Negative incentive steering in a policy network

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In this article the process of developing a policy for the recent comprehensive retrenchment operation in the Dutch university system is analysed from a theoretical point of view on decisionmaking. The article especially addresses the question whether some empirical evidence can be found for the rationalist view of collective decision-making, which states that a process of social communication should eventually lead to a unanimous and rational consensus concerning the selection of the optimal policy. The actual analysis concerns the way a retrenchment policy has been developed in a process of social communication between the most important actors: the Minister of Education and Science and the thirteen Dutch universities. It is assumed that the various communicative linkages between these actors can be interpreted as a policy network in which both governmental and non-governmental actors operate. The article concludes that in the Dutch university policy-network a complicated balance of interdependencies exists and that several sub-networks can be distinguished. It is also concluded that the Minister, while recognizing the interdependencies in the network, was able to use a special kind of (negative) incentive, inducing the universities to act as he wished. This negative incentive steering, however, also persuaded the universities to go to the utmost in their consultation efforts, thus trying to reach the rationalist ideal of collective decision-making. The final conclusion therefore is that the rationalist view of collective decision-making does not appear to be unrealistic. The article ends with a warning against a common mistake made regarding the normative appearance of the rationalist perspective.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-616
JournalHigher education
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1985


  • IR-85804
  • Optimal Policy
  • Social Communication
  • Communicative Linkage
  • Important Actor
  • Rationalist View


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