Boemerangbeleid: Over aanhoudende tragiek in passend onderwijs- en jeugdzorgbeleid

Translated title of the contribution: Boemerangbeleid: Over aanhoudende tragiek in passend onderwijs- en jeugdzorgbeleid

Sharon Debby Rodriguez Rivas-Stellaard

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

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Summary The dissertation Boomerang policy: On persistent tragedy in appropriate education and youth care policy, reports the findings of a study regarding the nature and causes of persistent policy failures in the aforementioned policy areas. The dissertation starts with the observation that policy evaluations tend to focus on pressing issues at hand in the here and now. This might be problematic for issues that are present during (much) longer periods of time, risking the nature and causes of these issues to be insufficiently understood, with potential consequences for subsequent policies. Given the recurring nature of the issues in both policy fields, the author stresses the importance of a long-term analysis, which is constructed using institutional theory (Chapter 1). Persistent policy failure is clarified by comparing the policy intentions of four decades of reform policies with their outcomes as recorded in formal policy evaluations. This leads to the main research question: are there deeper and more fundamental causes underlying the pattern of ineffective reform policies? This research question presents methodological challenges, as the classic issue of few cases, many variables, arises. A method focusing on hypothesis testing is commonly known to be the answer to this challenge. Because this study aims to unravel long-term processes, the theoretical propositions are portrait as historical narratives. Internal validity is strengthened by describing and comparing multiple competing historical narratives to explain policy failure (Chapter 2). Based on competing perspectives within institutional theory, as well as a comprehensive field study, four historical narratives have been constructed. They hypothesize the causes of persistent policy failure from a) a logic of path dependence, b) a logic of appropriateness, c) a logic of calculation, and d) a logic of interference (Chapter 3). The logic of path dependence, and the logic of appropriateness, emphasize that the initial institutional design of a policy field, can have serious implications for the success rate of reform policies. Therefore, Chapter 4 briefly outlines a historical background starting at the twentieth century until the beginning of the 1980s, which should make it possible to discover the potential impact of these logics. This is followed by an empirical reconstruction of the policy reforms that have taken place over the past forty years (mid-1980s through the present). After each policy episode, the historical narratives are played out against each other to explain the impact of the policy. This shows that the explanations are not mutually exclusive, but that the combination of perspectives leads to a rich(er) understanding of complex policy processes. Chapter 5 discusses the developments in the field of education, Chapter 6 those in youth care. The analysis leads to the following conclusion: repeatedly, new initiatives for policy reform appear to be driven primarily by the unintended consequences of the preceding reform. Policy operates like a boomerang. Thinking and action patterns responsible for the origin of the policy problems, are repeated to fix those problems. As a result, both policy fields are constantly evolving, while the underlying social misery remains constant. The conclusion entails a reflection on the scientific and socio-political significance of this insight, and a plea for ‘chronological policy awareness’ addressed to administrators, policy makers and politicians (Chapter 7).
Translated title of the contributionBoemerangbeleid: Over aanhoudende tragiek in passend onderwijs- en jeugdzorgbeleid
Original languageDutch
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Trommel, Willem, Supervisor
  • Hoogland, Jan, Co-supervisor
  • Graas, T.A.M., Co-supervisor, -
Award date8 Mar 2023
Place of PublicationDen Haag
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2023


  • Youthcare, Special education, Special educational needs, Public policy, Boomerang policy, Boomerang effect, Unintended consequences, Tragedy, Social policy, social services.


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