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The role of policy networks in policy making: Instrument constituencies, policy communities or programmatic groups? Empirical evidence from 30 years of administrative reform in Italy

Policy Analysis
Public Administration
Agenda-Setting
Policy Change
Policy-Making
Giliberto Capano
Università di Bologna
Eleonora Erittu
Università di Bologna
Giliberto Capano
Università di Bologna
Eleonora Erittu
Università di Bologna
Giulio Francisci
LUMSA
Alessandro Natalini
Parthenope University

Abstract

Policy networks are considered structural component in policymaking through which many functions can be achieved in terms of policy stability and change. In addition, policy networks are relevant for analytical perspectives that assume an actor-centred analytical lens. It is often the case that policy networks, however they are defined, are used in a very metaphoric way, especially in relation to their specific role in policy making. In public policy, various types of networks have been conceptualised and characterised as having various networking criteria and different roles. Policy networks can propose solutions (policy communities, advocacy coalitions, epistemic communities), defend specific instruments (instrument constituencies), pursue generic and short-term interest on specific issues (issue networks), and programmatically prioritise change or stability (programmatic groups). By capitalising on this variegated theoretical picture, this paper reconstructs 30 years of administrative reforms in Italy. More specifically, we focus on two specific networks—the network pushing for the adoption of financial tools for administration reform and the network focusing on institutional design and procedural simplification—for assessing whether these two networks can be considered either instrument constituencies, policy communities or programmatic groups. It must be emphasised that, according to the extensive literature on Italian administrative reforms, there is a prevailing reference to the role of policy communities (and thus to the presence of networks that have had a monopolistic role in proposing solutions over time). This empirical comparison is based on the following: ▪️ the reconstruction and analysis of the biographies of the members of the two networks; ▪️ a network analysis to detect the patterns of relationships over time between the members of the two networks, as well as their co-presence in institutional roles holding decisional power; ▪️ interviews with the networks’ members; and ▪️ a detailed reconstruction of the two analysed networks’ direct influence on the decisions taken.