Project

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Assessing Blame Avoidance Behavior

English title Assessing Blame Avoidance Behavior
Applicant Sager Fritz
Number 153111
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Kompetenzzentrum für Public Management Universität Bern
Institution of higher education University of Berne - BE
Main discipline Political science
Start/End 01.05.2014 - 31.12.2017
Approved amount 228'108.00
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Keywords (4)

theory building; policy analysis; comparative analysis; Blame avoidance

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Das Ziel dieses Forschungsprojekts ist es, in Krisenfällen unter politischen Akteuren weit verbreitete Verhaltensmuster zu untersuchen, die in der Wissenschaft unter dem Begriff „Blame Avoidance Behavior“ (BAB) diskutiert werden. Die Auswirkungen von BAB auf den Prozess der Politikformulierung sollen aufgezeigt und etwaige Konsequenzen für das Funktionieren demokratischer Systeme im Medienzeitalter untersucht werden.
Lay summary

Das Funktionieren politischer Systeme ist zusehends von raschen Themenwechseln und medien-induzierter Politisierung und Skandalisierung gekennzeichnet. Solche Veränderungen beeinflussen vor allem in Krisenfällen das Verhalten politischer Akteure. In der Wissenschaft werden derartige Verhaltensmuster unter dem Begriff „Blame Avoidance Behavior“ (BAB) diskutiert.

Das übergreifende Ziel dieses Forschungsprojekts ist es, BAB in den komplexen Prozess der Politikformulierung einzuordnen und etwaige Konsequenzen für das Funktionieren demokratischer Systeme im Medienzeitalter zu untersuchen. Diesem Unterfangen stehen drei Schwierigkeiten entgegen: Eine wenig konsolidierte, über verschiedene Disziplinen verteilte Wissensbasis, die Vernachlässigung erklärungsrelevanter Kontextfaktoren und der damit zusammenhängende Mangel an generalisierbaren Erkenntnissen. Diesen Schwierigkeiten eingedenk wird ein umfassendes Framework entwickelt, das vorhandenes Wissen zu BAB konsolidiert und eine kontextsensitive Analyse einzelner Fälle erlaubt. 15 – 20 in westlichen Demokratien angesiedelte Fallstudien werden durchgeführt und miteinander verglichen. Das komparative Untersuchungsdesign erlaubt, den relativen Einfluss verschiedener Kontextfaktoren auf die Prozesse und Konsequenzen von BAB zu analysieren.

Damit ist das Forschungsprojekt sowohl von fachspezifischer als auch gesellschaftlicher Relevanz: Durch eine breite Datenerhebung, die eine vergleichende kontextsensitive Fallanalyse erlaubt, wird generalisierbares Wissen zu einem bis jetzt nur partiell erforschten Phänomen generiert. Ausserdem trägt das Forschungsprojekt dazu bei, das Handeln politischer Akteure generell erklärbar zu machen und damit das Verständnis politischer Prozesse in der Öffentlichkeit zu schärfen.

 

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 15.04.2014

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Since modern policymaking is increasingly characterized by the rapid pace of change on the political agenda and by the media-induced politicization and scandalization of events, the pressure for public actors to engage in integrity-protecting activities is on the rise. In scientific discourse, this behavioral phenomenon is known as blame avoidance behavior (BAB). In an often polarized political climate, BAB displayed by public officials has two important implications: It does not only influence the way (new) policy is crafted, but can generate cynicism and incomprehension among a wider public. A better understanding of BAB and its consequences should therefore become increasingly important for the scientific study of public policy as well as for a general public willing to follow and understand political events.
Lay summary
This research project aims to situate the phenomenon of blame avoidance behavior (BAB) in a wider public policy context and illuminate its consequences for the political process and the workings of political systems. It rests on the assumption that the implications of BAB described above have not yet been sufficiently and systematically explored. In the literature, three related and generally acknowledged deficits of blame avoidance research are held responsible for this: An unconsolidated base of knowledge spread over numerous disciplines; a neglect of contextual factors; and insufficient production of findings that can be generalized. To address these deficits, existing knowledge on BAB is consolidated in a comprehensive framework that allows for context-sensitive comparative case study analysis. We analyze 15 - 20 purposively selected blame avoidance cases in Western democratic political systems. The comparative research design based on our framework allows us to comparatively assess the relative influence of contextual factors on the processes, outcomes and consequences of BAB. With regard to method, we combine in-depth case study research with scientific methods able to handle middle-sized numbers of cases and compare them in a context-sensitive way, such as Qualitative Comparative Analysis.

 The relevance of this research project is twofold: First, it will create a uniquely rich set of data on blame avoidance in western democracies, advance the understanding of the processes, outcomes, and consequences of BAB, and produce a refined and consolidated framework that significantly advances the theoretical understanding of BAB and allows to exploit all the streams of scholarship relevant to understand this phenomenon in its entirety. Second, we expect our findings to contribute to a more nuanced and realistic understanding of the political process, not only on part of the scientific community, but also on part of the general public.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 15.04.2014

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Governing elites under pressure: Blame avoidance strategies and welfare state retrenchment
HinterleitnerMarkus, SagerFritz (2020), Governing elites under pressure: Blame avoidance strategies and welfare state retrenchment, in Careja Romana, Emmenegger Patrick, Giger Nathalie (ed.), Springer VS, Wiesbaden, 109-122.
Salami tactics and the implementation of large-scale public projects
Hinterleitner Markus (2019), Salami tactics and the implementation of large-scale public projects, in Journal of European Public Policy, 26(11), 1696-1714.
Anticipatory and Reactive Forms of Blame Avoidance: Of Foxes and Lions
Hinterleitner Markus, Sager Fritz (2017), Anticipatory and Reactive Forms of Blame Avoidance: Of Foxes and Lions, in European Political Science Review, 9(4), 587-606.
Blame Avoidance
Sager Fritz, Ingold Karin, Balthasar Andreas (2017), Blame Avoidance, in Sager Fritz, Ingold Karin, Balthasar Andreas (ed.), NZZ Libro, Zürich, 222-229.
Policy Failures, Blame Games, and Changes to Policy Practice
Hinterleitner Markus (2017), Policy Failures, Blame Games, and Changes to Policy Practice, in Journal of Public Policy, 1-22.
Avoiding Blame—A Comprehensive Framework and the Australian Home Insulation Program Fiasco
Hinterleitner Markus, Sager Fritz (2015), Avoiding Blame—A Comprehensive Framework and the Australian Home Insulation Program Fiasco, in Policy Studies Journal, (1), 139-161.
Reconciling Perspectives on Blame Avoidance Behavior
Hinterleitner Markus (2015), Reconciling Perspectives on Blame Avoidance Behavior, in Political Studies Review, 1-12.
Blame, reputation and organizational responses to a politicized climate
Hinterleitner Markus, Sager Fritz, Blame, reputation and organizational responses to a politicized climate, in Bach Tobias, Wegrich Kai (ed.), Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Krisenmanagement und Risikovermeidung
Hinterleitner Markus, Sager Fritz, Krisenmanagement und Risikovermeidung, in Ritz Adrian, Haldemann Theo, Sager Fritz (ed.), NZZ Libro, Zürich.
Policy Controversies and Political Blame Games
HinterleitnerMarkus, Policy Controversies and Political Blame Games, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University, Washington DC United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
University of Sydney Australia (Oceania)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Fachbereichskolloquium des Fachbereichs Politik- und Verwaltungswissenschaft, Universität Konstanz Individual talk Blame, Reputation, and Organizational Responses to a Politicized Climate 10.01.2018 Universität Konstanz, Germany Sager Fritz;
Presentation given at the workshop ‘The Role of Risk and Losses in Political Decision Making’ Talk given at a conference Towards a General Approach for Identifying the Reference Point 29.11.2017 Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands Hinterleitner Markus;
Paper presented at the Annual Congress of the Swiss Political Science Association Talk given at a conference Salami Tactics and the Governance of Large-Scale Public Projects 11.01.2017 St. Gallen, Switzerland Hinterleitner Markus;
Paper presented at the workshop ‘The Blind Spots of Public Bureaucracies: Attention Bias in Organisational Decision-Making and the Bureaucratic Politics of Non-Coordination’ Talk given at a conference Salience, Blame, and Organizational Responses to a Politicized Climate: Reputation Management Strategies and their Effects 17.11.2016 University of Oslo, Norway Hinterleitner Markus;
2nd International Conference on Public Policy, ICPP 2015 Talk given at a conference Of Foxes and Lions – Towards a Coherent Micro-Foundation for Anticipatory and Reactive Forms of Blame Avoidance 03.07.2015 Milano, Italy Hinterleitner Markus;
WIPCAD-Lecture Series 2015 Talk given at a conference Can we blame it all on wicked problems? A comprehensive model of Blame Avoidance Behavior 24.06.2015 Potsdam, Germany Sager Fritz;
Brown Bag Lunch Series of the KPM Center for Public Management, University of Bern Individual talk Blame Avoidance Behavior 16.06.2015 Bern, Switzerland Hinterleitner Markus;
Doktoranden- und Masterkolloquium in Policy-Analyse und Regulierung; University of Bern Individual talk Of Foxes and Lions – Towards a Coherent Micro-Foundation for Anticipatory and Reactive Forms of Blame Avoidance 21.04.2015 Bern, Switzerland Sager Fritz;
Collegium Generale lecture series, University of Bern Individual talk Wenn Regierungen versagen: The Politics of Blame Avoidance 15.10.2014 Bern, Switzerland Sager Fritz;
IPSA 23rd World Congress of Political Science Talk given at a conference Avoiding Blame—a Comprehensive Framework and the Australian Home Insulation Program Fiasco 21.07.2014 Montréal, Canada Hinterleitner Markus;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Master Seminar FS 2016 'When Governments Cock Up – The Politics of Blame Avoidance', University of Bern 24.02.2016 Bern, Switzerland
Master Seminar HS 2015 'When Governments Cock Up – The Politics of Blame Avoidance', University of Bern 23.09.2015 Bern, Switzerland
Sounding board meeting with Prof. R. Kent Weaver from Georgetown University, University of Bern 07.05.2015 Bern, Switzerland
Master Seminar FS 2015 'When Governments Cock Up – The Politics of Blame Avoidance', University of Bern 25.02.2015 Bern, Switzerland

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Collegium Generale lecture series, University of Bern - Wenn Regierungen versagen: The Politics of Blame Avoidance Talk 15.10.2014 University of Bern, Switzerland Sager Fritz;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Der «Fall Carlos» als Kollateralschaden der politischen Polarisierung DeFacto German-speaking Switzerland 2019
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Der Fall «Carlos» als Kollateralschaden der politischen Polarisierung DeFacto German-speaking Switzerland 2019
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Salami tactics and the implementation of large-scale public projects JEPP Online Blog International 2019
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Political scandals and blame games – studying politicians under the eye of the public and behind clo LSE British Politics & Policy Blog International 2016

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
191172 Policy Controversies and Political Blame Games 01.10.2019 Open Access Books

Abstract

Blame avoidance behavior (BAB) displayed by public officials is a complex phenomenon. Rather than being a consistently defined term, BAB is generally regarded as all kinds of integrity-protecting activities by politicians and bureaucrats in the face of (future) accusations. The planned research project rests on the assumption that the question which predominantly justifies the scientific interest in the various facets of BAB - if and how this phenomenon influences the adoption of policies and damages the workings of political systems - has not yet been sufficiently answered. In the political science and public policy literature, three related and generally acknowledged deficits of blame avoidance research are held responsible for this: An unconsolidated base of knowledge spread over numerous disciplines; a neglect of contextual factors; and insufficient production of findings that can be generalized. In this project, we aim to address these challenges and accommodate the complexity of BAB by proposing a three-step approach: Based on the actor-centered institutionalism (ACI) heuristic by Mayntz and Scharpf (1995; Scharpf 1997), analytical categories relevant for the comprehensive analysis of BAB and its consequences are developed. Drawing on these analytical categories and their respective interrelations, existing research on BAB can be assessed and structured. The arrangement of analytical categories acts as a ‘vessel’ in which extant work can be situated and blind spots become evident. The result of this undertaking is a preliminary framework that allows for the systematic assessment of various cases of BAB in a context-sensitive way. The framework is intended to facilitate comparative research and thereby help to come to more generalized findings. Arguably, systematic context-sensitive cross-case analysis of BAB will foster our understanding of the impact of this kind of behavior on the policy process and on the workings of political systems in general.In our research plan, we first outline three specific but interrelated and widely-acknowledged deficits of blame avoidance research, which, taken together, represent the main challenge for the study of BAB. Based on these deficits, a preliminary framework able to address each of these deficits in turn is derived. The preliminary framework serves as the conceptual basis for the planned research project.Our research design consists of the analysis of 15 - 20 purposively selected blame avoidance cases in Western democratic political systems. The comparative research design based on our preliminary framework allows us to comparatively assess the relative influence of (non-) institutional factors on the processes, outcomes and consequences of BAB. With regard to method, we combine in-depth case study research with scientific methods able to handle middle-sized numbers of cases and compare them in a context-sensitive way, such as Qualitative Comparative Analysis. Both the significant number of analyzed cases as well as their systematic context-sensitive comparison are novel contributions to the existing literature and will contribute significantly to the study of public political behavior. The relevance of this research project is twofold: First, it will create a uniquely rich set of data on blame avoidance in western democracies, advance the understanding of the processes, outcomes, and consequences of BAB, and produce a refined and consolidated framework that significantly advances the theoretical understanding of BAB and allows to exploit all the streams of scholarship relevant to understand this phenomenon in its entirety. Second, we expect our findings to contribute to a more nuanced and realistic understanding of the political process, not only on part of the scientific community, but also on part of the general public.
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