Critical Reading Summary
Week 11 Policy making challenges
Week 11 Policy making challenges (each worth 1 point)
Maddison, S & Scalmer, S (2006) Activist Wisdom: Practical knowledge and creative tension
in social movements, UNSW Press, Chapter 10 Hope and Despair
What is a historical perspective and why is it necessary for policy activists?
What is a long view and why is it necessary for policy activists?
What is measured acceptance and why is it necessary for policy activists?
What is a ‘chaotic sensibility’ and why is it necessary for policy activists?
What is an activist identity and is it necessary for policy activists?
Paul ‘t Hart Epilogue: rules for reformers in Evert A. Lindquist, Sam Vincent & John
Wanna, (eds) 2011 Delivering Policy Reform Anchoring Significant Reforms in Turbulent
Times, ANU E Press http://epress.anu.edu.au/titles/australia-and-new-zealand-school-ofgovernment-
Why is dealing with complacency important for policy change?
What’s the benefit of crisis for policy change?
Why is analysis so important for policy change?
Why is knowing “the system that you propose to reform inside and out” important for policy
What is a “salami tactic” approach to policy reform?
HOPE AND DESPAIR
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Activists feed on hope. They promise us a different world. Tyrants
will be knocked silly, they tell us, and all workers might become
owners. Male dominance shall be no more. Our bedrooms can be
democracies of pleasure, our planet can be greener. We might hunt
in the morning, fish in the afternoon, and criticise in the evening.
We miglit live simple, natural, unconstrained lives.
Activists believe that change is possible. They convince others
of that possibility. This is how Anne Summers remembers her own
introduction to a life of struggle:
We thought it was going to be very easy to change the entire world
– it was all very optimistic when you look back on it!
This optimism has not disappeared: Jackie Huggins still shares it:
I’m not that far cynical to think that nothing’s going to happen. I’m
very optimistic about a lot of things and I live in that hope.
Sam Lee also uses the word ‘hope’:
The great thing about humanity is hope, I think … For humans to
have hope is an incredible feeling.
When our interviewees looked around at the world, they
hope. Like Hannah Middleton, they thought that something was
Like Sue Wills, they thought that it was always worth
‘having a go’. Like Lena Nahlous, they believed that ‘there are lots
of different ways of changing things’. Their participation in
campaigns was ‘exhilarating’, said Sue Wills. They enjoyed it, and
it made them proud.
Hopes can be disappointed, however. Changes can be resisted.
‘Sometimes things don’t work out,’ Lena N ahlous concedes. Nick
Harrigan puts it a little more brutally:
After a while I realised … there were many ways to fuck up a
campaign. And it was … quite incredible, you know, how rarely: the
right combination of things came together.
Anyone involved in political activism has tasted the bitterness of a
political defeat. They have tired of the opportunism of others, and
the drag of lazy comrades. They have seen excitements ebb and
unities fragment. They have despaired of the unreturned phone
calls and the empty meeting rooms. Beverley Symons remembers
the contraction of the peace movement in just these terms:
It sort of went into decline after the Vietnam Moratorium thing
sort of fell away … The whole movement just went into decline,
and people just dropped away in droves, and so the membership
cards, the number of cards came down to one little tiny box, like
with a couple of hundred people in it, or even only a hundred
Contemporary act1v1sts have had other disappointments to
swallow. Rodney Croome, a campaigner for gay and lesbian rights,
grimly notes that Australia has moved ‘straight from complacency
to disillusionment’ over the last few years. Mick Dodson has
sniffed defeat in the battle for Indigenous rights. He has observed
the repression of the Howard government from close up:
If you dissent, you get punished. That’s what they do: they just take
your money away if you’re dependent on it. They are very vindictive
people who are full of hate, and anyone who wants to try to
stand up to their ideology or their philosophy is silenced.
How can the passionate retain their hope amidst such hate? How
can they go on? What can they do? Dodson is unsure. ‘I don’t
bloody know,’ he told us. ‘I’ve got no bloody idea.’
When campaigns fail, it is, indeed, easy to despair. Francesca
Ar_1dreoni, of The Wilderness Society, admits to moments of
You can be thinking, bloody hell, I’m banging my head against a
brick wall, I’m getting nowhere, this is frustniting . . . why am I
doing this? I could just go and work for government or industry for
three times the money, and have three fridges and two cars.
Vince Caughley has had similar worries:
It takes a toll. You just bust your arse, and for me- I’m trying to
work full-time and do all this other stuff- stress and all the. rest of
it does. take its toll. You’ve got to really watch it, sometimes –
demoralisation in particular.
This is the problem of activist ‘burn-out’. Somali Cerise has been
in its grip. Francesca Andreoni has observed it:
There’s a classic, you know, pattern of people going hell for leather
and then burning out and having to leave.
Burn-outs don’t always disappear. Sometimes they change their
views. They become more conservative. The ‘burn-out’ uo:o\..uu.L””
the ‘sell-out’, to stick with the activist vernacular.
Tattersall has seen it happen:
I know a lot of people who went from radical politics to serious
reformism. Like, have done a serious leap right into the heart of the
Labor Party … Like, really radical to really conservative in the Labor
Party, which is often a weird jump. There are people who’ve done
that sort of thing, I think because of frustration: the tactics have
totally failed and, they’ve, in frustration, have shifted dramatically.
None of this is new. Ageing activists have often tiptoed to the
right. In the 1990s, some Women’s Libbers decided that feminism
had died. In the 1950s, it was a group of labour thinkers, who
believed that class divisions were no more. Historian Edward
Thompson has even traced this process back to the 19th century.
When the forces of revolution waned, radical intellectuals rejected
their youthful enthusiasms. Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge went
from dangerous rebel to complacent Tory. Thompson called this
movement ‘apostasy’. He defined it as:
a relapse into received patterns of thought and feeling, often
accompanied by self-mutilation and the immoderate reverse of
attachments (Thompson 1997: 68).
Apostates are everywhere. They throng the government benches
and. ministerial offices. They write admonitory newspaper
columns arid lecture to bored students. They never tire of cataloguing
their mistakes and celebrating their conformism. Why do
they appear? What separates them from those activists who stickwith
the struggle? Why do some maintain hope, while others
plunge into despair? What can social ·movement theory tell us·
about these questions?
SOCIAL MOVEMENT THEORY:
CYCLES, STRUCTURES AND SILENCES
The ebbing of political enthusiasm is familiar to students of social
movements. In the late 1980s Sidney Tarrow developed the
concept of the ‘cycle of protest’ to explain its generality. Tarrow
argued that most campaigns follow a standard curve. Protests do
not fly forth like an arrow, constant and unerring. They come in
waves. They crash and then subside. Every swell is followed by a
break; every victory is clouded by a defeat.
The ‘upswing’ of a cycle begins when radical activists adopt new
and challenging tactics. The brave pioneers create opportunities for
other citizens. Rapidly, they are joined in the field: strikes beget
marches; rallies succeed demonstrations. Collectiv·e action rises to a
thrilling peak. A new world seems possible. The streets are alive.
\ 228 ) Part Two: Movement tensions
But the summer of protest is gloriously brief. Always, an
autumn follows. between activists generates divergence
and disunity. Opposing strategies undermine each other.
Radicals organise acts of escalating violence and extremism. They
club together in sects and cabals. Moderates denounce their erstwhile
comrades. They. shake hands with the establishment.
Stability becomes their new aim, and compromise their prime
virtue. As the movement polarises, the quest for change loses
force. The streets empty. Politics is- bleached of its passion, and
collective action disappears (Tarrow 1989, 1998).1
Tarrow’s theory was based on a close study of -Italian politics
in the 1960s and 1970s, but it has proved perslJ_asive to those
struggling in other climes. Some of our interviewees came to
similar conclusions, quite independently of academic study.
Amanda Tattersall noted the tendency of institutional competition
to increase as the ‘going gets tough’:
If the movement is going well, if it’s got clear boundaries, if it’s
achieving, it knows what it’s doing, it’s got direction, I think that
people have a commitment to put the movement ahead of their
own goals … When the movement is failing, people are far more
Dorothy McRae-McMahon not only realised that protest and
competition change over time; she also offered her own, more
colloquial version of the ‘cycle of protest’:
[We] can track history: it plateaus, and then it starts going down
into some very dark spot, and. the’n it goes ‘bang’, and it rises up
again, and then it plateaus. I think that you can see that …
Other scholars have echoed these formulations. Tarrow’s cycle has
been identified in the 1840s, the 1960s, and just about anytime in
between (Tarrow 1998: Ch. 9; Scalmer 1997). But if its generality
is now accepted, the cycle of protest is still the object of serious
debate. Questions have been asked of a movement’s rise and fall.
Specifically, many have wondered what happens to a movement
Hope and despair \ J
‘between the waves’ of widespread mobilisation. What goes on
during the ‘downswing’ of protest? How are political campaigns
reshaped between the peaks of dramatic visibility?
It is this question that has been answered in the most recent
and challenging studies. Across history and sociology, the
response has been remarkably uniform: a ‘downswing’ is not a
disappearance. A decline isn’t always followed-by a complete and
crushing fall. Those committed souls who remain ‘active in social
movements labour heroically to keep them alive. There are many
things to do. They need to maintain organisations, negotiate with
opponents and formulate new strategies. Someone has to keep the
language of radicalism in use: the talk of ‘sexism’ and ‘injustice’,
of ‘affinity groups’ and ‘united fronts’. There are relationships to
reforge and cultures to strengthen. There are explanations needed:
why have hard times now befallen the movement? How can we do
better next time? There is practical knowledge to pass on, and
. there are dreams to spin.
Feminist historians have just begun to emphasise the importance
of activism ‘between the waves’ (Lake: 1999: 9). Social
movement theorists have come to similar conclusions. David
Snow and Robert Benford (1988) have recently focused on the
‘invisible’ side of social movement activity. Alberto Melucci has
coined a term to describe these activist relationships, the ones
that are vital but hidden. He calls them ‘submerged networks’
(Melucci 1989: 70). Feminist researchers Leila Rupp and Verta
Taylor ( 19 87) have their own label: ‘abeyance structures’. The
variable nomenclature conceals a substantive consensus: activism
in the ‘downswing’ is the foundation of later success. When
protests disappear, dedicated campaigners have even more to do;
when the streets are empty, their contributions become still more
But questions remain. If an ‘abeyance structure’ keeps a movement
alive, what makes someone decide to participate in one? If
‘submerged networks’ are so valuable, why do some activists fall
( 230 ) Part Two: Movement tensions
outside them? What separates the sell-out from the sincere cadre?
It is here that most scholars fall silent. Little interest has been
shown in how activists understand the time they spend ‘between
the waves’. If their actions are now acknowledged as vital, their
motives remain frustratingly opaque. Why do they struggle on?
We know almost nothing about the ‘practical knowledge’ of those
who navigate the spaces between hope and despair.
How do campaigners keep going? What makes them continue,
rebuilding a movement in those grim times between the thrills?
Our interviewees spoke openly of these periods. What they told us
was surprising. It was enough to suggest that ‘practical knowledge’
concerns not only issues such as ‘unity and difference’, or
‘organisation and democracy’. It also concerns the ‘cycle of
protest’. It extends to those perplexing, painful issues of failure
Committed activists manage the tension between hope and
despair. They make sense of political decline in a way that binds
them to the movement and keeps them optimistic about the future.
It is this ability that allows them .to work together in ‘submerged
networks’ and to avoid the temptations of apostasy. Their ability
to ‘stick’ is the function of. a powerful knowledge. What does it
look like? How does it work?
MAKING SENSE OF DECLINE: FIVE PERSPECTIVES
Our informants had no less than five perspectives on political
decline. All of them explained defeat, but avoided despair. They
bolstered activism, and they kept hope alive. These views could be
called: a historical consciousness, a long view, a measured acceptance,
a chaotic sensibility, and an activist identity. Let’s examine
them in sor,ne detail.
Though activists aim to make the future, they are also consumed
with the past. Political dissidents often refer to a ‘golden age’,
Hope and despair 231 )
before tyranny was visited upon them. They remember mythical
origins, canonise great heroes and memorialise founding struggles
(Melucci 1992: 133; Ross, n.d.: 364-65).
Activists cultivate traditions. They participate in ritJJ.als that
celebrate victories and that affirm continuance. There are anniversaries
of convocations and marches, beginnings and losses. Labour
has its Eight-Hour Day and May Day; feminists have International
Women’s Day; pacifists remember Hiroshima Day and Palm
Sunday; Indigenous people mourn Invasion Day, but proclaim
their own survival. These events foster unity and revive the tired.
They mark the passage of time, comrades, loss and laughter. This
is how Michael Woodhouse, former co-convenor of the Gay and
Lesbian Mardi Gras, speaks of Sydney’s famous event:
I think people .have this, they have an emotional connection to
Mardi Gras . . . [E]veryone remembers their first party, everyone
remembers when they came out … or they remember the people
that they used to party with who are now dead.
The emotions can be private:
There’s something which links me personally to my Mardi Gras
and I have my Mardi Gras story, yeah?
At the same time; the experience of connection is collective:
I want to be part of it and I want to make sure it survives, and I
think that’s what people have joined.
These anniversaries are not simply celebrations. They remember
the struggles that have made the present. Veterans have pride of
place. In the 1890s, the Eight-Hour Day parade was always led by
the Eight Hours Pioneers Association, made up of those workers
who had battled for this important industrial right. In 2003, the
Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade adopted a similar form. One
of its leading groups was made up of ‘the ’78ers’ – sturdy veterans
of the violent demonstration for gay rights that founded this now
massive event. Michael Woodhouse thought this ‘a nice symbol’.
( 232 ) Part Two: Movement tensions
It was a means of signalling that this was an ‘inter-generational
organisation’ that sought warm, friendly relations between the old
and the young.
But how does history help when things get tough? Activists
with a sense of history are more confident. They belong to a movement
that extends beyond their last failure and their most immediate
disappointment. They are members of a family. When
Jennifer Stanford recalls her time at an Aboriginal women’s camp,
she emphasises the tight connection between history, belonging
You get laid down your history in that time. You’re meeting
· women of all different ages who can tell everything they’ve done
and every single one of them has done like ten fantastic, amazing
things and they’re just the ones you get to hear about in two days!
And you get to hear about their activism right throughout time,
and how it’s been and how this is the business of Aboriginal
women, that this is a part of women’s business and this is this long
For those who are inducted into a tradition of struggle, defeat is
no longer so lonely or singular. It is a common state, and one that
shall pass. When activists learn of their movement’s history, they
discover that the odds have sometimes been greater, and the situations
more desperate. Impossible victories have been won with
less support. Defeats have been shrugged off with greater ease.
The movement has survived. –
Anti-capital activist Vince Caughley is especially revived by
historical meditation. When his commitment wavers, Vince
remembers the battles of the past:
looking at past struggles in Australia, just the incredible things that
other activists and unionists have done. The things that they’ve
managed to win shows you that it can be done. Like, the early 20th
century, I don’t know, being in a union – just the difficulties that
you’d face, relative to now. I can just … imagine trying to say to an
employer: we want paid leave. You know what I mean? I want to
Hope and despair 233 )
take a holiday and I want you, the boss, to pay for it. How insane
would you have seemed?
Gun-control campaigner Sam Lee makes the same point. The
historically aware can take comfort from those who have gone
Remembering the people that have gone before you and people that
have struggled with a movement where their lives are threatened
there is something comforting about that, and humbling.
A historical perspective humbles activists – but it also inspires
them. It helps them feel secure in their belonging, connected with
their elders, and confident in their beliefs. When a political defeat
threatens, history provides a shield.
Activists are angry. They rail at the world. They demand urgent
change. This is how Bruce Knobloch describes his commitment to
the campaign for refugees:
We need to look at it from the point of view of people detained in
the detention centres. There’s an urgency for us to convince more
people that this situation has got to change …
This human emergency .is what makes direct action legitimate:
I am right to protest, and the level of my protest can never be as
great as the level of criminal policies which you guys [the government]
are wrecking people’s lives with.
At the same time, passions can be ephemeral. Anger can burn out.
Young activists, especially, can move from fury to disaffection
with haste. Bruce has watched this process from up close. After
acts of courage and civil disobedience, some activists:
just go there once and then become demoralised and go ‘Oh well
that didn’t help at all, did it? And now I’ve got a great ‘b ig fi’n e:’ ‘
They leave the movement.
( 234 ) Part Two: Move.ment tensions
Those who avoid quick exits develop a longer view. They learn
that victories do not always come easily. Bruce’s anger at injustice
was eventually deepened by a realisation. He came to understand:
what a long campaign this would be … you know, will continue to be.
Experience brings patience, Hannah Middleton told us. She
emphasised that her long years of struggle for peace had meant
that ‘I’ve got more patient.’ Once, small defeats confused or
wrong-footed her. Now, she has come to a different view:
It’s not the end of the world, you know. It’s much Iess important
than the work we have to do, the way in which we have to build a
protest movement that … will be better organised, better educated
and able to move even more quickly.
Those with a longer view are better able to weather the storm.
They look forward, even when they are disappointed. Francesca
Andreoni feels that one eye on ‘the long term’ keeps her hopeful:
I see social change and· social movements as almost inevitably a
very long-term thing, and something that is messy. It’s never neat.
You there’s never a clear set of steps. As long as parts keep
shifting more or less in the right direction, you’re getting there
incrementally. So I guess I see these wild peaks and troughs that
you’ll have in specific campaigns within that as just part of that
dynamic of slowly shifting to a much broader agenda.
The longer view keeps campaigners struggling, even when that
effort seems unrewarded. It motivates activists to ·undertake the
hard, often boring tasks of political organisation. This is Beverley
Symons’ account of her work in the peace movement:
I think [you need] patience and persistence and just not expecting
to get results overnight … You’ve got to put the effort in, you’ve
got to put months of effort in, sometimes. And what might seem
tedious stuff – actually writing letters and ringing people up and
kind of communicating … [is] gradually building something.
Sometimes you think you’re perhaps not getting anywhere, but
Hope and despair ( 235 )
eventually all those things add up.
Patience and persistence do not make the news. They sound
commonplace, even obvious. They are important, though; They form
part of that reservoir of practical knowledge that helps activists
negotiate political decline and find a way between deep despair and
resurgent hope. The long view keeps the movement alive.
Disappointments hurt. Failures riie. Some activists feel that they
deserve to win every They ‘fight the good fight’: for justice
and against oppression. Who could rightfully deny them?
Our informants have adopted a more considered view. They
had come to a measured acceptance of political.defeats. Francesca
Andreoni feels that ‘there’s no getting away from it’. Rather than
resisting the decline of protest, she feels that activists need to come
to terms with it. The best thing a campaigner can do is:
accept and be comfortable with the fact that there are peaks and
troughs in a campaign cycle.
Hannah Middleton agreed:
I think we have to be realistic, and say, ‘All right, if something is
ebbing, accept what people say.’
Many campaigns have a natural life-cycle. No matter how much
you try, momentum will elude you. Beverley Symons is sadly
familiar with this situation:
Some things you can’t do anything about … because it’s politics
beyond your you know, it’s just things, issues and then
subside. I mean you could work your guts out for, you know, two
years … but you might as well save your breath. If the politics has
moved on, you can’t really do anything about it.
In other words, there is little point in moaning, and still less in
recriminations. When groups or publications die, it might be a
( 236 ) Part -Two: Movement tensions
good thing. A flagging campaign might be an opportunity: finally,
campaigners might be able to catch their breath.
The language of social movement theory speaks of upswings
and downswings. The former are climactic, exciting and important:
The latter are merely the mornings after. This was an orthodoxy
that many of our informants rejected. Nick Harrigan, a
student activist, was one:
It should not just be seen as upturns and downturns. It should also
be seen as opportunities for particular types of_activism, particular
types of organising.
In the downswings, there is much to do. Vince Caughley feels that
it is time to discuss, educate, and read. Hannah Middleton has
more time to nurture contacts, research and produce publications
and establish comprehensive databases. Francesca Andreoni grabs
the time to rest and regroup. They participate in ‘submerged
networks’. They keep the struggle alive.
Measured acceptance of political defeat steadies the uncertain.
It makes the life of an activist considerably easier. Our interviewees
have come to realise that they don’t need to do everything.
There is no need to panic.
Certainly, Dorothy McRae-McMahon is still conscious of the
pressure to win. She worries about all the work that needs to be done:
You think, Oh heavens, i/ we don’t do it today, we mightn’t ever
do it, or it won’t happen, or something. And so you live with that
tensiort of the pulling of the cause all the time.
But Dorothy’s experience of struggle has taught her to manage such
tension. She now accepts that some tasks will go uncompleted.
Some questions will·be unanswered, some· hopes unfulfilled:
What I’ve now learnt in the wiser, older age is to respect yourself,
and that you’ll be much more useful to people, and to change, if
you take time out and look after yourself a bit.
Those who look after themselves refuse to be martyrs. They
Hope and despair \ 237 )
understand their place in the movement – and the world, too.
I am actually a minute speck in this universe … but basically the
next generation will go on when I drop off, and I don’t have to do
it all. And ultimately I won’t be able to, anyway!
Mature activists face disappointment squarely. They accept its
inevitability, smile, roll up their sleeves, and get down to work.
Their stoicism is surprising, as well as admirable. It allows them
to keep their heads when things become difficult, and to maintain
their commitment to the cause:
Who can we thank for this success? Who stuffed up and caused
our plans to go awry? Activists often ask themselves these questions.
Like most of us, they privilege the role of human actions: if
something has gone wrong, there is someone to blame; if a victory
has been gained, there are laurels to disperse.
Sociologist Doowon Suh noticed this process in his recent
study of trade unions in South Korea (2001). Specifically, heidentified
a phenomenon that could best be labelled ‘pseudosuccess’.
What does it mean? Trade unionists have often claimed the credit
for victories that had little to do with their own efforts. They have
celebrated shrewd strategies and lauded canny tactical gambits. In
reality, political opportunities had simply shifted, and the conditions
for collective gains had become more propitious. Brilliant
generalship had little do with it.
Sometimes, it is blame that is unfairly distributed. Activists
charge others with responsibility for a failure, or take it upon
themselves. They search for someone who can take the rap. This
is the path towards frustration or apostasy: if my plans are not
working, maybe I should reject them; if my expectations can’t be
fulfilled, perhaps they should be abandoned. I can leave the Party,
join another, listen to a new leader – someone else who promises
me a fresh approach and a better way.
\ – I – –.
Our interviewees have avoided these snares.· They realise that
failures aren’t always somebody’s fault. The strategy can be ingenious,
and yet the failure is swift; the tactics may be brilliant, but
victory remains elusive. Bruce Knobloch puts· it succinctly:
It’s not always a question of saying, ‘What have we done wrong?’
It can be, ‘Well, things have changed in a way we didn’t expect, and
it’s made our job much harder (or easier).’
Lena Nahlous feels that she has come to understand this more
over the past few years. Increasingly, she feels less responsible for
campaigns that don’t live up to her hopes:
I’ve been learning to let things go . . . not trying to own things
personally. Sometimes things don’t work out and you can’t force
change, or create collectives -things .need to happen organically,
otherwise it wouldn’t be a real movement.
What does it mean to feel that politics cannot be controlled? What
difference does it make if you admit that your strategy does not
explain everything? First, it lifts the burden of responsibility from
the activist. There is less cause for self-flagellation, sleepless nights
or guilty confessions. The days become brighter, and the weight of
Second, it ·is cause for hope. If political struggle has a random
quality, then anything might happen. If social progress cannot be
. predicted, then neither can decline. There may be instability,
rather than dull persistence: mobilisations that shake the world,
changes that astound and delight. As Nick Harrigan enthuses:
There’s a big chance that you’re going to get it wrong. And your
guess is as good as anyone else’s. If you looked at the past, you
wouldn’t have predicted May ’68 in France – that a bunch of
students could take over the Student Union, spend the entire money
reprinting the Situationists’ Poverty of Student Life, blow the
budget on that, and be part of the core of the biggest general strike
in history in a developed country. I mean that’s a pretty low-probability
tactic! I don’t think anyone would have really predicted it!
Hupc: unu Ueiipuzr \ .C.::J7 1
Victories can emerge from failures. Declines can, quite suddenly,
be interrupted by success. As Beverley Symons puts it:
You. will never turn some things into a mass movement … it just
won’t capture the public imagination. Whereas some other issue
might suddenly pop up, and blow me down, you know, there’s
people out in the streets about it. Like, you just never know.
Politics is a funny thing.
Though politics is chaotic, there is no need for despair. We don’t
need to wait for the situation to improve, or for the cycle of
protest to begin its upward swing. Like the Refugee Action
Coalition (RAC), we can protest, even when times are tough.
Bruce Knobloch suggests that RAC will occasionally organise
actions, irrespective of the prevailing environment. They’ll say,
‘Well, on this day, we’re going to do this for this reason, even if
nothing else is going on.’
A chaotic sensibility lifts the burden of disappointment from
activists. It keeps campaigners hopeful. Maybe a success is around
the corner? Perhaps it is upon us?
Political struggle transforms. Go to enough meetings and you look
forward to them; participate in enough campaigns and you begin
to think of yourself as an ‘activist’. Work for a political organisation
and you have the beginnings of an ‘activist career’ (Passy &
Political involvement is central to the self-definition of most of
those we spoke with. It gives their lives meaning and worth. As
Amanda Tattersall admits:
I’ve always been involved. I’ve built my life around it now, it’s
become part of me.
This means that Amanda’s fundamental commitment is rarely
shaken. Even in moments of profound disappointment, she
( 240 ) Part Two: Movement tensions
question[s] my politics so much … I haven’t had that experience
where I’ve gone and questioned the fundamental basis of my politics.
Indeed she finds it difficult to understand why erstwhile comrades
sometimes drop away:
In some ways it’s hard to sort of empathise … with people who’ve
had only a peripheral engagement. I’ve got friends who only do
stuff peripherally. I don’t know why they don’t do more. Because
they have a life, probably! They have other interests.
‘Activists’ are protected from temporary failure. They are what
they do, even if it isn’t working right now. They will stay the
course. Aboriginal activist Jennifer Stanford this point with
a dejected frankness:
I don’t feel like I can change stuff. I just think it’s your iob to do
the best you can and to try.
But how are activist identities created? How are they talked into
Most of our interviewees presented political involvement as
essential to their lives. They told life-stories in which activism
flowed directly from their birth. It was to their first steps.
Take Jennifer Stanford. Activism is at the very heart of her identity
as an Aboriginal woman. It is ‘natural’:
Probably it just seems a natural development through getting more
involved with my community as I grew up and having activism
around me all the time. It just becomes more normalised into your.
life because everyone around you is an activist and is doing stuff to
change things. And it’s like everyone’s got their own little mish
Or as she puts it later:
You know what to do about social injustice, because everybody’s
doing it. Everybody’s talking abo1;1t it, people are arguing about it,
it’s very natural. Activism has become incorporated into our
Hope and despair \ :l41 J
This narrative suggests that there is no choice. ‘I didn’t first
become involved, I don’t think,’ Hannah Middleton emphasised,
‘I grew up with it.’ Vince Caughley, too, felt that his ‘predisposition’
grew directly from his family tree. Francesca Andreoni
recalls an equivalent process:
As an Italian family … you talk about it at breakfast. You know,
politics is a very active, day-to-day part of your life.
Some of our informants remembered less pleasant early experiences.
Happy Ho recalled racist taunts at school; Somali Cerise
remembered patriarchy at home. The commonalities that link
these narratives outweigh their differences, though.
All these stories tell of the of an activist. They emphasise
a tight connection between early life and politics. Struggle is
presented as essential to subjectivity. A life outside politics is relegated
to the footnotes; the main narrative is saturated in the sticky
mess of activism. In this way, the continuation of struggle is not
presented as a choice. It- is more like fate, a way of being in the
world. The question ‘Should I become involved?’ is never posed.
Equally, the question ‘Should I leave?’ is nonsensical.
Commitment is unwavering.
Our interviewees also had other ways of presenting their lives
and their activism. Some people we spoke with· talked of their
political involvement as a new beginning, or a rebirth. It marked
the recreation of their character in some way. It helped make them
stronger and happier people.
Lena Nahlous spent her first year at Sydney University disconnected
I had no relationship to the people in there. I couldn’t relate to
them. I felt really out of place.
It was when Lena worked on the magazine Collage, and met up
with others from non-English speaking backgrounds, that she
managed to forge genuine and meaningful relationships:
( 242 ) Part Two: Movemeni tensions
It was like the first time that I’d connected with other people, and
I got a lot from that.
Political involvement opened a new world for her. She met her_ lifepartner,
found her skills recognised, and felt her confidence grow.
Lena’s life changed. Today, she works to provide cultural opportunities
to the people of western Sydney. She feels a skilled and
I know that I’m a good organiser, and that I’ve been able to facilitate
things that have really made a difference to people and
communities … I’ve seen that happen.
Activism has transformed her life.
Amanda Tattersall was also troubled and disrupted in her first
years of university study. Politics was the way out. It gave her life
purpose and her talents an outlet. Activism pulled her upwards:
Trying to put my life back together, it was not the easiest thing. You
know! … The thing that really pulled me out, I reckon, was that I
started to increase my involvement in student activism.
In these accounts, ‘activism’ was a catalyst. It changed the individual,
and creat.ed a better life. Lena and Amanda told us that political
involvement had expanded their worlds. If their stories are· convincing,
then their involvement is unsurprising. By explaining their lives in this
way, they make the decision to stay simple one. Why would
you stop doing something that is good for you? Why would you reject
the force that has transformed your life and made it happier?
The ‘activism as catalyst’ story was reworked in many ways.
Sometimes it was expressed in a more abstract, less personal form.
When Rodney Croome told us of his political career, he emphasised
intellectual themes and rather abstract forces. For him,
activism was a kind of ‘intellectual catalyst’. Activist knowledge
had changed his life because it had resolved a philosophical crisis.
It led him to a deeper wisdom, and a more complex, optimistic
view of the world.
Rodney’s story began with reading. He was nourished on the
‘Enlightenment ideals’ of a liberal education, but then shocked to
encounter Orwell’s portrait of totalitarianism, 1984. Its impact was
powerful. Rodney’s faith in the future was dented. Now, modernity
seemed to end in the hellish brainwashing of ‘Room 101’:
It all tended there. If we were all slates, as Locke had maintained
– for him it was a positive thing, it led to a great optimism
. . . but to me, . after reading Orwell, it created nothing but
pessimism because I thought [that] if the state can acquire a high
level of power it can write whatever it wants on us. Is there any
way around that?
He was plunged into a dark despair.
Here Rodney’s contact with the environmental movement
acted as an inspiration. Through wider reading, he eventually
latched onto the green principle of ‘intrinsic value’. This provided
him with a kind of salvation. The belief that every tree, every
animal and every human being possessed some intrinsic value
(regardless of economic, aesthetic or personal worth) ·offered a
path away from pessimism and towards hope. It suggested that we
are more than what is written upon us. It thereby gave Rodney a
Rodney holds to this principle still. It underpins his belief in
politics. Intrinsic value can:
rescue us from the possibility of, in Orwell’s phrase, there always
being a jackboot on a human face.
Rodney’s life-story was complex, wordy, and mediated. Whether
our interviewees’ ‘activist identity’ was intricate or simple, it had
significant implications for all of those we spoke with.
An ‘activist identity’ was a shield against political stress. The
self-understanding of our interviewees gave them political security.
At times, many of them had done things that clashed with the archetype
of the ‘committed campaigner’. Some had dropped out of
involvement for a year or more. Others had jumped from one
( 244 ) Part Two: Movement tensions
campaign to another. Some had joined the bureaucracy for a period.
Without ‘activist identities’, they might have wandered towards
apostasy. Because they thought of themselves as ‘activists’,.
this was never likely. Our informants explained these dec1s10ns as
positive acts, not shameful departures. They felt that choices
made them better, more reliable campaigners. They stayed mvolved
in movements for change, and proved that this was so.
When our interviewees took time away from direct political
involvement, they were quite adamant that this was not a wavering.
On the q:mtrary, they thought it sensible. Secure in her status
as an ‘activist’, Amanda Tattersall thought ‘time out’ increased her
stamina. Jennifer Stanford felt that it kept her going.
When our interviewees left active participation in one movement
and then joined another, this was not apostasy. It was a new
outlet for struggle, a fresh vehicle for <;:ampaigning. Somali Cerise
was certain that her move from the ‘Reclaim the Night’ march to
the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby was a positive one. It revived
I was feeling really burnt out, so the timing was really good and it
did actually reinvigorate me.
Finally those of our interviewees who spent time in the bureaucracy
convinced that this did not mean they had ‘sold out’·
It meant they were pursuing change in a new forum. Anne
Summers had collaborated with official politics more than anyone
else we spoke with. She worked as an adviser to Prime Mi_nister
Paul Keating and ran the Office for the Status of Women m
federal bureaucracy. She is quite candid about the shift that th1s
I had a much more pragmatic apprmich in that job than I would
ever have dreamt I was capable of years ago. I would have despised
myself probably 10 years earlier.
At the same time, Anne’s life story 1s built around consistent
__ …..,.!:’- -·–r —- \ – – 1
commitment. She believes that her time in the Office continued to
represent a form of activism. It was an expression of her underlying
quest for effective change:
But I think that -I suppose one of the things that I’ve always· done
in my life was to adapt myself to what I think are the circumstances
of what I’m doing in order to be effective. And you know I do like
to think that I was quite effective during that time and we got some
important things done – very few of [these] have survived, but we
did have a good time. ·
Our interviewees traversed very different paths. Some came from
middle-class backgrounds; others identified strongly as working
class. They were Anglo and Lebanese, Asian and Aboriginal,
famous and unknown, old and young. Their life-stories were
united around the importance of politics. They told us, unhesitatingly,
that activism was central to who they were. Their efforts
were not a playful indulgence; they were the main game. Take
away political involvement, and who knows what would be left?
HOPE, DESPAIR AND· ACTIVIST KNOWLEDGE
Some citizens give up their weekends and evenings for a political
cause. They make placards and stand on roadsides, compose resolutions
and distribute loud-hailers. Late at night, they worry about
hiring halls. At breakfast time, they participate in phone trees.
No one works for a lost cause. Activists hope that the world
can be changed. They believe that their efforts can inspire others
and build a movement. They hunger for thronging crowds and
government concessions. They live for the exhilaration of political
Sometimes, they win victories. All our interviewees could
recall thrilling moments of success. Mick Dodson was proud ·of
what the movement for Aboriginal rights had achieved:
We’ve got organisations that are funded now to help with health,
housing, education and that are community-run organisations that
( 246 ) Part Two: Movement tensions
deal with a whole range of social and other issues in the community.
And even though they· get a meagre amount of money, there
was nothing before we started struggling, before we got up and
started fighting for them.
Sue Wills also smiled when she considered the victories of the
feminist and lesbian movements:
There are people who say, ‘There’s no point in trying to change this
or change that, because … they won’t let us.’ When I think back, I
think that’s not true. If I think back to the early seventies, if anyone
had said, ‘This will transform the way that Australian politics and
society thinks about women and homosexuals’, we’d have said,
‘You’re pulling our leg.’ But it happened. · .
There have been numerous victories. Australian troops were
pulled out of Vietnam. Forests have been saved and strikes won.
Government policies been reversed, and new programs have
been established. Cultural expectations have been recast.
And yet, the taste of success is tantalisingly brief. Most activists
spend their time in a dull and difficult routine. They coordinate
meetings, unsure of how many will attend. They organise demonstrations,
doubtful if the media will bother to report the turnout.
Disappointments are frequent. Protests peter out. Comrades throw
in the towel. Despair lurks at the edges of the mind.
What keeps an activist going? Why do some campaigners stay
motivated in the lean times, between the thrills? Those who maintain
their enthusiasm are not simply more committed. They
possess a deeper knowledge. Most of our interviewees had developed
a quite complex view of the rise and fall of political movements.
It was this knowledge that kept their spirits strong and
their confidence high. It made them optimistic that change was
possible, and it helped them manage the tension between despair
and hope. What was this knowledge? What did it look like?
·To summarise, our interviewees had five distinct perspectives
on political defeat. All of them explained decline, but avoided
Hope and despair ( 247 )
despair. They bolstered activism, and they kept hope alive.
The first was a historical consciousness: an awareness of the
difficult times that movements had faced in the past, a pride in
their victories, and an identification with their traditions·. Those
activists who· were historically aware were able to shrug off disappointments
and take comfort in the idea that past obstacles had
been surmounted, and past successes gained. Knowledge of the
past was a shield against despair and a cause for hope.
The second perspective was a long view. This was a realisation
that change was a long-term project in which temporary setbacks
were inevitable. It nurtured patience in the grim periods, and the
ability to withstand moments of disappointment and decline.
Third, some activists displayed a measured acceptance of political
defeat. This view suggested that there was little point worrying
about empty streets or declining campaigns. It was recognised
that downswings in the cycle of protest could· sometimes be useful
for activists – they provided opportunities for different kinds of . .
movement work, and valuable time for rest and recuperation.
They possessed their own logic, and their own virtues.
Fourth, a chaotic sensibility was sometimes used to help activists
come to grips with those moments when a campaign declined. This
was a perspective that emphasised the randomness of political life
and the impossibility of prediction. If chaos was inevitable, activists
could feel less responsible for periods of comparative quiescence.
They could also feel optimistic that the forces of change would
never be defeated. No situation was irredeemable; success would
arrive precisely when it was least expected.
Finally and most importantly, many of our interviewees established
an activist identity as a way of coping with temporary
despair. These informants explained their lives in a. way that foregrounded
political activism. They told stories that emphasised
the naturalness of their political involvement, or tb.at b.igb.-
lighted the catalytic and transformative power of activist
struggle. These stories displaced the question of ‘success’ and
( 248 ) Part Two: Movement tensions
‘failure’. Participation was presented as a personally valuable
experience. If the streets were full, that was good. But full or
empty, activism seemed to be a worthwhile, even pleasurable
endeavour. It gave the lives of our informants meaning. It was
into their being. It could not be sloughed off, even: when
hard times seemed to loom.
None of these perspectives were mutually exclusive. Nick
Harrigan thought movements chaotic, but also considered himself
an activist. Beverley Symons was historically aware, but also
accepting of temporary decline. The perspectives of our interviewees
multiplied quickly: they were always looking back at history,
;tccepting failures, remembering the long term, telling us about
their lives, or celebrating the power of chaos.
These words contained a powerful knowledge. In preserving
hope, they maintained the movement. In explaining defeat, they
·allowed enthusiasms to linger. They helped activists negotiate the
difficult times, and thereby allowed the quest for change to go on.
This book began with a history lesson, a tribute and a criticism.
First, we explained how ‘social movements’ had become the object
of academic interest. Second, we expressed our admiration for the
growing depth and complexity of social movement studies. Third,
we suggested that this complexity had come at a price. Theories
had become increasingly difficult and remote; now, they largely
ignored tactical imperatives. The practical questions raised by
activists were routinely translated into abstract theoretical
puzzles. Few campaigners cared about academic scholarship, or
bothered to read it. Theory and practice had become detached.
Would Activist Wisdom be any different? Yes, we promised, it
would rep.resent a fresh approach to social movements. This book
would avoid the customary divisions that structured most theoretical
discussions. It would not consciously adhere to ‘European’ or
‘American’ schools of study. Instead, we would try to adopt a
more eclectic and pluralistic approach. Not only that, but we
would also try to answer some of the most pressing questions that
political activists posed of their own practice. Our chapters would
not refer to familiar academic categories. They would reflect the
problems that activists complained of, and the tensions they struggled
to resolve. Finally, our book would take activist knowledge
very seriously. We would not attempt to teach political campaignMade
Under Part VB of the Copyright f\ct ‘1968 l
in reliance on (circle one of the following)·\
on .. 2.:9. ..1 …. :..?.-: … .t ………
17. Epilogue: rules for reformers
Paul ‘t Hart
From imperatives to lessons
There is a widespread need for adaptation, change and even ‘paradigm shifts’ in
the way societies are governed and how their governments organise themselves.
Many contributions to this volume highlight this need. Let us look at some of
the main drivers.
Citizens, companies and governments everywhere are, first of all, trying to come
to terms with the true implications of the information age. The boardroom and
street-level consequences of life in the information society are challenging the
system-level architecture of governance. Technologically driven possibilities
and culturally embedded expectations now demand that governments follow
corporations and engage in mass customisation-responsive, real-time and
holistic service delivery. An example in Australia is the ‘Government 2.0
Taskforce’ focused specifically on the implications of the digital revolution for
government. Its clarion call for reform is loud and clear: ‘Leadership and policy
and governance changes are needed to: shift public sector culture and practice
to make government information more accessible and usable; make government
more consultative, participatory and transparent; build a culture of online
innovation within Government; and promote collaboration across agencies’
( <http:jjgov2.net.aujreportj> ). The drivers of this development are not going
to go away, and governments that lag behind in adapting to them effectively
diminish their country’s or region’s international competitiveness and quality
In addition; governments are called on to adapt to an age in which their
public authority has become more dependent than ever upon their capacity to
‘deliver’. As predicted a century ago by German sociologist Max Weber (1978),
contemporary society is one in which tradition, mysticism and even charisma
simply do not cut it as foundational principles for state power and legitimacy.
Democratic mandates today are more conditional and fleeting than ever before.
We live in the age of value for money. In a value-for-money environment, citizens
take the rule of law and the democratic authenticity of the state largely for
granted (ignoring their fundamental value and precariousness). Instead, they
judge their rulers on their perceived contribution to their own prosperity and
wellbeing. Public leadership in such a world becomes entirely transactional.
17. Epilogue: rules for reformers
What follows is unabashed advice and exhortation addressed to a hypothetical
‘leader’ within or outside government who finds him or herself in the middle
of a policy sector in which ‘reform’ is on the agenda. What, on the basis of
this volume, should they ‘need to know’ about the challenges involved in
developing and entrenching reform in the public sector? What, in ·other words,
are the ‘rules of reform’ that reform proponents (and indeed opponents) can
ignore only at their peril?
Rules for reading the context of reform
No pain, no reform
Do not expect to gain traction on reforms when most people feel the status quo
is not so bad at all. When you do, the perceived costs of reform-uncertainty,
adjustment, enforcement-can all too easily be construed by your opponents
as not being worth the potential gains. Tackling complacency comes before
everything else. Raise the public salience of change by demonstrating how
intolerable present arrangements and practices really are. Give ample voice
to those who feel the pain of the present and to those who can communicate
authoritatively what future pain will result in the absence of reforms.
Do not let a Jgood’ crisis go to waste
Avoid the temptation to switch to reactive, defensive, firefighting mode when
a major, unexpected ‘shock to the system’-a major incident, a damning set
of numbers, a media feeding frenzy, a geopolitical surprise-presents itself on
your watch. History rewards those who have the capability to understand and
interpret the crisis of the day to underpin hitherto infeasible attitude and policy
changes. Be prepared to err on the risk of exaggeration in (re)framing crises if
the strategic opportunities for breaking existing policy deadlocks they present
are worth it. ‘Turning up the heat’ is a sine qua non of reformist leadership,
and unscheduled adversity provides a rare opportunity to do so without
overspending your political capital.
Have your bottom drawer well stocked
When a sense of crisis takes hold and discredits the legitimacy of the status
quo, the public is ripe for new ideas that hold the promise of moving them
towards a better future. But the pressure-cooker of crisis management is
hardly the time to start thinking up such ideas-that needs to have been done
1 7. Epilogue: rules for reformers
by people who are fooled into thinking they benefit from it. You do not have
to go as far as to fully embrace Machiavelli’s assertion that it is better for a
ruler to be feared than loved. But you still need to be prepared for pushbackanticipate
it, wear it gracefully but resolutely, and most of all find ways to keep
talking meaningfully to reform opponents.
Reform zeal without analysis is bound to end in tears
Never forget that the burden of proof is always on the reformer; you need to
be able and willing to articulate the implicit theory of behavioural change that
underpins your reform vision (and encourage it to be tested as much as possible
before it is put into wholesale practice). If you do not have the killing arguments,
do not expect to be able to persuade anyone. And if you do not have the power
to persuade, do not expect to make reform happen by brutal imposition in any
except the direst circumstances (for example, war and violent conflict, acute
fiscal crisis, systemic breakdowns, popular revolts). Kevin Rudd learned this
the hard way; he failed to persuade on climate change and he failed even to try
to persuade on the resource super profits tax. Crucial to the power to persuade
are impeccable analysis and compelling narratives. Let us look at each of them
Holistic analysis rather than expert monopolies
Too often reformers focus their mental energy ·on bolstering their preferred
interventions in one particular area instead of methodically working through
how they stem from and will impact upon the larger system in which they are
embedded. This gets you nowhere.
Developing truly ‘killing’ reform arguments requires an investment in holistic
analysis-in particular, in systems thinking. You need to know the system that
you propose to reform inside and out-all of it, not just a particular part of it.
Water reform cannot succeed without a systemic analysis of natural-resources
management. Traffic congestion cannot be tackled without a systemic analysis
of urbanisation. Hospital reform cannot succeed without a systemic analysis of
And you should never forget that key knowledge of the intricacies of any
system does not reside exclusively at the top or within government. The task
of underpinning reforms cannot be left to government economists, lawyers and
technical specialists just because the Public Ser:vice happens to be full of them.
Your role is to make sure that the expertise of multiple professions, government
insiders and outsiders, and strategic thinkers is brought to bear in a rigorous
17. Epilogue: rules for reformers
Though both Hawke and Keating entertained tiber-romantic visions of
themselves as strong leaders, they were smart enough to realise that the kind of
economic transformation of Australia they envisaged would not work without
coopting organised labour and, to some extent, the big end of town into codetermining
the pace and shape of the reform process. Backstage diplomacy is as
vital-and often even more vital-in building support for reforms as front-stage
dramaturgy. To use a military analogy: the wars to reduce smoking and make
Victoria’s roads the safest in the country described in this volume were not won
by public-sector equivalents of the charismatic general of the Montgomery and
Patton kind; they were won by persistent coalition building in the Eisenhower
and Marshall mould.
Grand plans are not the only way to package reform
Grand ambitions do not necessarily require a ‘crash, or crash through’ approach
to achieve all targets in one fell swoop. In fact, the big-bang approach can create
such levels of uncertainty, fear and resistance that it can be its own undoingas
Gough Whitlam found out at fatal cost. Even Roger Douglas-hardly a patsy
.when it came to taking political risks in the service of reform-sometimes
used salami tactics and patience to work through sticky points during lengthy
deliberations. Grand designs are always high on lofty but abstract promises yet
low on specifics and therefore prone to peter out in implementation. Those grand
reforms that are more concrete–such as Jeff Kennett’s privatisation agenda
in Victoria in the early 1990s, or the Al Gore-led ‘reinventing government’
operations in the US federal bureaucracy under Bill Clinton-also invite big
opposition. Kennett fought his way through, but more often than not, political
sponsors are jittery when it comes to spending political capital on grand reforms
that run into headwinds. They need it more badly on the big-ticket substantive
policy struggles of the day. Or they simply lose interest when they realise that
there are no votes in the reforms that are on the table.
When political backing is sporadic and inconsistent, a piecemeal, seemingly
technical reform approach is not such a bad choice. It allows for proceeding
much more unobtrusively and therefore less controversially. Charles Lindblomcited
by various of our experts in this volume–was fundamentally right that
small, mutually reinforcing changes when maintained and accumulated over a
period can get you a long way away from the status quo. His ploy-smuggling
in successive incremental change–fits the reality of public policy making in
democratic systems a lot better than the raw energy ofWhitlamesque ‘programs’
and ‘duumvirates’, which inevitably entice reformers to try too much too soon.
17. Epilogue: rules for reformers
institutions), scope (the range of policy areas covered) and membership. Creating
bandwagons and packages to overcome impasse and circumvent veto power has
been vital to this success every step of the way. They are the best possible ways
of sharing the gains as well as splitting and trading the pains of reform.
Rules for making reforms stick
A mm1mum winning coalition is not good enough
Few if any contemporary democracies are constitutionally wired in the way New
Zealand was during its last great reform period of 1984-90. The name of most
public-policy games is dispersed power, not executive dominance. Reformers
who think they can simply impose big changes once they are adopted in cabinets
or legislatures will find themselves forced into humiliating backdowns and
u-turns. Reformers who rely on the smallest of possible coalitions and ignore
the other 49 per cent set themselves up for relentless rearguard battles during
implementation and quite likely for outright policy reversals once they lose the
power to impose.
The long-term viability of reforms is greatly enhanced when the coalition that
is carrying it is ‘oversized’. If this can be achieved only at the price of some of
the ideological purity of the original reform philosophy then so be it. You will
need the broad support base to withstand the forces of reaction that will seek to
undermine the reform process. You will need to embed the reform momentum
as widely as possible within the government bureaucracy-pivotally including
the central agencies-so as to make its memory, diligence and paradoxically
its inertia work for rather than against the integrity and continuity of already
Just because they are big achievements does not
mean reforms succeed
Therefore, winning the battle to get them designed and adopted is a necessary
but not a sufficient step to make reforms work and to make them last. Reforms
are wars not battles. When you do not attend to their implementation and
long-term maintenance, do not expect them to deliver the goods. When their
implementation is ill designed and under managed, their negative unintended
consequences end up dwarfing those that were aimed and planned for. Wellintended
reforms can easily end up looking like ‘fatal remedies’ (Gillon 2000;
Sieber 1981). Reform opponents seize their chance to fight back, sabotage and
twist the process of putting intentions into action.
17. Epilogue: rule’s for reformers
This ‘memo’ has summed up what I think our current knowledge about reforms
allows us to convey to reformers and stakeholders in reform processes. It is
up to them to explore how they can make some or ideally all of these lessons
work for them. This will no doubt include exploring the potential tensions
between these various imperatives. After all, the craft of reformist leadership
is an art, not a science. The rules of experience provided above do not make a
cookbook, nor could such a book ever be written. In most instances, there are
multiple potentially passable paths to reform. There will always remain a need
for situation-specific judgments and intuitions about the what, when and how
of going down one or the other road-and when to reassess that choice.
To inform those judgments as well as possible, however, it is important that
institutions such as ANZSOG keep documenting the experiences and views of
those who have already travelled the road of reform, and that public-policy
academics in Australia and New Zealand step up their efforts to conduct the
methodical, comparative and longitudinal research into reform dynamics that is
essential to putting these practitioner tales into a broader perspective. To begin
with, ANZSOG should make it part of its mission to hold a major ‘learning from
experience and research’ conference on public-sector reform every five years
to create a platform where both types of insights can be aired, compared and
Gillon, S.M. 2000, ‘That’s Not What We Meant To Do’: Reform and its unintended
consequences in twentieth century America, W. & W. Norton, New York.
Goldfinch, S. 2000, Remaking New Zealand and Australian Economic Policy: Ideas,
institutions and policy communities, Victoria University Press, Wellington.
Patashnik, E. 2008, Reforms at Risk, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Sieber, S. D. 1981, Fatal Remedies: The ironies of social intervention, Plenum
Press, New York.
Thaler, R. and Sunstein, C. 2008, Nudge: Improving decisions about health,
wealth, and happiness, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.
Weber, M. 1978, Economy and Society: An outline of interpretive sociology,
University of California Press, Berkeley.