Policy design without democracy? Making democratic sense of transition management

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    This article explores the complex relationship between democracy and long-term policy design for sustainability. At one extreme, democracy can be framed as problematic for policy planning because of the myopia fostered by some democratic institutions, such as regular elections. Alternatively, democracy can be seen as an ally of long-term policy design to the extent that it can generate public legitimacy and accountability, and potentially foster more equitable and just outcomes. Recent debates on how to 'manage' policy transitions to sustainability have been curiously silent on democratic matters, despite their potential implications for democracy. To explore what democracy might mean for transition management this article considers empirically how actors engaged in the Dutch Energy Transition Program make democratic sense of their activities. The analysis finds that in practice transition policies promote implicit narratives or democratic storylines on how reforms should be developed, who should participate in these, and how they should be legitimised and accountable to the public. The dominant narrative, which espouses elite theory and technocracy, privileges epistemic matters over democratic considerations. Other democratic storylines draw on representative democracy and interest group pluralism. The paper considers some possible ways to foster more productive interfaces between the governance structures of transition management, and the polycentric context of contemporary democratic systems.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)341-368
    JournalPolicy Sciences
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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