Multi-Level Governance, Transport Policy and Carbon Emissions Management

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Institute for Transport Studies


The Climate Change Act (2008) places a legally binding requirement on the UK Government to set targets and report on progress on climate change emission reductions. The transport sector contributes one-third of total UK emissions and is the most difficult sector in which to cut emissions.

The research project examines whether and how governance structures make a difference to policy effectiveness (design and delivery) and accountability within the field of carbon emissions management and the transport sector. The research is theoretically-informed and considers the extent to which Multi-Level Governance and related tools can shed light on structures and processes that are not understood and which are crucial in the delivery chain. It is particularly appropriate due to the complex interplay of policies in carbon management for transport across six spatial levels and the many non-governmental public bodies and private sector delivery agencies involved in transport.

Recent developments underline the growing importance of the study in both empirical and theoretical terms. The Government is seeking to achieve more for less and this research focuses on how to deliver more efficient outputs and outcomes. The abolition of regional government in England and the establishment of Local Economic Partnerships predicated on economic growth provides an exciting case study of governance reform at a time of greater local freedoms.

Planned Impact

The project will produce knowledge and policy understanding on the impacts of governance arrangements on the development and delivery of transport policy including but not limited to:
(i) The impacts of devolution of competencies to sub-central government and the impacts of delegation to non/quasi-state bodies (e.g. under what conditions do such changes add value to either accountability or efficacy in policy-making?)
(ii) Power dependencies in government-supplier structures (e.g. the degree to which reforms of public transport management are fundamental to implementation)
(iii) Power dependencies and networks across adjacent sectors (e.g. do any structures effectively break down policy silos between adjacent policy sectors such as transport and energy?).
(iv) The importance of accountability in supporting carbon reducing policies; and
(v) The types of governance structures and processes that are likely to lead to more effective and acceptable policies

The project has identified several complementary pathways to impact. First, the project design is predicated around the involvement of practitioners, policy makers and the public in a series of deliberative events using the skills of a specialist deliberative democracy facilitator. This will ensure that the key individuals are involved in the design and conduct of aspects of the research as well as receiving the outcomes. This is a highly effective way of embedding impact.

The primary impacts relate to public policy and governance reform. The project team members are directly connected to the Institute for Government and a range of cognate projects. In addition, members of the project team have joined a consortium bid that is led by 'Westminster Explained' to offer training and skills development courses to the civil service in the wake of the abolition of the National School of Government. The project team regularly gives evidence to user-groups or advises Select Committees and would use this outlet to broaden awareness of the issues.

We will deliver presentations and workshops to the established annual transport practitioner conferences in England and Scotland and through networks of the University of Sheffield Public Services Academy as well as practice oriented end of project workshops (e.g. on engagement)
We have already committed to a wide range of outputs including 4 policy briefings, 7 conference papers, 5 journal articles and a book. The project has recently launched a blog to broaden the public and practitioner engagement ( with the project as it develops. Professor Flinders has been commissioned to write and present for BBC Radio 4 on the challenges of modern governance (due for broadcast July 2011) and will draw on the project for this.


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Ryley, Tim; Chapman, Lee (2012) Transport and Climate Change

Description A critical first stage was a mapping of the nature of the transport sector and carbon management problem, the development of a common vocabulary of policy change and a scoping of the evidence to date and key issues (Marsden, G., Bache, I. And Kelly, C.E. (2012) 'A policy perspective on transport and climate change issues', in Transport and Climate Change Issues, Eds. Chapman, L. And Ryley, T., Chapter 8, pp197-224, Emerald).
The development of the categorisation of policy change to capture 'meta-policy' has been important to the understanding of what climate policy is and how it is (or is not) translated into action on the ground (Bullet 3 Section A - Bache, I., Reardon, L., Bartle, I., Flinders, M. and Marsden, G. (2014) 'Symbolic Meta-Policy: (Not) Tackling Climate Change in the Transport Sector', Political Studies).
Our work has significantly expanded the thinking on multi-level governance by moving beyond the binary-divide of institutional types and by integrating policy change theory and positional analysis to understand the interdependency of decision-making in the system. (Bullet 1 Section A - Marsden, G., Ferreira, A., Bache, I., Flinders, M. & Bartle, I. (2014): 'Muddling through with climate change targets: a multi-level governance perspective on the transport sector', Climate Policy).
Finally the project has challenged the current orthodoxy of the importance of poor alignment of institutions. Alignment may be an issue (see MLG strand) but the politics of climate change combined with weak accountability processes matter more (Bullet 2 Section A - Bache, I., Bartle, I., Flinders, M. and Marsden, G. (2014) 'Blame Games and Climate Change: Accountability, Multi-Level Governance and Carbon Management', British Journal of Politics and International Relations and Bullet 4 Section A - Marsden G., Mullen, C., Bache I., Bartle, I. and Flinders M (2014) 'Carbon reduction and travel behaviour: Discourses, disputes and contradictions in governance', TransportPolicy)
Exploitation Route We believe that the research will impact on research communities in political science, transport studies and climate policy more generally through our publications.
• The Political Studies Association membership through the publication of articles in its two main journals (Political Studies and the British Journal of Politics and International Relations). These journals are also read widely beyond the PSA membership in the UK and internationally.
• The Transport Studies field through the conference presentations, the paper in Transport Policy and the further cross-country comparison with Germany.
• By targeting Climate Policy we have also aimed to draw a wider community of researchers into theoretical governance literature and how it is applied to the very important field of transport emission management.
The publication of a book-length analysis of the research with a leading US publishing house (Rowman and Littlefield) with global reach will build on and enhance this scholarly impact significantly. The contract requires completion by September 2014.

The longer term benefits to the researchers attending our training sessions is difficult to estimate.

Specific academics outside of our Institutions that we have directly engaged with include: David Bannister (Univ. Oxford); Fredrik Pettersson (Lund Univ.); Karen Anderton (Univ. Oxford); Tim Schwanen (Univ. Oxford); Andy Jordan (UEA); Tim Foxon (Univ. Leeds); Neil Carter (Univ. York); Matt Wood (Univ. Sheffield); Stephen Hall (Univ. Hull);
Nicholas Purshouse, University of Strathclyde; Sarah Colenbrander, Centre for Low Carbon Futures; Jenny Fairbrass, Univ. Bradford; Andrew Hough, Univ. Manchester.

The economic and social impact of the project needs to be considered in the context of a strong shift in priorities both nationally and locally to economic growth and employment. There has also been a significant backdrop of cuts in local government and a thinning out (a quarter or more in some authorities) of staff and resources to deliver some of the climate mitigation agenda. The policy and societal impact of the work has therefore been to explore the implications of this and to discuss the consequences for carbon policy delivery and future funding. The project's findings have been developed to influence in an unfavourable policy environment.

Our key impacts on the policy process have come at two levels. First, we have engaged with the Committee on Climate Change, working with senior staff there to explain the likely implications of the findings on a limited appetite for behaviour change to feed in to their 2013 report. The Committee's role is to comment on progress, trajectory and options for carbon policy reduction for the government.

Our second route to impact was to engage with a range of stakeholders at a local level through our policy recommendation development workshops. By engaging 35 local and national decision-makers and stakeholders in debating our empirical evidence we developed grounded policy recommendations. However, the process of sharing experiences from across the different study areas was also seen to be valuable to the participants, many of whom were struggling with similar issues. Our presentation to Transport for London led to the secondment of a member of staff from the Institute for Transport Studies to develop their low emissions strategy, a relationship which has been extended for a further two years.

Our approach has been recognised by an invitation from the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership to present on 'translating national policy to the local context' at their July 2014 annual conference.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

Description The study has advanced scientific knowledge significantly, evidenced through high quality publications and dissemination: We have significantly advanced the study of carbon management in transport from previous work, which stops at identifying institutional structures as problematic and developed the multi-level governance framework in political science which was found to be lacking in a number of important ways. First, its distinction between two types of governance was exposed as inadequate in the transport sector. Second, the political dimension of the policy process came through more strongly than institutional dynamics. And, third, additional and new conceptual frameworks were needed to complement multi-level governance in theorising meta-policy implementation. The work has advanced the field as few other studies have applied the framework systematically to a detailed empirical research project. Through careful design of the study we have achieved Societal and Economic Imapct: The project designed end users into the research both as participants but as co-producers of the policy recommendations. In total we engaged with: • 27 local and regional authority officers • 14 private sector companies • 19 NGOs • 11 national government officers • 3 European Union officers Tangible impacts within the transport and climate sector include direct engagement with the Committee on Climate Change as part of its 2013 progress review of the transport sector, establishing a secondment with Transport for London to work on their Low Emissions Strategy and direct engagement from the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership to understand how our work can be translated into thinking on electric vehicle adoption in ciites. The work also has significant broader impact on public policy and process with the project contributing to evidence to the House of Lords Committee on the Constitution and the House of Commons Public Administration Committee. Professor Marsden was elected to the board of the Low Carbon Vehicles Partnership in January 2018.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Evidence to House of Lords Committee on 'The Accountability of the Civil Service' HL61
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Description Specialist Adviser (Prof Flinders) to House of Commons Inquiry into 'The Accountability of the Civil Service'
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in advisory committee
Description Governance of Carbon Management Workshop (Leeds) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a workshop for policy makers and practitioners to disseminate the initial findings of the project, to validate them and to develop policy recommendations

Dialogue about future research proposals in the EU H2020 programme
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Governance of Carbon Management and Transport (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact An event to test the findings of the research and develkop policy recommendations with national stakeholders

We had a follow on discussion with the Committee on Climate Change to feed into their annual assessment of progress; A secondment of a non-project member of staff from the Institute for Transport Studies was arranged with Transport for London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Governance of Carbon Management in Transport (Manchester) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An event to disseminate early project findings, test the conclusions we had drawn and develop policy recommendations.

The presentation fed back into discussions about carbon target setting in the region
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Governance of Carbon Management in Transport Workshop (Glasgow) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Meeting agreed with Minister that formerly held the portfolio for climate in Scotland

Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013