ACCUPOL - Unlimited Growth? A Comparative Analyses of Causes and Consequences of Policy Accumulation

The starting point of ACCUPOL is the assumption that modern democracies are potentially caught in a responsiveness trap. On the one hand, it can be considered a major asset of democratic governments that they are responsive to societal demands. Citizens claim cleaner environments, better social protection, more and better education, more transparency, or more individual freedoms. Governments typically respond to these demands by adopting new policy outputs, such as laws, regulations or programs. As existing policies are dismantled or terminated only very rarely, over time policy outputs continuously pile up in modern democracies. Policy accumulation hence constitutes a central, yet unexplored feature of modern democracies, regardless of the country or policy sector under study.
Yet, merely adopting new policies reflects nothing but symbolic politics as long as the respective policy outputs do not also reduce the problems that they are supposed to solve. This on the other hand requires an expansion of administrative capacities since policy accumulation directly translates into the accumulation of administrative burdens. As a consequence, there is the risk of an increasing gap between accumulating policies and stagnating or even declining implementation capacities. This scenario indicates the potential responsiveness trap of modern democracies. Any escape therefrom presumes that policy accumulation and implementation capacities must remain in a concerted balance – either by keeping policy accumulation at a ‘sustainable rate’ or by expanding implementation capacities.
It is the central objective of ACCUPOL to systematically investigate both theoretically and empirically whether the above-mentioned responsiveness trap actually exists and to what extent it can be overcome. To this end, the project pursues three basic goals that are closely interrelated and entail fundamental advances of the state-of-the-art:

(1) Conceptual innovation
The central aim of the project is to analyze policy-making from an aggregate perspective. Previous research mainly focused on individual policies, the changes taking place and implementation thereof. ACCUPOL on the other hand seeks to explain the aggregate prevalence of implementation deficits for a given policy portfolio. We are interested in the extent to which increasing administrative burdens emerging from the accumulation of policy outputs lead to an increase in implementation deficits, regardless of a specific individual policy in question

(2) Theoretical innovation
While existing theories focus on individual policies, ACCUPOL’s conceptual focus implies a completely different theoretical starting point that emphasizes the congruence between accumulated implementation burden and implementation capacities as the central point of theoretical departure.

(3) Empirical innovation
The empirical focus of ACCUPOL is on two phenomena that so far have found very limited attention in the literature: policy accumulation and the prevalence of implementation deficits. The project is the first to systematically measure and compare degrees of policy accumulation over time and across countries and policy sectors. ACCUPOL analyzes accumulation patterns for 25 OECD countries over four decades (1980-2020) for the areas of environmental and social policy. ACCUPOL is also the first project that systematically analyzes the link between policy accumulation and the prevalence of implementation deficits.


ACCUPOL is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant


Principal Investigator

Prof. Dr. Christoph Knill