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Thursday, 2nd August, 2007

Fighting Fires in Testing Times: Exploring a Staged Response Hypothesis for Blame Management in Two Exam Fiasco Cases, written by Professor Christopher Hood (ESRC Public Services Programme Director), Will Jennings, and Brian Hogwood with Craig Beeston is now available: CARR Discussion Paper 42, July 2007.

This paper tests a ‘staged-response’ hypothesis about the blame management strategies of public officeholders facing blame firestorms in the media after serious failures in the public-exam system for school-leavers in Scotland in 2000 and England in 2002. The authors develop a method for systematic analysis and comparison of the behaviour of officeholders confronted with such firestorms and construct time series intervention models to estimate the impact of strategies upon the next day’s blame level. The findings do not fit the hypothesis precisely, but are consistent with the underlying thrust of theories of blame avoidance. The findings also raise questions over claims about the effectiveness of presentational strategies for managing blame, the idea that administrative delegation can protect ministers in parliamentary systems when being criticized for operational failures, and that the appointment of inquiries is used to put tricky issues into the political ‘long grass’.