Research Line 5: Policy Studies
This research line analyzes the policy process and public policies from a systematic and analytical approach. Modern societies have become characterized by the activities of collective actors, rather than natural persons. The activities of collective actors can be found on all levels in society: from governmental institutions, corporations, interest groups, to self-organizations of members of society. Members of this research line combine their expertise in the interdisciplinary field of policy sciences with their domain-specific expertise.
The research line studies:
- The outcomes of the policy process (policies, government performance),
- The effects of these outcomes on societal problems,
- Applications in various public sectors and public / private organizations.
Within the research line, two related research areas exist. Research area (A) develops and tests analytical models to understand and evaluate the policy-making process. Research area (B) applies sociological research to support and improve policy interventions for substantive societal problems.
Research area A: Analytical models of policy-making
This research area builds on spatial models of policy-making that have been developed to study collective choice problems, the electoral process, party competition, committee agenda-setting, collective decision-making and policy implementation. The focus of this research area is on the effect of institutions for regulating policy conflict, e.g. conflict among politicians, conflict between politicians and agencies, or conflict between citizens and politicians. The research builds upon theories of conflict resolution (such as bilateral and multilateral models of bargaining, veto-player theory, or principal-agent theory) and social capital theory in the context of policy-making. Empirical research aims to reconstruct the spatial nature of policy issues, using a stakeholder approach, and tests different analytical models. Research designs integrate qualitative research techniques (e.g. content analysis and key-informant research) with statistical analyses of large multilevel datasets. This research area maintains the pooled Decision-Making in the World (DMW) dataset, comprising a large collection of comparable spatial datasets on policy-making.
Staff members in this research area focus their research on particular stages of the policy-making process: Hilde Coffé studies the electoral process and party organization; Herman Lelieveldt's research interest is political / civic participation; Karien Dekker studies interactive decision-making and empowerment; René Torenvlied and Gijs van Houten focus on policy implementation; Carolien Klein Haarhuis specializes in policy evaluation.
Research area B: Applied policy research
This research area builds on applied sociological research for policy advice to support and improve policies. The focus of this research is on the trends in and explanations for societal problems, as well as the evaluation of policies and interventions in different domains of research. This research area applies different methodological approaches: advanced (multilevel) analyses of large datasets, vignette studies, case studies, and meta-analysis.
Current staff members in this research area have expertise on several policy domains: Peter Groenewegen studies health policy and health care; Carolien Klein Haarhuis, Paul Nieuwbeerta and Marieke van Schellen specialize in criminology and justice policy; Hilde Coffé studies the extreme right; Karien Dekker's expertise is on urban affairs, René Torenvlied and Gijs van Houten study collective bargaining.
The research line ‘policy studies’ builds on several funded research programs—some of which with a more fundamental scientific research question. Currently, this type of research includes two research programs financed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), the Dutch equivalent of the NSF. The first research program, ‘With or without civil society’, was initiated by Herman Lelieveldt en René Torenvlied and is currently sponsored by the Dutch national institute for top research NICIS. The second research program, ‘Implementation under adversity’, initiated by René Torenvlied, is financed by the VIDI program of NWO. A third major research program, ‘Successful implementation of innovations in organizations’, under supervision of Eva Demerouti (Department of Social and Organizational Psychology) and René Torenvlied is financed under the Utrecht University high potential program.
In addition, the research line ‘policy studies’ builds on applied research financed by (inter)national governments and organizations, such as ministries of Health, Justice, Social Affairs, International Affairs, or the World Bank. Furthermore, strong institutional ties exist with Dutch research institutes, such as NIVEL (Peter Groenewegen), WODC (Carolien Klein Haarhuis), and NSCR (Paul Nieuwbeerta).
Link with academic programs
Finally, all members of the research line are devoted to use their expertise for advancing teaching and the quality of educational programs in the Department of Sociology—for the undergraduate courses of the BA program in sociology, and especially for the Masters program in Policy and Organization Studies. Talented students in this program are encouraged to participate in the research line through student-assistantships and related research.