Policy conflicts among local government officials: How does officials' engagement with regional governance relate to their position divergence on sustainability policy?

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Virginia Tech


Policy conflict plays an important role in shaping public policy—both as a process and as a product. The policy conflict framework—a theoretical framework, developed by Christopher Weible and Tanya Heikkila in 2017—considers position divergence among policymakers a key characteristic of policy conflict, which can be affected several factors including organizational and network affiliation of policymakers. This dissertation analyzes position divergence among local and regional officials over community sustainability policy, with a focus on affordable housing, which is a major concern of community sustainability. This research examines if, and how, local government officials' engagement with regional governance can play a role in shaping their policy positions. Understanding what influences officials' policy positions is essential in managing conflicts that arise in the making of sustainability policies in general and affordable housing policies, in particular.

This study argues that local government officials' engagement with regional governance can lower policy position divergence among them by influencing their policy core beliefs and policy relevant knowledge. This analysis includes testing several hypotheses using data from a state-wide survey of local and regional policymakers. Employing cross-tabulation, multivariate regression, and ordered logit analysis, this study finds that (a) policymakers share a wide range of policy positions on community sustainability policies and (b) for local government officials engaged with regional governance, position divergence on community sustainability is lower than that among those who are not engaged with regional governance. Although position divergence on affordable housing among those engaged with regional governance is generally lower than those who are not engaged with regional governance, this finding is not robust. In some regions and localities, the relationship between position divergence and engagement with regional governance does not hold.

Furthermore, this study finds that local government officials' engagement with regional governance is associated with higher levels of policy relevant knowledge, which can influence the policymakers' policy positions. The relationship, if any, between policymakers' core beliefs and their engagement with regional governance is weak and statistically insignificant. This cross-sectional analysis based on limited data suggests that local government officials' policy core beliefs are not related to their engagement with regional governance. However, future studies with better data may yield different results.



Policy process, policy conflict, position divergence, regional governance, sustainability, affordable housing, local governments, Maryland