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Policy Assemblages and Policy Resilience: Lessons for Non-Design from Evolutionary Governance Theory

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Evolutionary governance theory (EGT) provides a basis for holistically analyzing the shifting contexts and dynamics of policymaking in settings with functional differentiation and complex subsystems. Policy assemblages, as mixes of policy tools and goals, are an appropriate unit of analysis for EGT because they embody the theory's emphasis on co-evolving elements within policy systems. In rational practice, policymakers design policies within assemblages by establishing objectives, collecting information, comparing options, strategizing implementation, and selecting instruments. However, as EGT implies, this logical progression does not always materialize so tidily—some policies emerge from carefully considered blueprints while others evolve from muddled processes, laissez faire happenstance, or happy accident. Products of the latter often include loosely steered, unmoored, and 'non-designed' path dependencies that confound linear logic and are understudied in the policy literature. There exists the need for a more intricate analytical vocabulary to describe this underexplored 'chaotic' end of the policy design spectrum, as conjuring images of 'muddles' or 'messes' has exhausted its usefulness. This article introduces a novel metaphor for non-design—the bird nest—to bring studies of policy design and non-design into lexical harmony.
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