Interesting political science theories I would like to use in Future "Law and ..." research

Participating in the ECPR 2016 Joint Sessions of Workshops in Pisa this week is giving me the opportunity to exchange ideas with political scientist, public administration scholars, management researchers and other social scientists, and to get exposed to new (political science) theories yet unknown to me,--which I am starting to think can be used very fruitfully in the assessment of public procurement policy design and public procurement legal reform.

This is an area of growing interest for me, particularly after editing a collection on a "law and political science" approach to the reform of EU public procurement rules by means of the 2014 public procurement package--to be soon published as GS Ølykke & A Sanchez-Graells (eds), Reformation or deformation of the EU Public Procurement Rules (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2016).

In particular, I am finding these theories very thought-provoking:

  • Garbage can policy-making model. As aptly summarised by Prof Cairney (here and here), this theory derives from the 1972 seminal work of Cohen et al, 'A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice', and "contrasts with ‘comprehensively rational’ policymaking in which – in this order – policymakers identify problems (or their aims), bureaucracies perform a comprehensive analysis to produce various solutions (or ways to meet those aims), and policymakers select the best solution. Instead, [under the garbage can model] policymaker aims and policy problems are ambiguous and bureaucrats struggle to research issues and produce viable solutions quickly. Sometimes people wait for the right time to present their ready-made solutions. Sometimes aimless policymakers just want to look busy and decisive. So, Cohen et al suggest that the problem identification, solution production, and choice are ‘relatively independent streams.' The garbage can is where a mix of problems, solutions and choices are dumped" (emphasis added). This is a very interesting theoretical framework in which to rethink the way public procurement policy gets constructed, and one which I would like to link to my recent criticism of the push for collaborative cross-border procurement in the EU.
  • Bureau-shaping model. This theory was developed by Prof Dunleavy in his 1991 book Democracy, Bureaucracy and Public Choice: Economic Approaches in Political Science and, at its basics, proposes a line of analysis that deviates from the previous consensus that "the main interest of senior bureaucrats is in maximizing the budgets of their bureau because a larger budget will mean greater status and higher salaries for the bureaucrats ... In contrast, the bureau-shaping model takes issue with this emphasis on budget maximization, arguing that senior bureaucrats are most interested in maximizing the status and quality of their work. In particular, Dunleavy contends that senior civil servants are most interested in their policy advisory functions: when high-ranking officials are faced with institution-wide cuts, they reshape their bureaux into small staff agencies in order both to protect themselves and their agencies, and to allow themselves to concentrate on the policy-advisory role which they prefer" [as summarised by Marsh, Smith & Richards (2000), emphasis added]. I also find this interesting and difficult to assess in public procurement, where the effect of the financial crisis may well prove Dunleavy right in terms of the creation of specialised (centralised) agencies that gain policy-making clout. However, it is also my intuition/observation that (centralised) agencies are also indicating traits of strict budget maximisation (or empire building, to link this with corporate governance literature) in that these agencies aim to achieve more and more (theoretical) economies of scale that are definitely size-related. Thus, I would like to explore this issues in relation with the ascendancy of central purchasing bodies and, in particular, those of a more commercial orientation.
  • The role of the European Commission as a policy innovator. This is fundamentally an extension of Dunleavy's model and was developed by Alexopoulos in his 2000 'The European Commission as Policy Innovator: Bureaucratic politics in Perspective', where he developed the analysis of the Commission's activity under the bureau-shaping model in relation with maritime and tourism policy. I would be most interested in trying to replicate the study 15 years after and in the area of public procurement, and possibly try to complement it or reconcile insights offered by the garbage can model mentioned above.

I am not sure when I will have time to push these ideas further, but if anyone is interested in collaborating in any of these (or related issues) involving a "law and political science"--or "law and political economy", or "law and economics" to widen the spectrum to the "law and ..." of public procurement research--please be in touch.