Policy Tools & Their Targets: Beyond Nudges and Utility Maximization in Policy Compliance

September 5, 2019


Name:  Michael Howlett, Professor of Public Policy,  the Department of Political Science at Simon Fraser University, Canada

Title: Policy Tools & Their Targets: Beyond Nudges and Utility Maximization in Policy Compliance

Date:  May 2 2019 – THURSDAY

Place: CASE 127

Time: 17:00


Studies of policy tools traditionally have focused on the effective use of governing resources to attain policy ends, without devoting a great deal of attention to the behavioural characteristics of the objects of policy interventions. These “policy targets” are often simply assumed to act as hedonic rational utility maximizers susceptible to shifts in apparent gains and losses linked to policy incentives and disincentives. Although this is beginning to change with recent work examining policy ‘nudges’ and the effects of co-production and social marketing efforts which both are based on alternative logics of target behaviour, analysis of policy targets still all too often retains a relatively crude concept of target behaviour. This way of thinking about policy targets has led to many considerations of policy design focusing on the calibrations of policy tools – such as the size of penalties or rewards – rather than upon whether the type or mix of tool(s) matches the nature of compliance and co-operation required or demanded by a design situation. This presentation reviews the literature on the subjects of compliance and policy tools, proposing a new research and practice agenda focused on the idea of “Compliance Regimes” recently put forward by Weaver which helps better match tools and target behaviour.


Michael Howlett  BSocSci.(Hon)(Ott), MA(Br Col), PhD (Queen’s) is Burnaby Mountain Professor and Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in the Department of Political Science at Simon Fraser University. He specializes in public policy analysis, political economy, and resource and environmental policy. He is the author of Canadian Public Policy (2013); Designing Public Policies (2011 and 2019), The Policy Design Primer (2019) and co-author of Policy Consultancy in Comparative Perspective; (2019), Designing for Policy Effectiveness: Defining and Understanding a Concept; (2018); Application of Federal Legislation to Alberta’s Mineable Oil Sands (2013), The Public Policy Primer (2010 and 2018), Integrated Policymaking for Sustainable Development (2009), Studying Public Policy (2019, 2009, 2003 & 1995), In Search of Sustainability (2001), The Political Economy of Canada (1999 & 1992) and Canadian Natural Resource and Environmental Policy (1997 & 2005).  He is editor-in-chief of  Policy Sciences, and co-editor of the Policy Design and PracticeJournal of Comparative Policy AnalysisPolicy & Society, the University of Toronto Press Series in Comparative Political Economy and Public Policy, the Policy Press International Library of Policy AnalysisCambridge Studies in Comparative Public Policy and Cambridge Elements of Public Policy. He is the founder and past Chair (2010-2018) and current Secretary of Research Committee 30 (Comparative Public Policy) of the International Political Science Association and sits on the Executive Committee of the International Public Policy Association.