Negative Feedback, Political Attention, and Public Policy

Bækgaard, M., Larsen, S. K. & Mortensen, P. B. (2019). Negative Feedback, Political Attention, and Public PolicyPublic Administration97(1), 210-225.

The article won the Haldane Prize for best paper published in Public Administration in 2019.

More than 50 years of policy research has provided evidence of negative feedback where self-correcting mechanisms reinforce stability in public policies over time. While such mechanisms are at the heart of understanding change and stability in public policies, little attention has been given to the responses of individual policy-makers to public policies as a potential driver of negative feedback. Based on a unique survey dataset of spending preferences of local government politicians covering more than 90 Danish municipalities, three years, seven policy issues, and around 3,000 entries, we find that the expressed spending preferences of politicians are indeed negatively affected by previous spending levels. Moreover, such negative feedback effects are stronger, the less the political attention to the issue and even disappear at high levels of attention. Our analysis thus provides important evidence on the micro foundations and conditions of negative feedback in public policy.

The Bureaucracy and the Policy Agenda

Bækgaard, M., Mortensen, P. B. & Seeberg, H. B. (2018). The Bureaucracy and the Policy AgendaJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory28(2), 239-253.

The public administration literature has been dominated by questions about how politicians can control the bureaucracy’s application and implementation of laws at the back end of the policy process. Much less scholarly attention is devoted to the influence of the bureaucracy on the content and composition of the policy agenda at the front end of the process. Agenda setting is a fundamental aspect of politics, and this article examines the influence of the bureaucracy on the policy agenda and the conditions for this influence. The core proposition is that the policy agenda is larger and more diverse in political systems in which administrative professionals take up a larger share of the bureaucracy. This effect is expected to be mitigated by the involvement of elected representatives in the policymaking process. The empirical analysis supports these expectations. The findings are based on a time-series cross-section dataset from 98 Danish municipalities over 7 years containing a detailed coding of local council agendas and rich register data.

Collaborating with the Machines: A hybrid method for classifying policy documents

Loftis, M. & Mortensen, P. B. (2020). Collaborating with the Machines: A hybrid method for classifying policy documentsPolicy Studies Journal48(1), 184-206.

Governments produce vast and growing quantities of freely available text: laws, rules, budgets, press releases, and so forth. This information flood is facilitating important, growing research programs in policy and public administration. However, tightening research budgets and the information's vast scale forces political science and public policy to aspire to do more with less. Meeting this challenge means applied researchers must innovate. This article makes two contributions for practical text coding—the process of sorting government text into researcher-defined coding schemes. First, we propose a method of combining human coding with automated computer classification for large data sets. Second, we present a well-known algorithm for automated text classification, the Naïve Bayes classifier, and provide software for working with it. We argue and provide evidence that this method can help applied researchers using human coders to get more from their research budgets, and we demonstrate the method using classical examples from the study of policy agendas.

Why Are Some Policy Agendas Larger than Others? 

Mortensen, Peter Bjerre; Seeberg, Henrik Bech Why Are Some Policy Agendas Larger than Others? In: Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 44, No. 2, 2016, p. 156-175.

Most research on policy agendas is based on the assumption that space on the agenda is fixed and, hence, focuses on how problems compete for this limited agenda space. This article holds that policy agendas may be limited but not fixed, meaning that problems may not always be traded off but confronted through a larger policy agenda. Based on an extensive collection of local council agendas from 98 Danish municipalities over time, this article investigates variations in agenda size across local governments and examines the extent to which this reflects the local problem environment. The analysis reveals that a large council agenda arises in response to an unfriendly problem environment, particularly if there are many committees to channel problems onto the agenda and, to a lesser extent, if center-left parties hold office.