Panel Paper: Temporal Patterns: The Circular Dynamics behind Policy Failures in the Educational Sector

Saturday, November 8, 2014 : 10:15 AM
Navajo (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jorren Scherpenisse, Netherlands School of Public Administration
In many areas of public policy, governments articulate ambitious aims but largely rely on devolved, semi-autonomous and private institutions to deliver on those aims. Governments plan, regulate and fund, but the success or failure of their policies is ultimately determined by the ‘front-line’ performance of schools, hospitals, and prisons.

Especially in the Dutch education sector, schools have a large autonomy. Schools are all embedded in a local system with many stakeholders which is characterized by a high degree of complexity. Complexity arises out of interaction, both between people as well as between other system components, such as events and physical conditions. Complex systems are inherently dynamic, leading to what has been discussed as ‘complex causality’. The influence of policy therefore depends on the dynamics in the systems, where contingency and reflexivity are important factors.

We propose that failure in these institutions can not be explained by a single factor and from a linear causal model. Instead, failure is the product of interactions between many factors, producing patterns through time. Because of the existence of feedback loops and the interconnectedness between actors, these patterns take the form of circular dynamics. For example, when the Inspectorate of Education fines an underperforming school, this can lead to a worsened financial situation, a decrease in investments in good teachers, which than leads to poorer educational quality, parents leaving the school, making the financial position of the school even worse. The policy failure has set off a vicious cycle, increasing the problems of the school on the longer term.

In this paper, We apply the perspective of temporal patterns to explain the occurrence of policy failures in the Dutch education sector. We perform case studies of schools delivering poor educational quality and having large financial problems.


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