Thomas Widmer

University of Zurich
Department of Politcal Science

Affolternstrasse 56
CH-8050 |  Visit Personal Website

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Research focuses on evaluation, public policy, Swiss politics and methodology.

Holzer, Thomas, Schneider, Gerald and Thomas Widmer 2000. "Discriminating decentralization: Federalism and the handling of asylum applications in Switzerland, 1988 to 1996." Journal of Conflict Resolution 44(2): 250-276.
Abstract: Federalism belongs to those institutions that usually attract more admirers than critics. This study investigates whether decentralized decision making in the asylum domain undermines the principle of equality in the handling of individual cases. The externalities that power delegation creates are examined, and a principal/agent framework is developed to show how state discretion in the implementation of a unifying federal measure arises. The model distinguishes between positive and negative discrimination in the acceptance of asylum applications. The empirical analysis of approximately 180,000 cases demonstrates that the probability of negative discrimination is partly a function of the organizational principles that characterize the asylum policies of the 26 Swiss states (cantons).
DOI: 10.1177/002200270004400200
Widmer, Thomas and Peter Neuenschwander 2004. "Embedding evaluation in the Swiss federal administration: Purpose, institutional design, and utilization." Evaluation 10(4): 388-409.
Abstract: Scholars have long addressed the question of how to improve the usefulness of evaluation in the public sector. This article describes the role of evaluation within the Swiss Federation in order to investigate the conditions of evaluation use. The article is based on an examination of several offices in the federal administration. Evaluation within the Swiss federal administration shows great variety among the different units with regard to both the general understanding and the implementation of evaluation. These provide good examples for studying the relationship of purpose, utilization and institutional design in evaluation. Furthermore, decisions are often taken in the absence of basic considerations regarding the purpose or utility of the evaluation, and this substantially affects the subsequent institutional design of the evaluation. The authors recommend a clearer functional differentiation between different forms of evaluations as means for improving the evaluation measures currently used in and by the Swiss federal administration.
DOI: 10.1177/1356389004050283
Widmer, Thomas 2004. "The development and status of evaluation standards in Western Europe." New Directions for Evaluation 104: 31-42.
Abstract: The author presents standards developments in the national evaluation organizations of Switzerland, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, as well as related work in the European Commission.
DOI: 10.1002/ev.134
Widmer, Thomas 2009. "The contribution of evidence-based policy to the output-oriented legitimacy of the state." Evidence & Policy 5(4): 351-372.
Abstract: Promoters of evidence-based policy making assume that such practices contribute to an improvement in public policies and therefore to social betterment and state legitimacy. However, scholars in democracy research rarely include practices of evidence-based policy making in their analyses of the legitimacy of the state. This article outlines the linkages between evidence-based policy making and the output-oriented legitimacy of the state, and assesses the potential of these linkages. The analysis shows that only a selection of these linkages have the potential to contribute to state legitimacy whereas others are very restricted in this respect.
Hirschi, Christian and Thomas Widmer 2010. "Policy change and policy stasis: Comparing Swiss foreign policy toward South Africa (1968-94) and Iraq (1990-91)." Policy Studies Journal 38(3): 537-563.
Abstract: This article investigates how concepts from the field of public policy, in particular the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) initially introduced by Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith, can be applied to the study of foreign policy analysis. Using a most similar comparative case studies design, we examine Switzerland's foreign policy toward South Africa under apartheid for the period from 1968 to 1994 and compare it with the Swiss position toward Iraq after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when the Swiss government imposed—for the first time—comprehensive economic sanctions against another state. The application of the ACF shows that a dominant advocacy coalition in Swiss foreign policy toward South Africa prevented a major policy change in Swiss–South African relations despite external pressure from the international and national political levels. Actually, quite the opposite could be observed: Swiss foreign policy increased its persistence in not taking economic sanctions against the racist regime in South Africa during the 1980s and early 1990s. The ACF, with its analytical focus on policy subsystems and the role of external shocks as potential triggers for change, provided a useful framework for analyzing the factors for policy change and stasis in Swiss foreign relations toward the selected two countries.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1541-0072.2010.00373.x
Frey, Kathrin and Thomas Widmer 2011. "Revising Swiss policies: The influence of efficiency analyses." American Journal of Evaluation 32(4): 494-517.
Abstract: Evidence-based policy-making and other recent reforms in public steering emphasize the role systematic evidence can play in improving decision making and public policies. Increasing deficits heighten the pressure on public authorities to legitimate public spending and to find savings. Existing studies show that the influence of research-based information on decision making is shaped by several factors, but they typically do not distinguish between different types of information. Our contribution aims to compare the influence of efficiency analysis to information about performance effectiveness. We do so by looking at 10 cases in which public policies are being revised at the federal level in Switzerland, and do so by tracing the entire policy reform process. This qualitative analysis sheds light on which actors use efficiency information, how and under which conditions, and highlights the contribution of efficiency analysis for evidence-based policy-making.
DOI: 10.1177/1098214011401902
Hirschi, Christian and Thomas Widmer 2012. "Approaches and challenges in evaluating measures taken against right-wing extremism." Evaluation and Program Planning 35(1): 171-179.
Abstract: Right-wing extremism has reemerged on the political agenda in Switzerland over the last decade, much as in other European states. Most of the time, right-wing extremism remains latent. However, as soon as a constituency is confronted with manifest right-wing incidents (right-wing extremist group meetings, racist assaults or violence against individuals and groups), the issue reappears in the political sphere. The countermeasures available to governments frequently remain unclear: empirically based evidence on the effectiveness of specific measures is often simply lacking. In this article we argue that this inadequacy is mostly due to the specific characteristics of the particular conditions of conflict and violence that are associated with the phenomenon of ‘right-wing extremism’. These conditions include an often only insufficiently clarified understanding of the phenomenon of ‘right-wing extremism’ as well as a highly sensitive political, social and legal context for countermeasures. Furthermore, the effectiveness of countermeasures is typically strongly dependent on the actors involved as well as their actions and interactions. Implementation is therefore often unique and, as a consequence, difficult to replicate. We will address these specific challenges for evaluation under such conditions in seven case studies. Each case study includes an evaluation of a measure that has been taken against phenomena of right-wing extremism in Switzerland on the federal, state or community level. The case studies show that certain challenges for evaluation can be met by adopting an adequate evaluation design. Other aspects require further investigation and may not be adequately addressed through the evaluation of countermeasures.
DOI: 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2010.11.003
Strebel, Felix and Thomas Widmer 2012. "Visibility and facticity in policy diffusion. Going beyond the prevailing binarity." Policy Sciences 45(4): 385-398.
Abstract: Quantitative-oriented diffusion studies, either focused on diffusion patterns or mechanisms, take for granted that policy adoptions are manifest and therefore directly observable in the legislation. A more nuanced perspective of policy adoption taking into account gradual differences between adoption and non-adoption is proposed with this paper, valid for diffusion among communities and states in federal settings and among countries on the global level. Besides the aspect of visibility, intentions are also important when measures are adopted. While some measures are transferred with a clear instrumental aim, others are rather transferred for symbolical reasons. Looking at specific processes, the paper proposes a concept that disentangles the current understanding of policy diffusion and provides empirical evidence that current diffusion research misconceives instances. The four different transfer types are illustrated with empirical evidence from sub-national energy policy-making in Switzerland. The systematic investigation of the cases allows to finding explanations for the different transfer types.
DOI: 10.1007/s11077-012-9161-y

Substantive Focus:
Education Policy
Energy and Natural Resource Policy
Environmental Policy
Governance PRIMARY
Health Policy
International Relations
Science and Technology Policy
Social Policy
Comparative Public Policy SECONDARY

Theoretical Focus:
Policy Process Theory SECONDARY
Policy Analysis and Evaluation PRIMARY