Newsletter No 4 December 2013

Policy Entrepreneurs and Strategies for Change: The Case of Water Management in the Netherlands


The capability and understanding of how to affect policy is becoming increasingly important in view of global social and environmental challenges. The purpose of Brouwer´s study is to deepen our understanding of policymaking processes, elucidating the strategic modus operandi of so-called policy entrepreneurs; highly talented individual change agents who are constantly on the alert for policy opportunities.

EPA_fig_Stijn_PhD BrouwerPolicy Entrepreneurs and Strategies for Change analyses policymaking processes at the micro-level. It explores the different strategies that policy entrepreneurs employ and which conditions affect the policy entrepreneur’s selection of strategies and, more importantly, it assesses the (contextual) effectiveness of these strategies. The empirical research is based on a four-year study, entailing more than 60 in-depth interviews, a focus group, and an extensive mail survey of over 450 water policy entrepreneurs in the Netherlands, a country that faces vast water management challenges and need for policy changes, and at the same time draws on enviable water management expertise. Theoretically the dissertation builds on insights from the policy science literature, the project management literature, the political science literature, and the emerging line of literature on network management.

The dissertation identified ten different entrepreneurial strategies, which can be grouped into four logical categories: (1) attention- and support-seeking strategies, to demonstrate the significance of a problem and to convince a wide range of participants about their preferred policy; (2) linking strategies, to link with other parties in coalitions, projects, ideas, and policy games; (3) relational management strategies, to manage the relational factor in policy change trajectories; and, finally, (4) arena strategies, to influence the time and place in which policy entrepreneurs act. In addition, and opposed to the widespread idea of a cumbersome and heavily bureaucratic government, this dissertation establishes that entrepreneurship at the local level is relatively common. In absolute numbers, this study identifies 339 policy entrepreneurs: at least one in more than half of all involved local Dutch water governance organisations.

Brouwer finds that policy entrepreneurs simultaneously employ attention- and support-seeking strategies, linking strategies, relational management strategies, and arena strategies. When visualising each category as a juggling ball, the conclusion would be that, in order to be effective, policy entrepreneurs must constantly juggle all of the balls, and cannot neglect or drop a single one. In addition, this study concludes that effective strategic behaviour is not so much about detecting the one single ‘most effective strategy’, but rather about establishing the most effective strategy mix. In this connection, this study offers some important ingredients that can generate awareness and insights leading to new directions of how to confront strategic choices and dilemmas.

Policy Entrepreneurs and Strategies for Change suggests that by an effective use of the various strategies, policy entrepreneurs are, to some degree, but much more than is suggested in most prevailing theories, capable of directing policy change, and for this reason can rightfully be considered as mindful and proactive orchestrators of policy change processes.

Stijn Brouwer defends his PhD thesis on December 20, 11.45 in the Aula, VU University, details

Contact: Stijn Brouwer MA MSc.