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SISP Conference 2022

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Section 13 - Politics, Policies and Usable Knowledge. In Memory of Bruno Dente (Jolly)

Managers: Marco Di Giulio (, Maria Stella Righettini (

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La guida intellettuale di Bruno Dente, eccezionale studioso di pubblica amministrazione, politiche pubbliche e istituzioni, ha influenzato le carriere di molti colleghi SISP. Ciò che prima ha incuriosito e poi affascinato molti di noi è stato il suo approccio allo studio del funzionamento dello Stato e dei sistemi multilivello, libero da dogmatismo e capace di muoversi con sorprendente agilità tra diversi approcci disciplinari per restituire elaborazioni teoriche ed empiriche molto innovative. Bruno Dente ha dedicato gran parte della sua attività al rinnovamento della gestione pubblica, alla valutazione delle politiche, ai processi di riforma, alle riforme amministrative, ai cambiamenti politici a partire dalle politiche pubbliche e ai processi decisionali.

Panel 1 – Simona Piattoni – Claudio Radaelli
Il costituzionalismo empirico.

Panel 2 – Andrea Lippi e Giliberto Capano
Policy advice e processi di policy.

Panel 3 – Simone Busetti, Maria Stella Righettini e Giancarlo Vecchi
Incrementalismo e innovazione. Politiche, attori e processi decisionali.

Round table: Chairs and discussants: Simone Busetti, Erica Melloni and Giancarlo Vecchi. Usable knowledge, ricerca applicata e collaborazione multidisciplinare. L’impareggiabile contributo di B. Dente.

I panels della sezione Jolly accettano papers scritti in lingua italiana e inglese.

Panel 13.1 Empirical constitutionalism: Bruno Dente’s intellectual legacy

This panel collects papers that broadly refer to the intellectual legacy of Bruno Dente, who critically studied public administrations, public policies and complex institutional systems and influenced the intellectual development of many Italian and foreign colleagues. His approach to the study of the functioning of the contemporary state and multilevel systems – devoid of dogmatism and capable of moving across numerous disciplinary approaches with a view of offering very innovative theoretical and empirical elaborations – constituted an important analytical turning point for the study of public administration and public policies in Italy and beyond. He used to call this approach “empirical constitutionalism”, referring to the pioneering notion of public policy implementation offered by Benny Hjern and Chris Hull (Hjern and Hull 1982). Large part of his activity addressed public management processes, administrative reforms and political change from the vantage point of the analysis of public policies and decisionmaking processes.
The papers of this panel are expected to broadly be inspired to Bruno’s critical and innovative approach and should put their emphasis on the actual functioning of administrative systems and the interactions between institutional and non-institutional actors that go beyond and transform from within the dictates of formal constitutional setups.

Chairs: Simona Piattoni, Claudio Radaelli

Discussants: Anna Marson

Spiegare la complessità al potere. Una missione fallita?
Gloria Regonini
Lo straordinario percorso di ricerca di Bruno Dente fornisce indicazioni fondamentali per capire le sistematiche distorsioni analitiche che hanno condizionato oltre 40 anni di riforme fallite in Italia, dal 'Progetto 80' alla sostanziale esclusione della prospettiva di policy dall'impostazione del Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza. Le pagine che seguono ripercorrono i primi passi delle policy sciences in Italia e tracciano un bilancio del loro impatto adottando come criterio il grado di istituzionalizzazione della policy evaluation nei parlamenti, attraverso un confronto ravvicinato con la Francia. La parte finale del paper è dedicata a un'analisi delle cause di questa esclusione, guardando non solo al lato della domanda, ma anche al lato dell'offerta.
Sub-national diversity, national action, EU-level coordination: Convergent Institutional Dynamics across Constitutional Formats
Simona Piattoni, Justus Schönlau
The aim of this paper is to analyze how the Corona-virus pandemic has affected center-periphery relations in two member-states, Germany and Italy, that not only organized their first response to the onset of the pandemic in fairly similar ways despite their different institutional format, but ended up sharing information and solutions as members of one and the same European Union political system. The present paper will therefore focus on the particular effects that “pandemic politics” has had on two members of the European Union’s system of multilevel governance with the aim to uncover the institutional and political dynamics that were unleashed by the pandemic within them. It will contrast two approaches to multilevel governance. One approach underscores the coordination disadvantages deriving from adopting differentiated policy measures at subnational levels of government during a pandemic which, by its nature, hardly stops at jurisdictional boundaries. The other emphasizes the informational and experimental advantages of allowing a certain degree of policy differentiation at subnational levels of government. We conclude, momentarily on the basis of secondary evidence, that neither one completely explains the approach adopted in these two countries and that other political and historical factors must also be considered. The paper concludes that, in times of crisis, constitutional formats may be superseded in an effort to respond swiftly and consensually to unprecedented challenges, thus pointing to the relevance of the “empirical constitutional” approach spearheaded by Bruno Dente and others.
The legitimacy criteria of administrative reforms through the lenses of political philosophy perspectives
Edoardo Ongaro
The past three decades have been marked by various attempts to reform and modernise public administration and governance worldwide. The reforms have been undertaken for various goals and with different tools, and situated, explicitly or implicitly, under the umbrella of different administrative doctrines – from the New Public Management, the dominant doctrine of the late 1980s and 1990s which followed the global economic and social trends (see Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004), to the Public Value approach (Moore, 1995; Benington & Moore, 2011) and the New Public Governance, to the Neo Weberian State, seen as capable of integrating into a Weberian backbone the new managerial tools. Administrative reform doctrines have been formulated, implicitly or explicitly, to reflect different legitimacy criteria which enable them to be (perceived as) just or right for a society in a particular moment – from user satisfaction to citizens’ well-being or fairness, and so forth (Ongaro, 2017/2020; Riccucci 2010, Stivers 2008). The core ideas underpinning the rationale for and functioning of the state and its bureaucracy have been traditionally explored by philosophers and social thinkers rooted in different philosophical strands and elaborated over the epochs – from Greek and Roman era philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle or Cicero, through the medieval age and early modern philosophers such as Machiavelli, Locke or Rousseau, to modern ones such as Hegel, Weber, JS Mill, J.Rawls and other modern and (self-stylised) postmodern thinkers. This research agenda aims at unveiling the legitimacy criteria underlying administrative reforms in different regions of Europe, thus adding to the exploration of the philosophy of public administration. Key areas of administrative reforms, such as professionalisation, specialisation and agencification, strengthening of the rule of law by aligning administrative procedure and oversight, anti-corruption instruments, etc. are assessed. Textual/discourse analysis is the chosen research method. The development of this research agenda relies on multi-cultural and multi-language research teams. Possible regions of inquiry include Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEs), and notably the Western Balkans. In this region, the age of reforms has been marked by two distinctive traits. First, reforms of public administration have been implemented in parallel and as a part of broader social and economic reform processes which have sought to transform society and the economy, as well as, implicitly or explicitly, the political philosophical underpinnings of state-society relations in these countries. Second, reforms were mostly imported, copied and transposed from their original inventors and the cultural, political and administrative environments where they were first wrought out, with a significant help from international organisations and especially the EU, raising issues of legitimacy about the concepts and ideas underlying the reforms. From a social-scientific standpoint, the three decades of reforms provide for a great experiment hub for detecting what key legitimacy criteria underlie the doctrinal bases of administrative reforms in these polities, and what broader implications can be drawn for the wider debate in the field of public administration about the legitimacy of reform doctrines, as framed in political philosophical terms (Ongaro (2017/2020).
When does procedural compliance lead to learning? Substantial bureaucratic compliance as a form of empirical constitutionalism
Jonathan Kamkhaji, Giancarlo Vecchi
This article evaluates under which conditions technical/procedural innovations hierarchically imposed on bureaucratic actors are poised to bring about (policy) learning and bottom-up transformative dynamics. Since 2011, the heads of Italian judicial offices are requested to draft annual programs related to the management of pending lawsuits. These annual programs are meant to streamline the activity of judges and magistrates, with the long-term aim of reducing the overall length of proceedings and cutting on the backlog that historically plagues the Italian justice system. Through a set of 30 semi-structured interviews with heads of tribunals, the article first unearths the key technical and procedural aspects of the instrument (annual programs). Secondly, it distinguishes between formal/symbolic as opposed to substantial implementation of the new requirement, echoing a classical theme of bureaucratic compliance studies. Finally, it sets out the institutional, organizational and technical conditions that represent an incentive for substantial compliance and connects the latter to policy and organizational learning, innovation and empirical constitutionalism.
Lost in state reconfiguration? The politics of multi-level governance at the subnational level
Patrick Le Galès, Daniel KÜbler
The reconfiguration of statehood in Europe and the emergence of multi-level governance that it entailed has brought about profound changes in the organisation of territorial scales and intergovernmental relations. It notably resulted in a strengthening of subnational entities, such as regions, metropolitan areas and (larger) cities. However, multi-level governance arrangements have also brought about a dispersion of power across multiple jurisdictions, thereby challenging the principles of symmetry and congruence between decision-makers and citizens that is at the core of democratic politics and accountability more generally. While the democratic challenges of multi-level governance as a consequence of state reconfiguration have been debated in the scholarly literature for quite a while, research in this field is still characterised by a ‘policy’ focus in that it predominantly tends to focus on assessing the democratic quality of multilevel governance arrangements in terms of policy-making processes. Instead, we draw attention to the ‘politics’ side of multilevel governance, power struggles, political contention, and mobilization.

Panel 13.3 Understanding policy decisions: The P-Cube digital game

Bruno Dente ha dedicato gran parte di studi e ricerche al tema dell’innovazione e del policy change, attraverso l’analisi dei processi decisionali. Teoricamente, il punto di partenza è l’incrementalismo di Charles Lindblom: in base ad esso i processi di policy making nelle società complesse producono – generalmente – mutamenti solo marginali rispetto allo status quo; in sostanza, limitati cambiamenti possono essere raggiunti via mutual partisan adjustment (versione Lindblom 1959) oppure via meccanismi di coordinamento e regole euristiche per affrontare la complessità e l’incertezza, elaborati dagli attori coinvolti nei processi di decision making. Tuttavia, saltuariamente innovazioni, pur se non necessariamente di tipo paradigmatico (per citare un noto articolo di Peter Hall), emergono e si affermano.
Dente ha studiato diversi casi di cambiamento non incrementale in vari campi: dalle riforme amministrative alle politiche urbane e ambientali, per citarne solo alcune; tema che poi in particolare caratterizza i suoi testi sul decision making e sulle strategie che possono essere utilizzate per superare lo stallo decisionale e l’incrementalismo.
Il tema è di particolare attualità in questo periodo storico caratterizzato dalla pandemia, che ha costituito un focusing event per velocizzare alcuni cambiamenti (ad es. le piattaforme digitali come pagoPA, lo smart working, la didattica a distanza, ecc.); e dal programma Nextgeneration Europe, che in Italia prevede l’attuazione del PNRR con influenza su vari ambiti di policy. Infine, la tragica guerra innescata dall’invasione russa in Ucraina modifica lo scenario in molti ambiti di policy (transizione ecologica, politica militare ed estra, ecc.).

Il panel invita a presentare paper e ricerche in corso sul tema dell’innovazione nelle politiche pubbliche e delle modalità per superare le barriere a cambiamenti significativi, sia con riferimento ai processi di decision making che ad altre prospettive di analisi. Le aree di policy oggetto di analisi possono essere ovviamente diverse, così come l’utilizzo di metodologie e tecniche di analisi.

Dente B., 2011. Le decisioni di policy. Bologna: Il Mulino.
Hall, Peter. 1993. “Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain.” Comparative Politics. 25(3): 275-296.
Howlett, Michael and Andrea Migone. 2011. “Charles Lindblom is alive and well and living in punctuated equilibrium land.” Policy and Society 30: 53-62.
Lindblom, Charles E. 1959. “The Science of ‘Muddling Through’.” Public Administration Review 19 (Spring): 79-88.

Chairs: Simone Busetti, Maria Stella Righettini, Giancarlo Vecchi

Discussants: Erica Melloni

Co-designing objective quality indicators for municipal social services in Italy. Between policy-specific lessons and policy learning
Jonathan Kamkhaji, Giancarlo Vecchi
This paper is the fruit of a two year-long research project aimed at co-designing a system of measurement and benchmarking of municipal public services’ quality in Italy. As such, its main aim is to document the process of co-design and co-production of several indicators of objective service quality – and discuss their validity and usefulness. In doing so, however, the paper will also highlight several important policy aspects that go beyond the problem of measuring the quality of local public services. In fact, one of the key characteristics of the project was to co-develop measuring instruments in cooperation with the providers of such services and final users of such metrics, that is, municipal administrations. In more detail, the paper will, on the one hand, answer empirical questions related to the measurability, validity, and comparability of quality indicators of local public services. On the other hand, by carefully taking stock of the co-design and co-production process of such indicators, it will also allow to draw important lessons about: co-design practices with local governments; the transformative role of benchmarking and feedback; and, more in general, institutional learning and lesson drawing in multi-level governance settings. While the vast majority of the specialised literature focuses on co-design practices which typically involve authorities, on the one hand, and citizens, on the other (often termed as “participatory design” - PD), this paper, and the project it documents, demonstrate that some of the healthy aspects of PD can be elicited also when co-design practices take place among highly certified institutional actors. In fact, the process of co-design of indicators of objective quality of local public service has witnessed the involvement of local municipal administrators with two different typologies of expert actors, that is, a public think-tank and a team of university researcher. To sum up, the paper provides policy-specific insights into local public services, their provision and quality, along with lessons on learning dynamics that are generated in the context of co-design practices between local administrators and epistemic actors.
Playing public policy: Assessments and prospects of the P-CUBE game
Simone Busetti, Erica Melloni
P-Cube is an educational game invented by Bruno Dente to teach students and practitioners the complexities of decision-making. The game presents players with several missions, each centred on problems in taking non-incremental innovations, with players having to pick the right strategy to overcome those problems. The paper provides a review of the literature on gamification for teaching public policy. It evaluates the added value of the P-CUBE game in increasing students’ engagement and their ability to work in groups, as well as developing their skills in linking theoretical concepts to real-world decisions.
Teaching incrementalism and policy innovation: the use of the P-Cube educational digital game to teach policy decision making
Giancarlo Vecchi, Cristina Vasilescu, Jonathan Kamkhaji
The P-Cube educational digital game attempts to address an essential problem regarding incrementalism and decision-making: how can decisional processes be designed to overcome obstacles that are likely to arise in attempts to introduce an innovation (not incremental, not necessarily paradigmatic) as a solution to a collective problem? The game assumes the basic idea to ask players to put themselves in the shoes of a policy innovator who tries to steer a proposal through the complexities of public policymaking. In this journey they will meet a wide number of characters (politicians, bureaucrats, social activists, private companies, experts, etc.) who may help or, in some cases, fight against the innovation, or remain uninterested. The paper will present the first reflections deriving from the use of the digital game in two Policy Analysis courses, managed at the Politecnico di Milano, with two international Master of Science classes.

Round table

Panel 13.4 Round Table. Usable knowledge, ricerca applicata e collaborazione multidisciplinare. L’impareggiabile contributo di Bruno Dente

L’obiettivo della tavola rotonda è di discutere il ruolo della policy analysis quale usable knolwedge attraverso la presentazione dell’attività di ricerca applicata condotta da Bruno Dente; aspetto fondamentale, se non preponderante, del suo lavoro. Nel corso della sua carriera, Bruno Dente ha diretto centinaia di ricerche per amministrazioni e governi, dal livello locale a quello europeo, accumulando un’esperienza e una conoscenza sul campo davvero impareggiabili.
Le ragioni di questo speciale impegno sono molteplici e tutte fondate su un’idea di policy analysis quale attività orientata alla pratica, in cui il lavoro di ricerca deve produrre conoscenza direttamente utilizzabile per il miglioramento delle politiche. Alla base di questa attività, c’era anche la forte convinzione che solo una grande quantità di evidenza empirica potesse permettere una qualche forma di generalizzazione di medio raggio, tale da far emergere lezioni e buone idee. Infine, c’erano semplicemente grande curiosità e passione per gli aspetti micro del funzionamento delle politiche pubbliche.
La tavola rotonda ha l’obiettivo di discutere questi temi attraverso la presentazione di una selezione di ricerche da parte degli studiosi che con lui vi hanno lavorato. La discussione permetterà anche di ricostruire un aspetto del profilo intellettuale di Bruno Dente meno noto rispetto a quello accademico ma che ne ha costituito senz’altro il basso continuo.

Claudio Calvaresi, Avanzi
Paola Coletti, Università Mercatorum
Gianfranco D'Alessio, Università degli studi di Roma Tre
Elena Donaggio, Avanzi
Claudio Radaelli, Istituto Universitario Europeo
Gloria Regonini, Università degli Studi di Milano
Maria Stella Righettini, Università degli studi di Padova
Joan Subirats, Ministro de Universidades de España (e Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

Chairs: Erica Melloni, Giancarlo Vecchi, Simone Busetti