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«HC Coombs Policy Forum Crawford School of Public Policy ANU College of June 2014 Asia & the Pacific T H E R O L E O F N AT I O N A L C U LT U R E I N ...»

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S H A P I N G P U B L I C P O L I C Y:



HC Coombs

Policy Forum

Crawford School of

Public Policy

ANU College of

June 2014

Asia & the Pacific


S H A P I N G P U B L I C P O L I C Y:


Dr Katherine A. Daniell June 2014 Katherine Daniell is a Fellow at the HC Coombs Policy Fourm, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University. E katherine.daniell@anu.edu.au Acknowledgements: Thank you to all of my HC Coombs Policy Forum, ANU and external colleagues for their reviews, discussions and suggestions in the development of this paper which have improved it greatly. Special thanks in particular to Dr Mark Matthews for his instigation of and on-going support for this project.


Approaches that national governments and other stakeholders take to addressing key public policy challenges—such as managing water, food, infrastructure, health, education, social welfare, economic development, the environment, international relations, security, and governance systems—can vary markedly between countries and regions too.

Cultural factors influence economic behaviour, political participation, social solidarity and value formation and evolution, which are closely linked to how and why public policies are developed in different ways in different countries.

There are increasing numbers of publications in the literature that seek to use culture-based theory and ‘national culture’ analytics to understand aspects of public policy.

Considering the competing hypotheses that ‘National culture has [or does not have] a significant influence on public policy’, the weight of evidence from the literature, clearly supports the hypothesis that national culture has a significant influence on public policy. This underscores the utility of the concept of ‘national culture’ in relation to shaping public policy.

This review highlights the use of example analytics for understanding the shaping of public policy processes through two case studies on: the use of national culture orientations for understanding public participation differences in public policy and the potential for procedural transfer between countries (including water policy); and using cultural theory for comparative analysis of policy narratives and problem structuring for different issues (including waste management).

From this literature review, it is considered that there is much potential for developing a more in-depth understanding of national cultures and the impacts that cultural orientations or biases have on the development of public policy within countries and policy transfer between countries (e.g. looking at required adaptations to suit the receiving culture).

There are also some important areas of public policy that could likely benefit from a more indepth consideration of national cultures and their underlying combinations of societal cultural orientations and biases. These areas have been identified through an apparent lack

of discussion in the literature:

• Hypothesis testing of the impacts of cultural variables on public policy success/failure

• Investigation of national culture impacts on the development and use of different policymaking ideologies/methodologies

• The relationship between national cultures and preferences for different types of multilevel governance systems

• The role of individuals and groups in developing public policy that appears counter to dominant national culture characterisations but is still widely perceived as successful

• Methods for understanding and supporting multi-cultural policy dialogue and development

• The role of public policy in developing and particularly shifting national cultures.

More generally, there is a need for a ‘cultural turn’ in public policy to lead to the development of more culturally-aware public policy both in Australia and internationally.

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Page iii


The HC Coombs Policy Forum is the Australian Government – Australian National University joint think tank that undertakes a range of public policy and research nexus activities under partnership arrangements to enhance Australia’s public policy 1. The 2013 HC Coombs Policy Forum Strategic Plan places a new emphasis on the development of international partnership arrangements and policy research projects. It has the aim of learning from other jurisdictions, enhancing its capacity to enhance Australian public policy and working cooperatively on public policy and research challenges of mutual national importance. As the HC Coombs Policy Forum develops these activities with partners in a range of countries, including the UK, USA, India and Japan, questions of comparability of policy systems, governance arrangements and public values are being increasingly encountered.

It is in this context that a multi-disciplinary review of the literature on the role of national culture in shaping public policy was proposed. It aims to examine the similarities and differences of the cultures and public policy approaches that are shaped by them in different countries, with the eventual objective of determining how maximum benefit may be gained for Australia's public policy from the Forum’s growing number of international partnership projects.

This review presents preliminary findings from a literature search across a range of disciplines, including political science, organisational management, geography, economics, anthropology and sociology. It is not intended to be a definitive view of this extensive area of study but is instead designed to encourage further discussion and development of more culturally aware international engagement, policy research programs and public policy learning. Anyone with comments on this paper is invited to contact the author.


Governments across the world are dealing with a common range of challenges that include how to manage water, food, infrastructure, health, education, social welfare, economic development, the environment, international relations, security, and governance systems. Yet, approaches that national governments and other stakeholders take to addressing these key public policy challenges can vary markedly between countries and regions. It is widely understood that social and cultural factors shape human behaviour, and that the purpose of public policy is also to shape behaviour, or as Coyle and Ellis (1994) put it: ‘culture affects policy, and policy affects culture’. It therefore stands to reason that having a solid understanding of culture, on top of the socio-economic drivers of human behaviour which are commonly used in policy modelling and analysis, could help policy makers to shape public policies that might be more generally acceptable to the public and produce culturally desirable outcomes.

Policy ideas developed and implemented in one jurisdiction are often transferred to or transformed to meet the needs and objectives of other jurisdictions (McCann and Ward, 2012). However, such transfers are by no means always desired or implementable, due to a range of socio-political, economic, geographical and cultural differences that exist between jurisdictions. A better understanding of national culture and differences between national cultures could thus inform international policy transfer practices and joint policy learning exercises (e.g. looking at required adaptations to suit the receiving culture).

The Australian National Institute for Public Policy (ANIPP) and the HC Coombs Policy Forum received Australian Government funding under the Enhancing Public Policy Initiative. Since the initial drafting of this paper, the funding for the HC Coombs Policy Forum has ceased and its future activities are uncertain.

Page 1 This paper seeks to investigate the question of what role national culture plays in shaping public policy. It will provide an introduction to some of the key literature across a range of disciplines that can help in defining this role, including from: public administration and management science;

political science; economics; engineering; anthropology, cultural studies and geography;

psychology; sociology; and international relations. It in no way intends to be exhaustive, but rather presents a diversity of perspectives relevant to the question and illuminates some perspectives for future investigations and international public policy learning discussions.

The paper will start by investigating the concept of ‘national culture’, provide a framing review of what is meant by ‘public policy’, and then outline how analytical frameworks of national culture might be used to understand and shape public policy. It will then outline what this understanding means for international cooperation and policy transfer or translation in different policy areas or phases (such as water and waste policy or problem structuring/public participation) and how a better understanding of national cultures and their role in shaping public policy might allow us to improve future joint working relationships and policy learning between countries.



2.1 What is Culture?

Culture can be defined in a variety of ways. In 1952, Kroeber and Kluckhohn had already identified over 150 formal definitions of culture. Based on this analysis, they suggested that culture consists of behavioural patterns embodied in artifacts and traits that are fully acquired, such as knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, customs, capabilities and habits, and that the essential core of culture is made up of ideas and their attached values that have been historically derived and selected (Kluckhohn and Kroeber, 1963). Since that time, further definitions have proliferated; some that echo the essence of this definition and others that are based on alternative premises. Rao and Walton in

their edited volume on ‘Culture and Public Action’ contend that:

‘culture is about relationality— the relationships among individuals within groups, among groups, and between ideas and perspectives. Culture is concerned with identity, aspiration, symbolic exchange, coordination, and structures and practices that serve relational ends, such as ethnicity, ritual, heritage, norms, meanings and beliefs’ (Rao and Walton, 2002: 4).

Of specific importance in their argument is that culture and this associated ‘relationality’ cannot be considered as something static and embedded in specific groups or individuals. It is instead dynamic and made up of sets of contested attributes that shape and can be shaped by human interaction (Rao and Walton, 2002). Other authors note the distinctions between different conceptualisations of culture that are more or less static, such as Keesing (1974) who identifies that

culture can be considered as:

1) An ideational system of perceptions, beliefs and norms that is relatively stable, having stemmed from socialisation early in life as a child, including through the schooling system; and

2) An integrated and adaptive socio-cultural system that refers to characteristics of social groups that result from dynamic interactions between the group’s members (Enserink et al., 2007).

Another well know anthropologist, Geertz (1973), following Max Weber, understands culture as being the webs of significance in which people are suspended and which they themselves have spun (Geertz, 1973). Other context-based conceptualisations include Rayner’s (1991: 84) view that ‘Culture consists of the framework that we use to impose some sort of order and coherence on the stream of events’ and Latour and Woolgar (1979: 55) who ‘use culture to refer to the set of Page 2 arguments and beliefs to which there is a constant appeal in daily life and which is the object of all passions, fears, and respect’.

Regardless of the differences in these conceptualisations of culture, it is widely (although not entirely) agreed that culture is a collective phenomenon and a result of learning linked to the construction of meaning in a shared social environment (physical, virtual, religious, etc.). Considering the important role that situated learning in a social environment plays in the development and manifestation of culture, Hofstede (1991) considers culture as ‘the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one category of people from others’, which is made up of core values and practices that are linked to rituals, heroes and symbols: the so-called ‘Onion model’ of culture where change in the programming typically takes longer the deeper the layer. As Hofstede notes in one of his recent books (Hofstede et al., 2010), this idea of culture as the ‘collective programming of the mind’ is similar to Bourdieu’s notion of ‘habitus’ which can be thought of as a set of durable and transferable principles that provide individuals with a sense of group identity and belonging, such as shared beliefs, representations, rules, taboos, symbols, rituals and practices (Bourdieu, 1980). This ‘habitus’ has the power to shape individual action and constrain preferences and aspirations based on an individual’s perceptions of his or her own chance or failure in taking a particular course of action (Swartz, 2000).

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