Environmental problems are usually not tackled with path-departing policies but rather with incrementally adjusted or unchanged policies. One way to address incremental change is the policy feedback approach, which initially focussed on self-reinforcing feedback and path-dependency. Today, self-undermining feedback is also increasingly being studied, centring on agency and change. However, it is unclear precisely how actors use power in policy feedback processes. Therefore, this study applied a power perspective and the policy arrangement approach to a case study of the reorientation towards a circular economy in Dutch wastewater policy between 2008 and 2018, which resulted in incremental instead of fundamental policy change. Here it was observed that self-undermining feedback was generated from 2008 onwards but the balance quickly shifted back to self-reinforcing feedback, indicating that the analysed power struggles led to incremental change. These dynamics resemble a shift from the so-called paths and forks (i.e. fork in the road) towards the boomerang pattern (i.e. returning to its original position) of policy change. The patterns are explained by focussing on powerful actors that resist change through the use of incremental reforms, the ongoing struggles of these actors in facilitating self-reinforcing feedback and the role of interpretation in using feedback as a resource. Overall, this study provides a nuanced understanding of incremental change by directing attention to the power struggles of actors in policy feedback processes. For practitioners, the study emphasises the importance of power struggles in enabling a circular economy.
- Circular economy
- Policy feedback