experts
(Peters 2005: 358-359). The wicked problems literature refers to programmatic complexity
when arguing that some problems defy a full understanding of their nature and implications.
The scale of the questions confronting government refers to the magnitude of the problem and
the range of the effects it can producewhich determines whether a problem can be
disaggregated into smaller, manageable components, or whether it requires a comprehensive
solution or nothing at all (Peters 2005: 360-361). This aspect is somewhat discussed in the
wicked problems literature and it is also somehow reflected in the definition of crises, but it
does not range amongst the characteristics of “problem structuredness”. Finally, scale is related
to the question of the extent of behavioral change required by a policy, as an aspect of problem
Peters (2005) adds four further attributes that are tied to instruments, namely divisibility,
monetarization, scope, and interdependence.
Divisibility refers to the nature of the resources required to solve the problem. Essentially,
problems that entail collective action and produce diffuse benefits may be more difficult to
solve than when benefits are more immediate and more appropriable by individuals, as it is
difficult to generate and maintain support for policies that yield only indirect benefits to
particular constituencies (Hoornbeek and Peters 2017; Peters 2005). To a degree, divisibility
may express itself through issue salience; however, it is an aspect of policy problems that other
strands of literature tend to have neglected.
Monetarization refers to the question whether a policy problem can be addressed using money
and subsidies. This aspect influences which solutions are discussed and how prominent
distributive questions are in these discussions. It has not been explicitly discussed in relation to
wickedness, structuredness, or problem tractability.
The scope of activity or behaviors that contribute to the creation of the problem can also vary.
This refers essentially to the number of people, activities, and organizations involved with a
problem, and to the extent to which these are well-defined. This in turn relates to the broader
question of government capacity to carry out different activities (Lodge and Wegrich 2014).
The scope of activity is one pillar defining wicked problems with respect to stakeholders. Scope
is the core idea underlying the more refined definition of problem tractability put forward by
Sabatier and Mazmanian (1980).
Interdependence captures how policy problems vary in the extent to which they are confined
or confinable to a single policy domain (Peters 2005). This relates to the extent to which policy
problems lie within the jurisdiction of single ministries, agencies or organizations.
Interdependence affects the difficulty and controversy in the selection and implementation of
instruments. Interdependence is one key aspect defining wicked problems (interrelatedness and
multitude of stakeholders).
In sum, Peter’s (2005) list of problem attributes captures most attributes considered as relevant
in the different strands of literature on policy problems. It also includes other, neglected
attributes such as divisibility and monetarization, and the relevance of time for solubility. As
Hoornbeek and Peters (2017) admit, this list of policy attributes is rather long. When analyzing
a given set of policy problems, there are various ways in which the attributes can be aggregated
into a more parsimonious conceptual structure. Some attributes may be more analytically or
practically relevant than others, depending on the given context (Table 1).
3 Notions of problem-solving and their link with policy problems
Problem-solving has been described as a linear, rational activity consisting of five steps:
problem identification, problem representation, generating alternatives, and selecting solutions
(Chisholm 1995). However, there is in fact a broad variety of very different understandings of
problem-solving in the literature. The contribution by Irepoglu Carreras (2019) shows how the
different understandings of problem-solving are reflected in different strands of the MLG
literature. We adopt the encompassing definition developed by Maggetti and Trein (2019: 3),
according to which problem-solving implies that the policy- and other decisionmakers in charge
of defining, deciding, implementing, and evaluating policies:
“(a) Make policies in the sense of “puzzling” (on society’s behalf) as opposed to
“powering” (Heclo 1974); So as to (b) deal with problems that are perceived important
for society by organized groups and/or by policymakers themselves (Cohen et al. 1972);
Through (c) the cooperative production of a policy output that is expected to be
collectively beneficial in making a contribution to solve the policy problem at stake
(Elgström and Jönsson 2000).
As Trein et al. discuss (2019), problem-solving entails political action intended to solve policy
problem. This definition can include both problem-solving processes and the outcomes of such
processes. We now discuss prominent notions of problem-solving in policy analysis and link
them to policy problems.
3.1 Procedural notions of problem-solving
Procedural notions of problem-solving include amongst others problem structuring, a
collaborative decision-making mode, learning and knowledge utilization, and problem
Problem structuring. Hisschemöller and Hoppe (1995) argue that policymakers can
“restructure” problems when they define the issue. Policymakers tend to move from
unstructured to more structured problems. For structured, technical problems (with high levels
of certainty and high consensus on values and norms), a “rule strategy” of policymaking is
applied that relies on rules to achieve clearly defined goals as effectively as possible. For
moderately structured problems with unclear means but clear ends, a “negotiation strategy”
serves to address the conflict about the means to reach the policy goal most effectively and
efficiently. For moderately structured problems with clear means but unclear ends, an
“accommodation strategy” serves the aim of finding a compromise about the values most
relevant in the conflicting parties. This strategy often focuses on procedural means to enable
future consensus (e.g., Engeli and Varone 2011). For fully unstructured problems,
Hisschemöller and Hoppe (1995) suggest a “learning strategy” which focuses on integrating,
evaluating, and deliberating contradictory information and arguments.
Collaborative decision-making. In the context of EU policymaking, problem-solving has been
discussed as a specific procedural pattern of negotiation and decision-making between member
states in the early drafting process of an EU policy, focusing on how interests are
accommodated and actors coordinate. In contrast to bargaining, problem-solving is
characterized by actors concentrating on joint production, common interests, and “creating
value rather than distributive issues and self-interest in order to focus on problem analysis, the
definition of objectives, and the finding of possible solutions involving multiple attempts and
trial and error (e.g., Scharpf, 1999; Benz 2000). Thus, problem-solving in the EU is painted as
comparatively denationalized and dominated by technical, scientific, and legal expertise
(Heritier 1996). Several features of the EU polity can be conducive to this mode of problem-
solving: the continuity of negotiations fostering norms of stable reciprocity and cooperative
solutions, informal codes of conduct and a consensual culture, and feelings of solidarity
emerging from interpersonal relationships during negotiations (Elgstrom and Jonsson 2000).
In a very similar vein, using Heclo’s distinction between powering and puzzling, Maggetti and
Trein (2019) suggest that problem-solving entails “puzzling” on society’s behalf. In his seminal
book, Heclo held that,
“Governments not only “ power” (or whatever the verb form of that approach might be);
they also puzzle. Policy-making is a form of collective puzzlement on society’s behalf;
it entails both deciding and knowing. The process of making pension, unemployment,
and superannuation policies has extended beyond deciding what “wants” to
accommodate, to include problems of knowing who might want something, what is
wanted, what should be wanted, and how to turn even the most sweet-tempered general
agreement into concrete collective action” (Heclo 1974, 305).
In this understanding, problem-solving is a collaborative decision-making style in which
policymakers intend to solve the policy problem, i.e., seek policy solutions, and not only pursue
their own narrow political agenda.
Divisibility matters for this kind of problem-solving: Policymaking regarding non-divisible
policy problems may suffer from collective action problems which complicate building support
for a policy (Hoornbeek and Peters 2017). Accordingly, problem-solving processes have been
attributed mainly to distributive and regulatory types of policy problems (Elgstrom and Jonsson
2000; Heritier 1996). Moreover, whether or not problem-solving takes place is a matter of issue
salience. Falkner (2016) argues that how EU integration unfolds will depend on how the crisis
and crisis-induced problem-solving needs are being interpreted and communicated. Joint
problem-solving can be promoted as an answer to recent crises in the EU within an “integration-
friendly” framing of crisis. Hoornbeek and Peters (2017: 367) further specify how problem
attributes affect policymaking processes. For instance, solubility influences whether a problem
can be addressed through a one-time intervention or requires ongoing efforts. Moreover,
complexity suggests a need to focus on processes: political complexity requires reaching a
common understanding of the problem, while technical complexity calls for more expertise or
research (see below about knowledge utilization). Problems that lend themselves to
monetarizations may involve policymaking processes that revolve around expenditures.
Policymaking processes tend to be very complex for problems with a broad scope; and
interdependence exacerbates difficulties in the policymaking process.
Learning and knowledge utilization. An important dimension of problem-solving in
multilevel governance is learning, defined as “the acquisition of new relevant information that
permits the updating of beliefs about the effects of a new policy” (Braun and Gilardi 2006:
308). Learning is a process that results in collective products such as new shared ideas,
strategies, rules, or policies (Heikkila and Gerlak 2013: 486; Treib et al. 2018; Zito and Schout
2009). Learning can involve the instrumental use of scientific knowledge in policymaking.
The tractability of policy problems directly influences whether and what kind of learning takes
place for instance when assessing risks, engaging in regulatory impact assessment or other
forms of evidence-based policymaking. This is because it is easier to define the payoffs
associated with different courses of action when tractability is high. Thus, we would expect in
multilevel governance to apply standard operating procedures and engage in top-down
hierarchical of bargaining-based modes of learning under conditions of high problem
tractability. Conversely, when policy problems are intractable, more bottom-up, reflexive,
epistemic, and contingent modes of learning come into play (Dunlop and Radaelli 2018).
According to Schrefler (2010), knowledge utilization should especially occur in situations of
low problem tractability and low levels of conflict around a policy. Conversely, when conflict
is high the use of scientific knowledge should be symbolic. For more tractable policy problems,
knowledge is expected to be used instrumentally or strategically.
It has been argued for the EU that the success of these different learning strategies should
interact with the extent of differentiation (Zito and Schout 2009). Several properties of what
Heikkila and Gerlak (2013) call the “technological and functional domain” of a policy further
influence the success of learning, such as its “publicness”, levels of ambiguity or uncertainty,
available information and technology. Moreover, conditions of crisis development and
termination define how a crisis progresses over time (e.g., fast-or slow-burning, cathartic or
long shadow) which may facilitate or hinder learning (Kamkhaji and Radaelli 2017). In the EU,
events such as the euro crisis have led to intensive learning within crises, such as in the form of
“contingent learning” as a fast, surprise-triggered understanding of how cue-outcome
associations work; but also more gradually between crises over time (Falkner 2016; Kamkhaji
and Radaelli 2017).
Knowledge utilization is also a key aspect of the use of the precautionary principle which is a
procedure used to handle uncertain regulatory risks in the EU. In the event of a potential risk,
even if this risk cannot be fully demonstrated or quantified or its effects determined because of
the insufficiency or inclusive nature of the scientific data, the precautionary principle enables
policy makers to take regulatory action before risks materialize in order to prevent unnecessary
harm. Typically such policies impose constraints on the actions of target groups (e.g., bans on
the production or sale of certain products), subject to review when new scientific data becomes
available (Thomann 2018a; Tosun 2013; Trein 2018).
Managing wicked problems. The literature consistently suggests two remedies to manage
wicked problems (Danken et al. 2016). First, cross-boundary collaboration is important, with
the involvement of external stakeholders, inter-organizational collaboration among
governmental bodies, and networked forms of governance. Second, public leadership and
management matter, in terms of distinct managerial skills and collaborative competences.
Lodge and Wegrich (2014) further emphasize the crucial role of administrative capacity in
terms of delivery, coordination, regulation, and analysis for tackling contemporary crises of the
states’ problem-solving capabilities. They argue that the way in which substantive and
procedural governance instruments are used depend on dominant ideas and functional demands
determined by specific problem constellations (Lodge and Wegrich 2014: 17). The successful
use of instruments in turn depends on administrative capacities, and vice versa. These
governance capacities lie increasingly outside the boundaries of the state, being tied into a
network of public, private, and arguably multilevel governance systems.
3.2 Operational notions of problem-solving
As Thomann and Sager (2017a, b) highlight, there is a more operational understanding of
problem-solving which refers to the results of decision-making, that is, the extent to which
policy problems are effectively being addressed (see Peters and Pierre 2016).
This perspective
significantly broadens prominent notions of problem-solving by highlighting the fact that
decision-making goes on after policies have been adopted, during the phases of implementation
(Sabatier and Mazmanian 1980), policy evaluation, and the maintenance, revision, or
termination of policies. Thus, from a results-oriented perspective, not only the “goodness” of a
policy decision, but also the goodness of implementation become key. Hoornbeek and Peters
(2017: 378) note the importance of interdependence for operational problem-solving:
“Interdependent problems engage multiple organizations, and this increases the
complexity of achieving resolutions to the problem. By contrast, problems that are not
interdependent in this manner may be more easily addressed.”
This focus on effectiveness seems to underlie some of the earlier work of Scharpf (1997, 2003). In these earlier
works, successful problem-solving means effective coordination of the involved actors (and their interests)
(Scharpf 1999)thus Scharpf adopts a procedural rather than an operational understanding of problem-solving.
One consequence of the management of interdependent problems is that there is a demand for
coordination, and potentially even the integration, of existing policies and organizations.
Therefore, decisionmakers tackle complex problems, such as environmental protection or
climate change, with integrated strategies and reforms (Trein et al., 2019a).
Jordan (1999) presents a 2x2 matrix for analyzing problem-solving in operational terms (Weale
1992), see Figure 1. On the one hand, the result of decision-making can be a policy output, that
is, "the laws, regulations and institutions that governments employ in dealing with policy
problems" (Weale, 1992: 45) and policy outcomes which refer to "the effects of those measures
upon the state of the world" (ibid). On the other hand, problem-solving can be seen as the
question whether policy outputs and outcomes correspond to objectives set out by policymakers
(“conformance”; cells 1 and 2), or the focus can be whether policy outputs or outcomes are
actually suitable responses to address the underlying policy problem (“performance” as in cells
3 and 4; see also Thomann and Sager 2017a).
Figure 1: Operational understandings of problem-solving
Focus of analysis
Policy output
Policy outcome
to problem
E.g. legal compliance
E.g. practical implementation
E.g. customization
E.g. policy evaluation
Source: adapted from Jordan (1999: 72). Examples are our own (non-exhaustive).
These operational understandings or problem-solving are less prominently the focus of MLG
studies, but nonetheless relevant. Understanding problem-solving beyond policy adoption in
MLG invites the researcher to consider the insights from the literatures on policy instrument
choice, legal and practical policy implementation and enforcement (Scholten 2019; Treib
2014), regulatory quality (Radaelli 2004), and policy evaluation (Pattyn et al. 2018).
Instrument choice. The most prominently discussed aspect of the link between policy
problems and operational problem-solving is that of instrument choice (Howlett and Cashore
2009). For instance, Hoornbeek and Peters (2017: 377) point out that:
“The scope of activities giving rise to a problem affects the means used to address it. Where
many individuals and organizations are involved in the problem, solving the problem
becomes a more complex endeavour that may need to be addressed by a wide range of
policy designs and instruments. Conversely, where the scope of activity is narrow, focused
regulatory policy instruments may be reasonably employed to address the problem.”
Moreover, scale influences the need to invest in big solutions commensurate with the problem
at hand (Hoornbeek and Peters 2017). Peters (2005: 361-362) notes that from an operational
perspective, scale is to an extent a question of instrument choice:
“The style of policy making in Europe tends to be large scale, at least in terms of gaining
compliance among the member states. This style can be contrasted with that in other
multilevel governance arrangements () in which the components of the union are
granted more latitude in interpreting central government policy, and are more
autonomous. The drive for conformity has to some extent been lessened by the adoption
of the Open Method of Coordination (…) and its emphasis on benchmarks and standards
rather than regulations, so that the scale of the policy system may be lessening.”
Hoornbeek and Peters (2017: 367) outline how insoluble problems should be addressed by
instruments that address the continuing nature of the problem. The incremental use of targeted
policy instruments can help with small-scale problems, but would be less useful for large-scale
problems. One can address divisible problems with policy tools that build support from policy
beneficiaries, but non-divisible policy solutions may require broader support. Problems of
narrow scope are easier to address with regulatory solutions than problems with broad scope.
Finally, interdependent problems often come a long with “lowest common denominator”
instrument choices.
Implementation and enforcement. Policy implementation and enforcement crucially serve to
maintain the delicate balance between the governmental and supranational elements in the EU
(Jordan 1999: 69; Scholten 2019; Thomann 2019). Particularly,
“the troublesome implementation of EU environmental policies is a microcosm of the
wider story of integration and the conflicting forces and contradictions which have
characterised the EU throughout its journey from an intergovernmental agreement to a
multilevel polity. These contradictions include the maintenance of unity in diversity, the
competition between national priorities and supranational imperatives, and the
distribution of powers between actors at different spatial levels of government. If
anything, they are more starkly revealed in the implementation phase when the EU\s
policies are put to the test than at earlier stages in the policy process, where symbolic
gestures and rhetorical commitments are more likely to secure consensus.
Implementation is at the sharp end of the EU policy process, where a burgeoning
supranational legal order meets a decentralised policy delivery system dominated by
states.” (Jordan 1999: 87).
Oneexample of operational problem-solving is the “customization” of EU policies by member
states, where the latter adapt and change the former to domestic preferences and contexts
(Thomann 2019). Moreover, operational perspectives highlight the varieties of what could be
“successful” problem-solvingprocedural, programmatic, or political (Marsh and McConnell
2010; Weaver 2014), while the EU MLG literature often reduces this to the question of
compliance with EU decisions (Treib 2014). On the other hand, the a policy implementation
perspective offers important insights into how problem tractability and issue salience as well
as levels of ambiguity and conflict interact with different (EU) governance and implementation
modes when affecting actual implementation success (Heidbreder 2017; Matland 1995;
Sabatier and Mazmanian 1980; Thomann 2019; Versluis 2003, 2007; Spendzharova and
Versluis 2013).
4 The contributions of the symposium
The symposium contributions scrutinize the interactions between formal aspects of multilevel
systems and policy problems, especially in order to understand “governance in turbulent times”
(Ansell et al. 2017). They analyze how the characteristics of policy problems shape problem-
solving dynamics in multilevel governance, from different perspectives but always focusing on
critical cases”, that is studying cases of multilevel governance of wicked problems and cases
of disintegration by applying a comparative perspective. In doing so, these studies provide
valuable information on how multilevel governance arrangement can deal with such difficult
The article by Papadopoulos and Piattoni (2019) deals with learning in the European Semester.
The authors discuss some of the problems with the credibility and eventually the problem-
solving capacity of the European Semester (ES). Especially, the authors underline four
problems with the Semester. Firstly, they point to a democratic deficit that stems from the
dominance of the executive and bureaucracy over parliamentary actors. Secondly, they hold
that the strict budgetary rules pre-empt a solution based on collaboration and learning. Thirdly,
the authors suggest that asymmetric intergovernmentalism results in bargaining instead of
learning. Fourth, the paper contends that the strict conditions for Eurozone members outside
the European Semester is a further impediment to learning.
The authors start out by linking policy ownership to learning, in the context of European
governance. They hold that, in the European Semester, learning should happen in a reflexive
mode. After that the authors point the reader to the dominance of the executive as well as the
sidelining of parliaments and absence of the public in the decision-making, in the European
Semester. In the next step, the authors argue that policy constitutionalization, i.e., the creation
of fiscal rules through European regulations and the rulings of the European Court of Justice,
is an impediment to learning because it creates rules that limit reflexive learning and flexible
policy adoption. Furthermore, the structure of intergovernmental bargaining in EU fiscal
politics and the ES undermines learning because the European Council fosters decision making
through bargaining amongst member states.
The authors conclude with a pessimistic outlook on the problem-solving capacity of the
European Semester. “Ultimately, a “puzzling” and problem-solving approach characterizing
multilevel governance within the ES is of relatively limited relevance compared to the
“powering” aspects of European economic governance” (Papadopoulos and Piattoni 2019).
This paper makes an important contribution to understanding how attributes of the policy
problem are linked to problem-solving.
The article by Versluis et al. (2019) focuses on the swine flu pandemic as an instance of a
complex problem tackled in multilevel settings. A core insight concerns the role of uncertainty
in the regulation of this type of problem and how this uncertainly is managed and communicated
by policymakers. The swine flu pandemic represents indeed a crisis moment that was relatively
novel, unforeseen, fast-moving, and whose scope and consequences were not easily predictable.
What is more, the surrounding scientific knowledge was not very firm, being based on limited
empirical evidence and theoretically speculative models.
The authors then show how policy responses vary considerably between different levels as the
World Health Organization (WHO) and the EU dealt with the same problem in distinctive ways.
One the one hand, the WHO did not explicitly addressed the uncertainty surrounding the
pandemic. It rather adopted a prescriptive approach that has been criticized for overstating the
pandemic’s expected outcome and for its lack of transparency. On the other hand, the EU
agencies in charge of the matter paid much more attention to existing uncertainty and were
explicit in communicating it to the public. Confronted with these discrepant policy
recommendations, national reactions to the pandemic varied greatly, due to a number of
contextual political factors. The conclusion by the authors points to the usefulness for
governmental organizations to provide uncertainty information. Conversely, without openness
about the unknowns, decision making may become negatively politicized, which in turn
produces undesirable side-effects and is less conductive to problem-solving.
The contribution by John-Erik Fossum (2019) uses the example of Brexit in order to inform
and improve existing notions of problem wickedness. Fossum convincingly demonstrates how
Brexit can be seen as a prime example of a wicked problem. The problem is hard to define: it
is not clear what Brexit really is a problem of, and public opinion is very polarized. Moreover,
there is no stopping rule for establishing when the issue is resolved and who has the right to
take ultimate decisions. Brexit also involves fierce struggles over key political and societal
values, its effects are likely to be irreversible, and it is a problem without a clear solution. Brexit
is moreover a unique problem and in many ways a symptom of other, social and economic,
The question the article explores then is: how can the case of Brexit inform our understanding
of wicked problems? In so doing, Fossum argues that a key aspect for understanding the wicked
problem of Brexit and potential approaches to solving it is that of what he calls political order.
He defines political order as two core meanings: a settled order, or orderliness as the presence
or absence of rules. Along these two dimensions of political order (polity change/ structural
reconfiguration, and orderliness), he outlines four possible scenarios for Brexit. Fossum argues
that the neglect of political order in the literature on wicked problems is problematic because
matters of political order and change have implications for terms under which policy-making
takes place. Using the example of the Good Friday Agreement, Fossum demonstrates that
policy implications are impossible to capture without tackling the problem of political order as
He concludes that the policy literature has tended to focus on cognitively or politically
demanding issues, which has enabled them to focus on policy substance. However, structurally
or normatively demanding problems tend to become heavily politicized and questions of value
and political order tend to appear, which gives a different meaning and significance to wicked
beyond the realm of policy. Thus, Fossum’s contribution is a welcome step toward integrating
political perspectives into the study of policy problems in MLG, as we have suggested in Table
1 above. Simultaneously, Fossum demonstrates the relevance of policy perspectives for
analyzing contemporary issues of EU integration.
The paper by Irepoglu Carreras compares the problem-solving capacity of federal states,
notably Germany and the EU. The paper focuses on climate change action, which is an
important case for problem-solving in multilevel contexts. Irepoglu Carreras discusses how the
structure of the multilevel policy, the agency of different levels of government, and the
interaction between them impacts on the outcome in the process of problem-solving. Through
an extensive review of the existing literature, this article discusses the interplay of structure,
agency, the process, which is essentially coordination, and the outcome of the problem-solving
The article proceeds with a discussion of why we need to take an encompassing theoretical
approach to studying problem-solving that links structure and outcome through processual
aspects. The author emphasizes that the processual aspects of problem-solving entail both a
bottom-up and a top-down perspective. Against the background, the paper proceeds with a very
well researched survey of the literature problem-solving in climate change action and its
relation to environmental policy in the EU and in federal states, with a focus on Germany. The
paper does a very good job in summarizing these strands of literature without getting lost in the
Irepoglu Carreras concludes that the emphasis in the literature on comparative federalism is
explicitly on the structural elements related to problem-solving, such as the construction of the
polity. More implicitly, the federalism literature focuses on the outcome dimension, and
assesses for example policy convergence or divergence between levels. On the other hand, the
multilevel governance literature focuses explicitly on the process of problem-solving, for
example through functional differentiation in task-specific jurisdictions. Furthermore, the
multilevel governance literature focuses implicitly on the agency of problem-solving.
Taken together, this symposium proposes a renewed, conceptually and empirically improved
and broadened emphasis on the study of problem-solving in the EU and in multilevel
governance more generally. With this introduction we propose conceptual tools to study these
phenomena, and link attributes of policy problems with notions of problem-solving. The
contributions illustrate the rich variety with which the EU responds to problem in its political
processes and institutional architecture. In a next step, research should tackle not only
procedural, but also operational notions of problem-solving more systematically. A better
understanding of how the EU responds to different types of policy problems is an important but
neglected step toward generating theoretical and empirical knowledge about the actual extent
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... Standard setters and adopters interacting around opaque issues lack certainty about cause-and-effect relationships (Milliken, 1987), leading readily to the establishment of ineffective standards or to implementation based on misinterpreted criteria (Wijen, 2014). The governance literature has described these issues as "wicked", entailing complex, fragmented, ill-structured, and intractable characteristics (Thomann, Trein, & Maggetti, 2019). ...
... Context diversity implies that universal solutions for issues are inadequate (Schoneveld et al., 2019). Thus, issues having complex cause-effect relations, unpredictable outcomes, and diverse contexts lead to high systemic opacity-and resist linear solutions in much the same fashion as "wicked problems" (Dentoni, Bitzer, & Schouten, 2018;Reinecke & Ansari, 2016;Thomann et al., 2019). An issue is more systemically opaque when nested in structures characterized by high degrees of complexity, unpredictability, and context diversity. ...
... They seek to remove uncertainty for adopters as to what sustainability aspects are relevant, to induce adopters to swap their 'satisficing', myopic behavior with more effective, longer-term actions, and to clarify performance expectations. These "rule strategies" (Thomann et al., 2019) reduce behavioral opacity by directing attention and enhancing the knowledge of adopters. However, rigid rules do not always have the intended outcomes (Boussalis, Feldman, & Smith, 2018;Wijen, 2014). ...
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Many voluntary sustainability standards govern opaque environmental and social issues, which are difficult to understand and address. Extant studies show mixed evidence around the effectiveness of such standards. We develop a theoretical framework that relates different degrees and types of opacity to standard effectiveness. Systemic opacity results from issues embedded in complex, diverse, and dynamic settings, whereas behavioral opacity stems from human challenges in interpreting and acting upon focal issues. Rigid sustainability standards, oriented toward compliance, are effective for addressing issues that are transparent or enshrouded by behavioral opacity, but are counterproductive for issues with systemic opacity. The trade‐off between rigidity and flexibility leads to optimal effectiveness when standards governing systemically and behaviorally opaque issues are moderately rigid. Our ideas are illustrated with two leading sustainability standards in the fisheries and real estate sectors, which effectively address transparent issues but show limited success when facing opacity. We conclude that unpacking issue opacity is instrumental in designing and implementing more effective sustainability standards.
... The paper explores what dialectical and rhetorical strategies were employed by the Juncker EC to build an argumentative regime where the question of compliance with EU law is articulated with the representation of the EU as an efficient multilevel governance system. Starting from the distinction between procedural and operational concepts of problem-solving in multilevel governance polities (Thomann et al. 2019), the paper asks whether the Juncker Commission's arguments on the need to ensure EU law compliance favor a particular conception of problem-solving in multilevel governance systems. The paper argues that the argumentative strategies employed by the Juncker EC in the field of compliance reveal a preference for an operational notion of problem-solving combined with some aspects of a more procedural perspective of problem-solving in multilevel governance polities. ...
... The expansion of a European public governance apparatus explains the evolution of literature specifically devoted to the analysis of this apparatus, namely regarding its multilevel character Marks 2001, 2003;Kaiser and Prange 2002;Thomann et al. 2019). Thomann et al. (2019) argue that to address how multilevel governance systems manage policy problems, it is necessary to develop the notion of problem-solving, namely by establishing a distinction between procedural and operational notions of problem-solving. ...
... The expansion of a European public governance apparatus explains the evolution of literature specifically devoted to the analysis of this apparatus, namely regarding its multilevel character Marks 2001, 2003;Kaiser and Prange 2002;Thomann et al. 2019). Thomann et al. (2019) argue that to address how multilevel governance systems manage policy problems, it is necessary to develop the notion of problem-solving, namely by establishing a distinction between procedural and operational notions of problem-solving. It is also significant to underpin that the concept of problem-solving comprises a "processual dimension," as well as a "substantial dimension" which in articulation account for how policy-makers formulate policies, manage questions deemed significant for their political communities and try to solve policy problems through cooperative arrangements (Maggetti and Trein 2019: 355). ...
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This paper analyzes how, during the Juncker Presidency (2014–2019), the European Commission employed argumentative strategies to address the question of member-states’ compliance with European Union (EU) law. There is a literature gap regarding how European leaders employ argumentative strategies to coax member-states to comply with EU legislation and how those strategies can be associated with multilevel governance designs and problem-solving approaches. Building on van Eemeren and Grootendorst’s (A systematic theory of argumentation. The Pragma-dialectical approach, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004) pragma-dialectical approach to argumentation, the paper explores what dialectical and rhetorical strategies were employed by the Juncker European Commission to build an argumentative regime where the question of compliance with European Union law is articulated with the representation of the European Union as an efficient multilevel governance system. Starting from the distinction between procedural and operational concepts of problem-solving in multilevel governance polities (Maggetti in Public Administration 97:355–369, 2019), the paper questions whether the Juncker Commission’s arguments on the need to ensure European Union law compliance favor a particular conception of problem-solving in multilevel governance systems. The paper argues that the argumentative strategies employed by the Juncker European Commission in the field of compliance reveal a preference for an operational notion of problem-solving combined with some aspects of a more procedural perspective of problem-solving in multilevel governance polities. The background of this paper is associated with the growing impact that European legislation has on member-states and also with the efforts developed by the Juncker European Commission in discussing how to improve EU regulation to increase compliance with EU law.
... The institutionalisation process serves to regulate the behaviour of societies [16,22,[54][55][56]. Policymaking serves to deepen our knowledge of political institution [55,57]. ...
... Policymaking serves to deepen our knowledge of political institution [55,57]. A policy system consists of several institutional orders and has distinctive characteristics and unique logics that affect the actors' behaviour at multiple levels [54]. Policy process theories and policy reforms acknowledge the importance of institutions, context, and capabilities of governance systems to facilitate democratic problem-solving. ...
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Memorable events of the 21st century that will be rightly or wrongly be remembered includes the global financial crisis of 2007/08, the election of Mr Donald Trump as President of the United States of America, and Brexit (the United Kingdom (UK) voting to leave the European Union) in 2016. Others include the emergence of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and the war between Russia and Ukraine. Since 2016, Brexit has continued to dominate global politics. Conceptually, this article explores the Brexit dilemma, the formalization of Brexit agreements, and the post-Brexit impact on the economy and society. How did Brexit happen? What are the underlying causes of Brexit? Is Brexit connected to Euroscepticism and populism? By evaluating these contexts, important issues and debates can be reconciled to advance knowledge on Brexit, UK politics, the regional political system, and the rise of populism. This article is currently relevant since it coincides with an obvious upsurge in interest in the post-Brexit Global Britain.
... From a normative perspective, thus, MLG systems can be seen as a superior political alternative to provide policy solutions for challenges that span across multiple territorial levels and thus demand the involvement of different levels of governance (Bache et al., 2016). Problem-solving in MLG involves collaborative decision making characterized by actors concentrating on joint production, common interests, and creating value to solve the policy problem, and not only pursuing their own narrow political agenda (Thomann et al., 2019). Consequently, by relying on negotiated, non-hierarchical exchanges between actors, the political power and institutional capability in MLG systems are linked to a capacity to wield and coordinate resources and align interests from public and private actors (Peters and Pierre, 2001). ...
... Strategically engaging with existing formal and informal structures, and in interactions characteristic of MLG systems, these actors travelled across and linked state and non-state actors in different governmental levels and distinct policy networks. They wielded influence to coordinate resources and align interests of public and private actors to enable collective problem-solving (Peters and Pierre, 2001;Thomann et al., 2019). Table 3 summarizes these roles and practices. ...
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This paper examines the Dutch policy reaction to the financial crisis in the public transport sector caused by Covid-19. Using the multi-level governance theory complemented with the notion of informal governance, the analysis explains the decision-making that defined a State-aid scheme to public transport operators following a process of consultation and concertation between state and non-state actors across governance tiers. To agree on a financial rescue package, these actors engage in front-stage and back-stage political interactions, constrained and enabled by formal and informal governance structures and practices. By analyzing how the interplay between the political mobilization of actors, policy-making arrangements, and existing polity structures shapes political alignment around the financial support scheme, the paper concludes that the crisis did not change customary governance and policy-making practices. Stakeholders sought their usual partners and followed existing routines in path-dependent ways to address the policy challenge brought by Covid-19. Despite being triggered by a major exogenous shock, the policy response to the crisis was driven mainly by endogenous forces; the decision-making mechanism remained the same and the network of actors did not shrink or expand.
... Characteristics of policy problems are not objectively given but are a result of social construction and political conflict (Baumgartner & Jones, 2014;Jones & Baumgartner, 2005;Peters, 2005;Rochefort & Cobb, 1993, 1994Stone, 2012;Thomann et al., 2019). Whether an issue is defined as a problem, and whether this problem is simple to solve, or complex is, thus, a result of construction and debate. ...
... Political complexity refers to the number of political interests involved in an issue, conflicts among stakeholders, the distribution of power among them, and their willingness to share knowledge. Programmatic complexity includes the technical expertise required to understand the problem and the multitude of causes of the problem (Alford & Head, 2017;Peters, 2005;Thomann et al., 2019). ...
en Public problems are not complex per se but are defined as such. This article explores how problem definition in terms of complexity is strategically used in narratives to expand or contain a policy conflict. We draw on the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) to examine how actors use narratives to define problems and link these problems to solutions and characters. Empirically, we examine narratives used in the Moscow waste management debate by drawing on content analysis of online texts and interviews. The results show that government actors seek to contain conflict by assigning less complexity to the waste problem than nongovernmental actors, who expand conflict by defining the waste problem as politically complex. Narratives with high problem complexity include many victims and villains and propose multifaceted and institutional solutions, while narratives with low problem complexity focus on technocratic solutions. Implications for the Russian waste controversy and the NPF are discussed. 摘要 zh 公共问题本质上并不复杂,但却被定义为复杂问题。本文探究了问题的复杂性定义如何从战略上被用于叙事,以期扩大或限制政策冲突。我们利用叙事政策框架(NPF),分析行动者如何使用叙事来定义问题并将这些问题与解决方案和角色相联系。实证上,我们通过对网络文本及访谈进行内容分析,研究了莫斯科废物管理辩论中使用的叙事。分析结果显示,比起非政府行动者,政府行动者试图通过对废物问题赋予更少的复杂性,以期抑制冲突,而前者通过将废物问题定义为具有政治复杂性,进而扩大冲突。问题复杂性高的叙事包括许多受害者和反面人物(villains),并提出多方面的制度解决方案,而问题复杂性低的叙事聚焦于技术官僚式解决方案。探讨了对俄罗斯废物管理辩论和NPF的意义。 Resumen es Los problemas públicos no son complejos en sí mismos, sino que se definen como tales. Este artículo explora cómo la definición de problemas en términos de complejidad se utiliza estratégicamente en narrativas para expandir o contener un conflicto de políticas. Nos basamos en el Marco de política narrativa (NPF) para examinar cómo los actores usan narrativas para definir problemas y vincular estos problemas con soluciones y personajes. Empíricamente, examinamos las narrativas utilizadas en el debate sobre la gestión de residuos en Moscú basándonos en el análisis de contenido de textos y entrevistas en línea. Los resultados muestran que los actores gubernamentales buscan contener el conflicto asignando menos complejidad al problema de los desechos que los actores no gubernamentales, quienes amplían el conflicto al definir el problema de los desechos como políticamente complejo. Las narrativas con alta complejidad de problemas incluyen muchas víctimas y villanos y proponen soluciones multifacéticas e institucionales, mientras que las narrativas con baja complejidad de problemas se enfocan en soluciones tecnocráticas. Se discuten las implicaciones para la controversia rusa sobre los desechos y el NPF.
... It also includes the processes of negotiation and coordination between different levels of government (Benz, 2007, p. 297). Multilevel governance is therefore a function of specific institutional contexts that focuses on the vertical and horizontal processes between and within the different layers of government (Mavrot & Sager, 2018;Thomann et al. 2019). This perspective is apparent in several contributions in the special issue, but it is most prominent in Wittwer et al.'s (2022) analysis of member state cooperation in the implementation of a national regional development policy in Switzerland. ...
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Policy implementation is a formative stage of the policy process. It determines policy's form and effect while also lying at the intersection of politics, policy, and the public. Policy implementation takes place within a given institutional setting and requires specific structure and organization to conduct it both of which allocate decision power and mint specific roles in the implementation process. Nevertheless, current implementation literature tends to overlook implementation arrangements as structures influencing, and influenced by, power. This special issue draws on various aspects of implementation arrangements to demonstrate the significant, yet underexplored, polity of implementation. To do so, this introduction begins by reviewing the conceptual frameworks available in the current implementation scholarship. This is followed by a discussion of the special issue's seven contributions. Finally, the conclusion proposes recommendations for conducting future research on the polity of implementation.
... Regarding (programmatic) complexity, policy problems vary with regard to the capacities that are required to address them (Thomann et al., 2019). Even though IO decision-makers receive policy-related support from their constituents, this expertise is not always sufficient to adequately address the problem at handespecially if it is programmatically complex (Peters, 2005). ...
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The article investigates how international public administrations, as corporate actors, influence policymaking within international organizations. Starting from a conception of international organizations as political-administrative systems, we theorize the strategies international bureaucrats may use to affect international organizations’ policies and the conditions under which these strategies vary. Building on a most-likely case design, we use process tracing to study two cases of bureaucratic influence: the influence of the secretariat of the World Health Organization on the “Global action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases”; and the influence of the International Labour Office on the “Resolution concerning decent work in global supply chains”. We use interview material gathered from international public administration staff and stakeholders to illustrate varying influence strategies and the conditions under which these strategies are used. The study shows how and when international public administrations exert policy influence, and offers new opportunities to extend the generalizability of public administration theories. Points for practitioners International bureaucrats influence the outcomes of multilateral negotiations by means of their technical expertise and strategic involvement in the decision-making process. Their influence is primarily geared toward achieving organizational goals. However, the perception of too much influence can threaten the implementation of a decision. Political leadership needs to find the right balance between encouraging entrepreneurial behavior and providing sufficient political steering. Civil servants themselves need a well-functioning political radar to sense how far they can push with their ambitions.
This study contributes to the nascent behavioral governance scholarship by experimentally testing whether individuals’ likelihood of lifting their privacy rights in the face of a health crisis varies based on the public versus private nature of the entity accessing their personal data and the length of time during which records can be used. We run an online, randomized control trial with 1,500 citizens representative of the Italian general adult population. Results show a significant increase in subjects’ willingness to grant access to personal records when the entity analyzing data is public rather than private. Further, the propensity to consenting is higher when access to personal data is granted for a limited rather than an unlimited period of time. We discuss how these patterns of results change remarkably across geographic areas within the country.
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The federal system has long been seen as one of the biggest obstacles to the digital transformation of the German state. With the enactment of the Online Access Act (OZG), a law that obliges all federal levels to offer their administrative services digitally in a joint portal network by the end of 2022, a new arena for multilevel collaboration has developed in Germany; the so-called digitalisation labs. The labs are intended to bring together representatives of all federal levels, external actors and citizens to promote problem-oriented policy design and the development of innovative policy solutions. Following a neo-institutionalist perspective and using the analytical concepts of multilevel governance and problem-solving, this paper investigates how the institutional settings, internal dynamics and actors’ composition influence policy design processes in the labs. The empirical analysis is built on a qualitative case study of two digitalisation labs in the policy field ‘Immigration and Emigration', and based on ten expert interviews as well as an extensive document analysis. The paper concludes that, by promoting problem-solving, the institutional settings as well as the organisational design and actors’ constellations have influenced the policy design process in several ways.
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Problem Definition in Policy Analysis. "By putting first things first, by demonstrating that the formulation of problems is indeed problematic and that what is problematic is of great moment, Dery's analysis carries us further, far further, than before. He makes us face up to dilemmas that, for too long a time, we have to our detriment avoided" (from the Introduction by Aaron Wildavsky)
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This article aims at understanding the challenges of tackling complex policy problems in multilevel governance. In order to better grasp the multilevel regulation of complex policy problems, it is needed to understand how uncertainty and scientific expertise are dealt with. We investigate this via the regulation of pandemics by the EU and the WHO, with the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 as critical case. The analysis of the multilevel practice reveals that the attitude toward uncertainty fundamentally differed between the global (WHO) and the European level. At the global level a classic speaking truth to power approach involved the denial of uncertainty, while at the EU level the assigned role of providing scientific expertise was interpreted as a necessity to openly communicate about uncertainty. While the global approach was heavily criticized, the uncertainty communication at the European level was much appreciated. © 2019 The Authors. European Policy Analysis published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Policy Studies Organization.
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The European Union (EU) is currently facing unprecedented challenges to its problem‐solving capacity, such as those represented by pressing transnational crises and by bottom‐up criticisms towards the European integration process. Moreover, the EU is said to compensate its weak input legitimacy with an enhanced problem‐solving capacity. However, the notion of problem‐solving itself has remained remarkably vague in the multi‐level governance (MLG) literature. This symposium analyzes problem‐solving in different MLG settings. In this introduction, we identify procedural and operational notions of problem‐solving in MLG, and present a structural framework to guide the comparative analyses of multi‐level systems along the dimensions of political integration, functional differentiation, and decentralization. The contributions to the symposium illustrate how structural elements of different multi‐level systems shape both the policymaking process and the politics of problem‐solving within these systems. In doing so, they pave the way for further comparative research. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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This essay takes stock of the literature on how European Union policies are being put into practice by the member states. It first provides an overview of the historical evolution of the field. After a relatively late start in the mid-1980s, the field has meanwhile developed into one of the growth industries within EU research. The paper identifies four waves of EU implementation scholarship, each with its own theoretical, empirical and methodological focus. In the second part, the review discusses the most important theoretical, empirical and methodological lessons to be drawn from existing studies. Four conclusions emanate from the analysis of existing EU implementation research. First, the literature has focused heavily on the transposition of EU directives, while comparatively little is known about issues of enforcement and application of both directives and regulations or about member states' reactions to negative integration. Second, scholars studying the transposition of directives seem to agree that we need to address factors that influence member states' willingness and capacities to comply. The main task to be accomplished by future research is to establish under what conditions which configurations of factors prevail, especially with regard to sectoral differences. Third, more energy needs to be devoted to systematic research on the phase of practical implementation, and this research should make more use of theoretical insights from domestic implementation research as well as from management and enforcement approaches. Fourth, quantitative transposition research will have to improve the data it uses to measure the dependent variable. Scholars should explore better data sources and invest more energy in collecting their own data on transposition timing and correctness. Research on application and enforcement, on the other hand, needs to go beyond case studies and instead search for or produce data with which the practical phase of implementation can be analysed on a broader, more comparative scale.
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In this article, we suggest that the governance of problems shapes the institutional dynamics of multi‐level governance (MLG) polities. MLG arrangements – processes and institutions that enable policymaking across different jurisdictional levels wherein both public authorities and non‐state actors are involved – can or cannot succeed in solving policy problems and at the same time they could create new problems. We argue that the problem‐solving capacity and problem‐generating potential of multi‐level arrangements can result in further, downwards, upwards or sideward delegation of political authority, which in turn reconfigure the multi‐level architecture of the political system following either centripetal or centrifugal tendencies. We illustrate our point with a stylized account of the dynamics of MLG in the European Union (EU) since the early nineties. We conclude with some remarks about developing a more general theory of multi‐level policymaking. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
en This paper aims at making a conceptual and theoretical contribution to understanding problem‐solving capacity in multi‐level contexts. To do so, I use the framework of structure , agency , process, and outcome to systematically discuss how the literatures of comparative federalism and multi‐level governance define and analyze problem‐solving. In discussing these literatures, I also examine how concepts such as integration, functional differentiation, self‐rule, and shared‐rule have important implications for problem‐solving. Policy challenges, such as climate change, require problem‐solving at various territorial levels. To demonstrate the insight from the two literatures and to offer comprehensive theoretical implications for effective problem‐solving capacity, this paper also provides illustrative examples of climate change action and environmental policy in Germany and the EU. Resolución de problemas en las literaturas: federalismo comparativo y gobernanza multinivel en la acción del cambio climático es Este documento tiene como objetivo realizar una contribución teórica y conceptual para comprender la capacidad de resolución de problemas en contextos de múltiples niveles. Para hacerlo, utilizo el marco de estructura, agencia, proceso y resultado para discutir sistemáticamente cómo las literaturas del federalismo comparativo y la gobernanza multinivel definen y analizan la resolución de problemas. Al discutir estas literaturas, también examino cómo conceptos como la integración, la diferenciación funcional, el autogobierno y la regla compartida tienen implicaciones importantes para la resolución de problemas. Los desafíos de políticas, como el cambio climático, requieren la resolución de problemas en varios niveles territoriales. Para demostrar el conocimiento de las dos literaturas y ofrecer implicaciones teóricas completas para la capacidad efectiva de resolución de problemas, este documento también proporciona ejemplos ilustrativos de la acción del cambio climático y la política ambiental en Alemania y la UE. 不同文献中的问题解决:比较性联邦制和气候变化行动中的多层治理 zh 本文旨在做出概念和理论贡献, 以期理解多层治理背景下的问题解决能力。为此, 笔者使用由结构、政府机构、过程和结果组成的框架, 系统性地探讨有关比较性联邦制和多层治理的学术文献如何定义和分析问题解决。探讨文献的同时, 笔者检验了例如一体化、功能分化、自治和共同治理等概念如何对问题解决具有重要意义。政策挑战, 例如气候变化, 需要不同领域层面上的问题解决能力。为证明比较性联邦制和多层治理这两类文献的观点, 同时为有效的问题解决能力提供全面的理论意义, 本文列举了一些有关德国和欧洲气候变化行动与环境政策的诠释性案例。
The main purpose of this article is to improve the wicked problem framework by incorporating the problem of political order, as it appears in the context of Brexit. The first part specifies what is meant by political order and highlights two core meanings: settled order, and orderliness as the presence or absence of rules. Thereafter, the article specifies what is meant by wicked problem and shows that this body of literature has not really engaged with the problem of political order. In the third section, the focus is on how and in what sense Brexit constitutes a wicked problem with reference to a set of criteria for delineating wicked problems. As part of that, it is made clear where and how matters of political order appear. In the conclusion, I discuss how we can improve the wicked problem framework by including questions of political order.
en In this contribution to the symposium “What's the problem? Multilevel governance and problem‐solving,” we discuss possible reasons that make difficult for the European Semester to achieve the goals of developing mutual learning and the acquisition of “ownership” over fiscal restraint, budgetary coordination and structural reforms. We underscore the uneasy coupling of a “soft” multilevel governance mode with “hard” forms of governance associated with power politics and domination. We claim that four major problems undermine the Semester's credibility and effectiveness: (1) a democratic deficit resulting from executive dominance, the relative sidelining of parliaments and the marginalization of the public, which confine learning to governmental and administrative circles; (2) the constitutionalization of budgetary policy choices, which constrains the available policy options and preempts reflection and discussion; (3) the “disciplinary logic” imposed through asymmetric intergovernmentalism, which invites noncompliance or bargaining, and (4) the “tough” treatment of debtor Eurozone members outside the Semester. 欧洲学期: 民主弱点限制了学习 zh 就促进 “问题是什么,多层次治理和问题解决 ”的讨论,本文探讨了“欧洲学期”难以实现各项目标的潜在原因,目标包括发展相互学习、获取财政限制“所有权”、预算协调和结构性改革。 笔者强调了“软”多层治理模式和“硬”治理模式的磨合,后者与权力政治和支配相关。笔者断定,破坏欧洲学期可信度和效力的主要问题有四个: a)由行政主导、议会失去相对核心作用、以及公众被边缘化所引起的民主赤字,其将民主学习限制于政界和行政界; b)预算政策选择的宪法化, 其限制了可用的政策选择, 限制了反思和探讨; c)通过非对称的政府间主义进而施加的 “纪律逻辑”, 其引来了不配合或条件商讨; d)对不属于欧盟学期的欧盟区债务国的“硬”处理。 El semestre europeo: debilidades democráticas como límites de aprendizaje es En esta contribución al simposio “¿Cuál es el problema? Gobernanza multinivel y resolución de problemas” discutimos las posibles razones que dificultan que el Semestre Europeo alcance los objetivos de desarrollo del aprendizaje mutuo y la adquisición de la “apropiación” sobre la restricción fiscal, la coordinación presupuestaria y las reformas estructurales. Destacamos el incómodo acoplamiento de un modo de gobierno multinivel “suave” con formas “duras” de gobierno asociadas con la política de poder y la dominación. Afirmamos que cuatro problemas principales socavan la credibilidad y efectividad del Semestre: a) un déficit democrático resultante del dominio ejecutivo, la relativa marginación de los parlamentos y la marginación del público, que limita el aprendizaje a los círculos gubernamentales y administrativos; b) la constitucionalización de las opciones de política presupuestaria, que restringe las opciones de política disponibles y anticipa la reflexión y el debate; c) la “lógica disciplinaria” impuesta a través del intergubernamentalismo asimétrico, que invita al incumplimiento o a la negociación, y d) el tratamiento “duro” de los miembros deudores de la zona euro fuera del Semestre.