A CONTENT ANALYSIS OF PUBLIC POLICY DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION IN SLOVENIA: WEIGHING STRATEGIC AND NORMATIVE FACTORS.
Each modern society needs to promote a strategic vision regarding its future development (Hintea, 2008). Traditionally, public administration as such is not associated with managerial approaches or entrepreneurial spirit, but is rather characterized as a rigid, immovable and inert system that follows a relatively conservative and legalistic approach. Due to great social, economic, political and technological challenges, public administration has been forced to start adapting to these pressures (Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2011). Strategic planning has become a primary obligation for public institutions through New Public Management reforms. In this process, which started with strategic planning, the aim is to construct a management culture that will enable public institutions on all levels of government to be governed strategically for efficiency and accountability (Demirkaya, 2015). In the last decades, strategic planning has been criticized for being overly rational and for inhibiting strategic thinking, for focusing too much on the degree of fit between available resources and current opportunities (Hill and Jones, 2011).
Nowadays, public management reforms represent a constant feature of the change efforts undertaken by different government levels in almost all countries in the world. Strategic planning was introduced in the public sector over thirty years ago and has since become a core component in many New Public Management reforms (Johnsen, 2016). While strategic planning has been widely adopted in the Anglo-Saxon setting, the knowledge base and its implementation remain limited, especially in the post-communist countries, for example in Slovenia.
Strategic planning in Slovenia has become important after the democratization during the process of transition to market economy in the early 1990s (Dezelan, Maksuti and Ursic, 2014). Despite its post-socialist legacy from the former Yugoslavia (1918-1991), Slovenia, as an EU member since 2004, is today well known for its legalistic administrative culture. This is especially evident in the country's eagerness to follow the OECD guidelines and best practices, which further strengthen the regulatory framework by de facto enabling the executive to rule by governmental decrees and ministerial rules (Kovac and Bileisis, 2017). There has however been little research that closely analyzes how and to what extent the national government in Slovenia has systematically and continually attempted to design and implement public policies.
The design and implementation of public policies, programs, and projects (PPPPs) are determined as well as framed by a variety of factors and players, where each player has its own interests, powers, and resources. Especially, the strategic and normative factors that affect the design and implementation of PPPPs as two important stages of the policy cycle have not been sufficiently explored (Johnsen, 2015). To date, no empirical studies of these policy factors and their effects on PPPPs in Slovenia have analyzed contested issues. By analyzing the strategic planning aspects within the normative framework of the Slovenian public administration, the article will examine the role and significance of strategic and normative factors for the public policy design and implementation.
The article addresses the above-mentioned gap and reveals the need for a comprehensive analysis concerning the design and implementation of public policies. The relevance of the paper is demonstrated in the multidisciplinarity of the topic, as required by such systemic societal challenges. Until now, studies have been performed without exception in the specific policy area(s), whereby this article offers a comprehensive analysis of the strategic and normative factors for design and implementation of public policy, applicable extensively for all or most policy areas. The aim of the paper is, therefore, to analyze the case of Slovenia, define, analyze and study the relationship between two critical factors that influence the design and implementation of public policies, namely strategic factors and normative factors, and offer a basis for comparison with similar countries.
The literature provides insight into various theories on public policy decision-making, from rationalistic approach (Downs, 1957), in the form of the rational choice theory (pure rational decision-making), bounded rationality (Simon, 1957) and incrementalist approach (Lindblom, 1959) to mix-scanning (Etzioni, 1967). In response to criticisms of existing approaches and as a search for new ones a next generation of theories have emerged, e.g., garbage can theory (Cohen, March and Olsen, 1972), punctuated equilibrium (Baumgartner and Jones, 2010), advocacy coalition theory (Sabatier, 1988) and (good) governance theory (Keping, 2018), among others. Particularly the latter, the good governance theory, is one of the key theories to analyze modern public policy design and implementation processes (Ongaro and van Thiel, 2018). Several major international organizations (the IMF, the OECD, the UN, etc.) concur that strategic vision (strategic factors) and the rule of law (normative factors) represent some of the most important principles of the good governance theory (Kovac and Bileisis, 2017; UN, 2021). Furthermore, a recent study demonstrated that the good governance theory is the most suitable to portray strategic and normative factors in policy decision-making (Kotnik et al., 2020).
The World Bank identifies good governance as a capacity of governments to design, formulate, and implement policies (Weiss, 2000). Good governance means the use of political authority and exercise of control in a society in relation to the management of its resources for social and economic development (OECD, 1995). Good governance also represents a dynamic collaboration between the government and citizens with a focus on establishing a public network for various public policy actors to participate and debate within policy processes. In practice, businesses, government bureaucracy, civil society, and interest groups are usually involved in the process (Keping, 2018). Good governance principles rely above all on rule of law, strategic vision, transparency, effectiveness and efficiency, public participation, responsiveness, equity, consensus orientation, and accountability (Johnston, n.d.).
The literature defines several public policy factors (Johnsen, 2016; Mencinger et al., 2017; Vintar, Aristovnik and Klun, 2018; Volkery and Ribeiro, 2009), namely: regulation, strategy, organizational structure, financial resources, stakeholders involvement, and ICT, among others. After broadly examining all the above factors and their context in previous research (Mencinger et al., 2017), the analysis below is focused on two constructs, respectively, strategic vision (strategic factors) and the rule of law (normative factors).
Strategic vision (strategic factors), one of the nine essential principles of good governance, represents concrete instruments that steer the actions of individual players and institutions, and may aid all stakeholders to jointly work on international, regional, national or local level and produce synergy effects between them (Council of Europe, 2018). The results of the survey among 22 top-ranked public policy experts in Slovenia (Mencinger et al., 2017) demonstrate that among six key public policy factors, strategic factors were found to be the most influential public policy factors. Similarly, an IFAC study (IFAC, 2004) provides evidence that strategic factors are significant, but not enough within the public policy process to effectively and efficiently carry out a certain policy. In this regard, the European Union adopted several important legal and strategic documents for all major policy areas (EC, 2015). In our research, these documents are considered strategic factors, and are more or less consistently followed at the national level (MJU, 2015). In other words, the strategic factors are defined as the use of a strategic approach, i.e., the existence of general and policy-specific strategies, action plans, and other long-term policy documents, both national/international and EU-related (Kotnik et al., 2020).
The rule of law (normative factors) implies that the law is the supreme principle in public administration and ought to be respected by all government officials and citizens. The immediate goal of the rule of law is the management of social affairs, the regulation of citizens' behavior, and maintenance of the normal order in social life. In this view, the 'rule of law' is an elementary prerequisite of good governance that would not be possible without a firm legal system (Kovac and Bileisis, 2017). The role of the legal factors lies in defining the relevant values and determining responsibilities in pursuing the public interest (Bennett and Howlett, 1992). Therefore, normative factors are defined as the legal/regulatory framework available to enforce PPPPs design (e.g., the legislative process) and implementation (Kotnik et al., 2020). Accordingly, based on the outlined theoretical background and selected constructs from the literature review, this paper focuses on one underlying hypothesis, namely: 'public policymaking in Slovenia is mainly based on following rules rather than on appropriate strategies'.
3.1. Research design
The paper employs an exploratory content analysis research design supported by a broad review of literature and the investigation of numerous sources containing problem-related content. A content analysis method was applied to structured interviews and object-oriented discussions with prominent experts in the field. The research on the role and significance of strategic and normative factors in public policy design and implementation in Slovenia was conducted from February to September 2017. A part of the research method was...
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