Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management

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Volume 4 Issue 3 (September 1996), Pages 119-184

Beyond the Crisis Window for Reform: Some Ramifications for Implementation (pages 149-161)

In the policy literature, crises are often presented as opportunities for reform initiation. Little is known, however, about the effects that crises may have on the implementation of such reform initiatives. This article explores how a crisis may affect the administrative relations between central authorities and field administrations. The crisis impact on central‐field relations appears to be twofold. First, a crisis may facilitate, if not induce, the centralization of decision‐making processes. Secondly, a crisis may affect the degree of consensus between central authorities and field administrations with regard to problem definitions and preferred solutions.

This paper uses a case study of the Dutch prison system to explore the crisis impact on these two dimensions of central‐field relations. In this particular case, crisis circumstances did not facilitate a successful implementation of a major policy overhaul. We suggest that crises may offer opportunities for reform implementation, but only under highly restricted conditions. When these conditions are not met, crises may have perverse effects on central‐field relations which limit the prospects for the effective implementation of reform.

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