Resilience And Robustness In Policy Design: A Critical .

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Policy SciDOI 10.1007/s11077-016-9273-xRESEARCH ARTICLEResilience and robustness in policy design: a criticalappraisalGiliberto Capano1 Jun Jie Woo2,3! Springer Science Business Media New York 2016Abstract Resilience and robustness are exciting concepts for policy researchers. Theirbroad use in other disciplines has motivated social scientists and policy researchers toadopt them in analyses. In the present paper, we review definitions of these concepts andthe primary theoretical and empirical challenges presented by resilience and robustness aslenses for improving the understanding of policy process and policy design. The resultsreveal that the two concepts differ in their potential value for public policy analysis.Despite its diffusion and ‘charme’, resilience does not appear to be useful and may bemisleading, whereas robustness exhibits great potential with respect to both analysis anddesign.Keywords Robustness ! Resilience ! Policy-making ! Policy design ! Policy changeIntroductionThe concepts of resilience and robustness have been adopted by different theoreticalapproaches in various scientific fields, such as complexity and chaos theory (Holland1996), rational institutionalism (Ostrom 1990), organizational and management theories(Hamel and Valikangas 2003), macroeconomics (Kuorikoski and Lehtinen and Marchionni& Giliberto [email protected] Jie [email protected] of Humanities and Social Sciences, Scuola Normale Superiore, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence,Italy2Public Policy and Global Affairs Programme, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, NanyangTechnological University, Singapore, Singapore3Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, MA, USA123

Policy Sci2010), engineering (Baker et al. 2008), and psychology (Zautra et al. 2010), sparkingattention in policy research. First, robustness and resilience are attractive to researchersinterested in understanding policy change and stability because it refers to the ability ofpolicies to persist over time by overcoming relevant external shocks and internal perturbations. In addition, the two concepts may yield insights for policy design. Both conceptsappear to provide opportunities to develop policy processes for coping with change andshocks (and, thus, with uncertainty) either by maintaining stability or by designing moreeffective policies. Furthermore, it must be underlined that resilience and robustness haveinspired policy-makers and government policy and strategies and, thus, seem to havebecome ‘policy solutions’ for governing complexity and a design for public policies.Based on an extensive review of the theoretical and empirical literature, the presentpaper focuses on the extent to which resilience and robustness can contribute to theprimary theoretical frameworks adopted by policy researchers and, thus, make it possibleto design better policies.‘Why resilience and robustness can be interesting for policy design’ section of the paperprovides a discussion of the potential usefulness of robustness and resilience as concepts inpolicy design. In ‘Robustness and/or resilience?’ section, we present an overview ofexisting understandings of the two concepts especially in social sciences. We then discuss,in ‘Resilience and robustness in the policy process’ section, the extent to which resilienceand robustness can be integrated into the analysis of the policy process and how their roleshould be understood. ‘Relevant dimensions of policy resilience and policy robustness’section identifies and discusses the primary theoretical challenges in adopting resilienceand robustness as policy concepts. ‘Government actions for resilience and robustness’section summarizes how these policy concepts can be applied in governmental actions todeal with policy shocks and anomalies. The concluding section presents the consequencesof our arguments with respect to the theoretical and the empirical relevance of resilienceand robustness for policy research.Why resilience and robustness can be interesting for policy designRobustness and resilience have become central in the policy strategies of many governments. In particular, resilience has become a new ‘mantra’ for many governments andinternational institutions. For instance, the OECD has published numerous policy briefsand recommendations for increasing resilience in economic development and disastermanagement (OECD 2014). The International Red Cross and the United Nations have alsolaunched different programmes to increase resilience in local communities and in cities(IFRC 2012; UNISDR 2016); the UK has launched a ‘National Resilience CapabilitiesProgramme’ for disaster management, in which resilience is the guiding policy principle(UK Cabinet 2014); not only has the USA established a ‘Federal Network Resilience’organization within the Homeland Security Office, but the ‘concept’ has been institutionalized at the organizational level (see, for example, the establishment of the Office ofEconomic Resilience inside the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development).In contrast, robustness is much less popular as a concept and a policy-guiding principle,with one exception being the Dutch government’s emphasis on flood risk management(National Water Plan 2008). Rather, robustness is very often adopted as an instrument ofresilience in official documents.123

Policy SciThe mere fact that resilience and robustness have become official solutions for dealingwith potential policy problems would be enough to justify an analytical interest fromscholars in public policy and policy design. Obviously, there is more to be discussed. Infact, in the last three decades, there has been a rising interest in resilience and robustness inseveral specific policy fields (climate change, environmental policy, and risk management)and among scholars of comparative politics who are interested in institutional design(Shepsle 1989; Goodin 1998; Bednar 2009). Furthermore, one of the most prominentframeworks of public policy, the Institutional Analysis and Development frameworkdeveloped by Elinor Ostrom, devotes much attention to robustness and, then, to resilience(Ostrom 1990; Janssen et al. 2007).These streams of research and scholarly work have further inspired greater politicalinterest in resilience and robustness.This diffusion of resilience and robustness in social sciences has occurred through anasymmetric process, with research concentrated in specific areas of interest, such asenvironmental policy and risk management. However, we believe that there is much scopefor a policy design approach to resilience and robustness. Rather than focusing on specificfields of social science research, there is a need to address how resilience and robustnessfactor into ‘real’ policy design. Seen in this light, resilience and robustness can bereconceptualized as the property that policies should have to reach some desired results(adaptation, resistance to external shocks, and control of uncertainty, for example). We willseek to achieve this in our paper.This interest for resilience and robustness clearly derives from the growing uncertaintyand complexity that policy-makers are faced with, and thus, there is a growing recognitionof the importance of policy designs that can address or minimize the impacts of potentialshocks and uncertainty. In particular, policy designers are faced with the challenges ofuncertain linkages between policy actions and outcomes, a highly complex and ill-definedpolicy problem space that encompasses multiple interacting elements (Anderies andJanssen 2013).These developments suggest an urgent need to assess resilience and robustness from apolicy design perspective. More specifically, by assuming that policy design is thatknowledge- and information-based activity through which, in a specific context, policymakers and stakeholders try to formulate solutions for problems perceived as collective(Alexander 1982; Howlett 2011), it is quite relevant to assess whether and how resilienceand robustness should be really taken into consideration by policy scholars and, thus, bepart of the landscape of decision-makers.Robustness and/or resilience?Different literature streams employ resilience and robustness in ways that risk conceptualoverlap. However, as we argue below, robustness and resilience hold different meaningsfor different disciplines. Thus, we must first identify the meanings of both concepts beforecontextualizing them from a policy perspective.ResilienceThe term ‘resilience’ is derived from the Latin terms resiliere or resilio for ‘bounce’ or‘rebound’ (Alexander 2013). The action of ‘bouncing back’ or returning to some form of123

Policy Sciequilibrium has come to characterize subsequent understandings of resilience, particularlyin ecology, engineering, and disaster management (Holling 1973; Manyena et al. 2011;Davoudi et al. 2012). The central focus of this definition of resilience is the presence of astable equilibrium point that systems return to after weathering and ‘bouncing back’ fromsome external shock (Davoudi et al. 2012; Bond et al. 2014).As a concept, resilience has been applied to the study of individuals, especially inpsychology and, recently, in neurobiology. These studies emphasize the role of resilienceas an attribute that allows individuals to make positive adaptations in response to majoradversity (Jacelon 1997; Luthar and Cicchetti 2000; Luthar et al. 2000; Bonanno 2004).While this paper does not address resilience at this individual level, it is nonethelessimportant to note that psychological resilience, along with other existing ‘popular’ psychological studies of individual resilience (Kelly et al. 2003; Reivich and Shatte 2003;Brooks and Goldstein 2004; Southwick and Charney 2012; Greitens 2016), similarlyemphasize the presence of an equilibrium point towards which individuals are expected to‘rebound’ upon facing shocks or perturbations.This equilibrium- and response-based understanding of resilience has similarly persistedin its application to public policy, where resilience has become an increasingly prevalentmetaphor for understanding the persistence and stability of social systems (Tobin 1999;Adger 2000; Chenoweth and Stehlik 2001; Chaskin 2008).It is therefore evident that existing social research on resilience often takes on a macrolevel systemic perspective that approximates the study of resilience in natural systems.Resilience, in fact, has been adopted in a consistent way in ecology and environmentalstudies but much less so in other disciplines such as sociology, political science, andeconomics (Olsson et al. 2015): in ecology and environmental studies, the object ofanalysis is the ‘system’, and thus, resilience is adopted as a systemic characteristic. Thus,resilience has been borrowed by social sciences with a systemic ontology.As the situations confronted by policy-makers have increased in complexity, resiliencehas increasingly become a topic of interest to governments, although differences betweenecological and social systems suggest that the ecological concept of resilience and, thus, itssystemic ontology might not always directly apply to policy or be useful as a response topolicy complexity (Duit et al. 2010; Duit 2015). For instance, the presence of humanagency in social systems affects resilience in a variety of ways, whether through thepurposeful postponement of the effects of ecological disruption, disproportionate distribution power and interests, or the inherent human capability to imagine, anticipate shocks,and engage in collective action, all of which result in multiple and unpredictable avenuesof social adaptation to shocks (Davidson 2010). Thus, the systemic ontology of resiliencedoes not facilitate the consideration of three essential attributes of social systems: power,knowledge, and agency (Cote and Nightingale 2012).The inherent complexity and dynamism of social systems also raises conceptual challenges in any application of resilience thinking to the study of policies and societies,although the value of taking a resilience approach to understanding such complexity anddynamism has also been noted (Duit and Galaz 2008; Davidson 2010; Duit et al. 2010).However, this focus on complex systems also suggests a holistic dimension to resiliencethat is difficult to grasp and to unpack.Consequently, the concept of resilience indicates only the broader categories of activities that should be improved (learning, adaptability, agility, self-organization, equilibrium,and thresholds) without providing any clear operative indications to policy designers.From this point of view, although resilience seems to be a useful heuristic for assessingthe extent to which specific systems, organizations, and policies are more or less resilient123

Policy Sciwhen confronted with external shocks, it is difficult to use the concept in an explanatoryperspective, despite its metaphoric strength (Anderies and Janssen 2013). While policyresilience can be viewed as the ability of a specific policy area to return to an earlierequilibrium with respect to certain relevant characteristics, these characteristics must bespecified because an external shock might produce irreversible effects or effects thatrequire a long time span for recovery with respect to a specific policy. For example, the2008 financial crisis required some EU countries to drastically reduce public expenses.These cutbacks produced strong destabilizations among policy beneficiaries and decreasedthe quality and quantity of policy delivery. Recovery requires time, and policy resiliencemust be assessed based on the different potential parameters.At the same time, however, it must be stressed that full recovery—and, thus, highresilience—might reiterate pre-existing institutions or patterns of behaviour in a specificpolicy field; this type of resilience might be a source of ineffectiveness in policy reforms.As MacKinnon and Derickson (2013, p. 254) have noted, efforts t