Skip to Content

Home » Past Events » Unintended Consequences of Public Policy Initiatives and Reforms

28 Feb 2007

Workshop Series Hilary Term 2007
12.30-1.45 Tuesdays weeks 2 to 7, Seminar Room, Oxford Internet Institute

Conveners: Christopher Hood (All Souls, Department of Politics and IR) and Helen Margetts (Mansfield, Oxford Internet Institute)

The analysis of unintended effects of social action is a classic theme in all of the social sciences. Among the standard analytic lenses for examining such effects are the Mertonian tradition of analysing unintended effects of social interventions, cultural theories of surprise and the analysis of discontinuities and unexpected couplings in the operation of complex systems. This lunchtime workshop, involving participants from a range of disciplines from engineering to anthropology, aims to look at a range of cases of public policy initiatives and reforms from an ‘unintended consequences’ perspective, and to reflect on the general analytic themes that they raise. The workshop will draw on some of the work done in the ESRC ‘Public Services’ programme of which Christopher Hood is currently Director.

The workshop, which has been going for several years, is a small informal group of faculty and graduate students interested in the analysis of public services and executive government. It aims to work wherever possible on the basis of pre-circulated short papers, with very short presentations followed immediately by discussion. It works as a ‘brown bag’ workshop, so bring your own sandwich. Water, juice and coffee will be provided. All are welcome to the workshop: contact if you need further information or want to put your name on the list of participants

Week 2: Tuesday 23 January: Helen Margetts (Mansfield and OII, Oxford) ‘introduction to the workshop’ and ‘The Unintended Effects of Policies to Increase Competition in Government IT Contracting’

Week 3: Tuesday 30 January: Will Jennings (CARR, LSE); ‘Spectactular Surprises? The Unintended Effects of State-Sponsored Games and Celebrations’

Week 4: Tuesday 6 February: Guro Huby (University of Edinburgh) ’Business as usual? Longer term Implications of the 2004 GMS Contract for 0rganisation of UK General Practice’

Week 5: Tuesday 13 February: Nick Tyler (Nick Tyler, Civil & Environmental Engineering Accessibility Research Group, UCL): ‘Squeezing the Balloon: What Happens When You Decide to Limit the Use of Cars.’

Week 6: Tuesday 20 February: Charlotte Halpern (Maison Française d’Oxford and Sciences-Po, Paris): ‘The Unintended Consequences of Participatory Instruments on Airport Policy in France, Germany and the UK’

Week 7: Tuesday 27 February: David McCoy (UCL), ‘Following Sweden? The Unintended Effects of Bed-Blocking Policies in England’

Christopher Hood (All Souls, Department of Politics and IR) will offer some closing reflections on general themes in the workshop during the week 7 session; or we may decide to organize a discussion of such themes on another occasion.

Some Background Reading

We shall want to swap ideas about some key readings on the theme of unintended consequences. To start off, here are nine items selected by Christopher Hood:

Brooks, H (1986) ‘The Typology of Surprises in Technology, Institutions and Development’ Ch 11 in W.C. Clark and R.E. Munn eds Sustainable Development of the Biosphere, Cambridge, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Cambridge University Press: 325-50.

Collingridge, D (1992) The Management of Scale: Big Organizations, Big Decisions, Big Mistakes, London, Routledge.

Hood, C and Peters, B G (2004) ‘The Middle Aging of New Public Management: Into the Age of Paradox?’ Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 14 (3)

Levitt, S and Dubner, S (2006) Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, London, Penguin (current best-seller)

Merton, R K (1936) ‘The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action’ American Sociological Review 1: 894-904.

Merton, R K (1998) ‘Afterword: Unanticipated Consequences and Kindred Sociological Ideas: A Personal Gloss’ in C. Mongardine and S. Tabboni eds Robert K Merton and Contemporary Sociology, New Brunswick, Transaction Publishers: 295-318

Moore, W E and Tumin M M (1949) ‘Some Social Functions of Ignorance’ American Sociological Review 14: 787-95.

Moynihan, D P (1969) Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding, New York, Free Press.
Sieber, S (1981) Fatal Remedies, New York, Plenum.

*The weekly workshop titles are currently provisional and may be subject to change.
Tuesday 23rd January 2007 at 12:30 ( Week 2, Hilary Term)