Policy-making ‘front’ and ‘back’ stage: Assessing the implications for effectiveness and democracy

Sarah Ayres, Mark Sandford, Tessa Coombes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
356 Downloads (Pure)


The aim of this article is to examine the complex interrelationship between ‘front’ and ‘back’ stage policy-making. ‘Front stage’ describes the activities of visible and accountable office holders in elected bodies, constrained by established bureaucratic rules. ‘Back stage’ describes the world of unseen decision-making where public officials are less constrained by formal rules and public scrutiny. Drawing on a recent case study of English devolution in the United Kingdom, this article examines how front and back stage policy-making shape one another and the impact this can have on policy effectiveness and democratic accountability. Findings reveal that policy-makers need to think more explicitly about the interplay between front and back stage activities. In the context of English devolution, the transition from back to front stage has been flawed. Central government’s purposeful strategy of informal negotiations with very few formal objectives has resulted in low stakeholder buy-in, which has mitigated against the potential effectiveness of back stage decision-making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)861-876
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations
Issue number4
Early online date25 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017

Structured keywords

  • PolicyBristol
  • English devolution
  • informal governance
  • decision making


  • back stage policy
  • complexity
  • deliberation
  • democracy
  • devolution
  • front stage policy
  • informal governance
  • innovation
  • policy effectiveness
  • policy network
  • trust
  • uncertainty

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