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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

Policy Tools and Their Targets: Beyond Nudges and Utility Maximization in Policy Compliance

Policy Analysis
Political Psychology
Public Policy
Michael Howlett
Simon Fraser University
Michael Howlett
Simon Fraser University

Studies of policy tools traditionally have focused on the effective use of governing resources to attain policy ends, without devoting a great deal of attention to the behaviour and characteristics of policy targets who were often assumed to simply act as rational utility maximizers susceptible to shifts in apparent gains and losses linked to policy interventions. Although this is beginning to change with recent work examining policy ‘nudges’ and the effects of co-production and social marketing efforts which suggest or are based on alternative logics of target behaviour, analysis of policy targets still all too often retains a crude concept of target behaviour inspired by utilitarianism and assumptions about self-maximizing activity on the part of citizens. This thinking has led to many considerations of policy design focusing on the calibrations of policy tools – such as the size of penalties or rewards - rather than upon the nature of the tools themselves and whether the appropriate type of tool is being used to match the nature of compliance and co-operation required or demanded of a design situation. This paper reviews the literature on the subjects of compliance and policy tools, pointing out their weaknesses and proposing a new research and practice agenda focused on better understanding and matching tool resources and target behaviour.
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