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Connecting policy change, experimentation, and entrepreneurs: advancing conceptual and empirical insights

Belinda K McFadgen, Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands


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With global environmental problems worsening, policy makers and nonstate actors are looking for viable solutions through policy innovation, entrepreneurship, and experimentation. Research into the use of experiments to innovate is increasing, but the role of experimentation in policy change has yet to be specifically addressed in the context of climate governance. My aim is to improve understanding by examining how entrepreneurs, key agents of change, might use experiments to advance their climate innovations. Policy entrepreneurs can benefit in several ways from using experiments, including assessing public response to new ideas and learning.

I address the question: What role can experiments play in an entrepreneur’s change strategies? To answer this, a set of 18 policy experiments from Dutch water management was analyzed to understand how the policy experiments functioned as 4 different policy change strategies. The results revealed that organizers use experiments to evaluate their preformed ideas, to soften local communities to the idea of experimentation, to build broad but centrally controlled coalitions, and to link with influential political actors and national programs to maintain visibility and relevance. These insights formed a list of suggestions that the experiment organizers identified as key to the change strategies. Based on this, a number of recommendations about design choices were made for entrepreneurs who want to experiment.

Analyzing experiments as change strategies contributes a novel perspective on how policy experiments function as venues for invention and provides useful suggestions on how experiments can be designed to improve their influence over policy-making processes.

Key words

bricolage; climate adaptation; Dutch water management; policy change strategies; policy entrepreneur; policy experimentation

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087