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.
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.