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POLICY INNOVATION AND LEGITIMACY IN REGIONAL MULTI-LEVEL GOVERNANCE

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MLGPIL (POLICY INNOVATION AND LEGITIMACY IN REGIONAL MULTI-LEVEL GOVERNANCE)

Reporting period: 2015-09-07 to 2017-09-06

Legitimation of political processes has become increasingly complex and multi-faceted in recent years. Increasingly, political decisions stretch across levels of government - local, regional, national and supra-national - and include a wider range of both governmental and non-governmental actors. Governance processes have in turn become increasingly complex and potentially removed from traditional ideas of political decision-making and debate. This creates a potential political problem if governance processes become mismatched with conceptions of political legitimacy. The project addressed this problem by developing an understanding of how multi-level governance and legitimation correlate, and what the effects of this connection are on political decision-making. This framework explores governance as structural, relational or policy processes, each of which have a different effect on legitimating political decisions. By better understanding and analysing the connection between governance processes and political legitimation, the project had three main objectives:
1. Develop the conception of multi-level governance as a theory by creating an explanatory framework for how governance affects legitimacy;
2. Understand how governmental decisions are legitimated and seen as legitimate, and how this aligns with actor perceptions of legitimacy and governance; and
3. Examine how conceptions of legitimacy travel both between governmental levels and between actors.
Multi-level governance was unpacked into relational, structural and policy processes, which were linked, respectively, to ideas of political legitimacy based on inputs (participation in shaping governance and political decisions), throughputs (the procedures underlying governance and decision-making) and outputs (the results of governance and decision-making). This framework was then applied to different EU contexts to both determine the efficacy of the framework and to answer the research questions outlined above.
The first phase of research focused on documentary data collection, mainly in the form of bibliometric and qualitative reviews of the whole body of literature on political legitimacy, multi-level governance and public sector reform. The second phase of research focused on primary data collection, in the form of in-depth interviews, surveys and reviews of political debates, documents and dialogue. The third and final phase of research consolidated this data into findings and applied these findings in both practical and academic contexts.
The research produced outputs in four main areas: 1) academic conference presentations and workshops; 2) academic publications; 3) work with policy-makers, academic experts and other policy actors and dissemination through political fora; and 4) developing the research into follow-on projects and research bids. A total of 15 presentations were given at seven workshops and six conferences, targeting both academics and practitioners. In addition, a final wrap-up conference for the grant took place on 22 September, 2017, with the title of Scientific Research in a Post-Brexit Britain: Challenges and Opportunities for Expertise in Policymaking. This event hosted 60 participants and feature speakers from different governmental levels, policymakers and academics to look at how academic expertise can legitimate political decision-making. In terms of academic publication, one paper has so far been published, two in press or accepted, one is under review, and a further three publications are nearing completion. Finally, the project has been used to link with policymakers, government and other policy actors for both consultation and dissemination. The legitimacy.eu portal was created to disseminate information on the project and as a forum for working papers, blog posts and other forms of communication, and IMPACKT (the Initiative for Managing Policymaker-Academic Cooperation and Knowledge Transfer - http://www.impackt.org.uk) has been created in partnership with colleagues in the Colleges of Medicine and Engineering (Dr. James Cronin and Dr. Enrico Andreoli) to increase academic engagement in policy work and improve the legitimacy of expert evidence in policymaking. This linkage with policymakers and other policy actors has resulted in four written contributions to government consultations at EU, UK and Welsh levels. Finally, the project has been used as a springboard for developing future research projects and developing a clear research agenda over the next five years. Related research has attracted internal university funding and support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Impact Acceleration Account and future projects are being developed with computer science and psychology. In addition, an ESRC-funded PhD position has been created that relates to the broader project on legitimacy and expert engagement. Finally, the project has opened up a much larger body of work on understanding the role of different stakeholders (citizens, politicians, academic experts, media and others) in creating and developing conceptions of political legitimacy. This broader research project was developed into a European Research Council Starting Grant bid that was submitted in October 2017.
The research has developed beyond the state of the art in practical and theoretical ways. Theoretically, it has worked to theorise multi-level governance and provide an explanatory framework for understanding why multi-level governance processes develop in the way they do. In addition, it has furthered the debate about political legitimacy and how it is perceived. Practically, it has applied this knowledge to new cases, including intra-EU migration and regional governance. Furthermore, it has examined the legitimating role of expertise in policy-making, and developed a side project that aims to better link academic expertise with policy.
The research has implications for how we understand political legitimacy in governance processes. The research has shown that governance mismatches occur between how politicians perceive their legitimating role and how they actually undertake this role. While politicians overwhelmingly believe that governance should be output driven, in debates they tend to focus on procedural conceptions of political legitimacy. This could, in turn, lead to the perceived democratic deficit and growth in populism witnessed in recent years, which will be the subject of follow-on work on this topic.
The potential impact of this research is threefold. First, it has achieved practical results in Welsh public policy by engaging directly with academic experts and policymakers in developing collaborations between the two groups and ensuring that academic expertise and research is accessible to policy-makers in Wales. Second, it further develops the debate around multi-level governance and the role it plays in developing political legitimacy. This allows for a clearer understanding of how governance processes match up (or fail to match up) with conceptions of political legitimacy. The research could lead to better tailoring of governance processes to address perceived shortfalls in political legitimacy. Finally, the research has provided insight into specific real-world cases of governance and legitimacy, namely in intra-EU migration studies and regional governance in Wales.
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