chapter  10
20 Pages

Interest group policy capacities

Introduction For many scholars, the attraction of studying interest groups is that they attempt to exert influence on public policy. Indeed, one core element of definitions of interest groups is that they seek to shape or influence public policy (Jordan et al. 2004). But what does the discussion of organizational form (and its adaptation and evolution) have to add or contribute to questions of policy influence? The answer to this question comes in two parts and is elaborated in this chapter. The first part of the answer is it depends on how one conceives of the ‘task’ of group influence. I take issue with the dominant (and I argue, narrow) conception of lobbying as ‘influence’. I suggest that a focus on outright influence has painted an image of group policy engagement as a straightforward pursuit of control over specific decisions (or non-decisions). The recent resurgence of attempts to measure preference attainment on a specific policy issue has encouraged this view even further. From this perspective, organizational factors seem of only remote interest – perhaps reduced to a proxy like resources. By contrast, I suggest that lobbying by groups is best conceived as diverse policy work, which in turn provides more space to recognize the importance of organizational form as a key variable. Second, and building on this initial observation, I argue a focus on a concept like group ‘policy capacity’ is a productive way to play-in the impact of organizational form on the preparedness for groups to engage in policy work (and concerns with influence). The approach here is that resources alone are not enough; they have to be purposefully utilized by groups to generate specific capacities. The concept of policy capacity is a neat way to capture the way the policy work of interest groups is in some way contingent on organizational design issues. Resource levels alone do not tell us about the capabilities groups possess; groups must decide how to put these to use and develop what they see as important abilities. Thus by examining group capacities we probe how fit they are for specific forms of policy work, which has an obvious organizational context. This concept of policy capacity is embedded in much group and public policy literature and I attempt to surface it and package it up for use.