The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 marked an epistemic transition, bringing at least a new paradigm and new knowledge about public governance from old ways of thinking to new ways of thinking. In the 21st century, the international community will face the challenge of a perfect storm of global crises, including climate change, ecosystem destruction, food and water insecurity, new pandemics, and shifting demographics (Hartley et al., 2019). In the definitional framework developed by Rittel & Webber (1973), this global crisis has the connotation of a “wicked” problem because it generates a massive storm of social, economic and political turmoil. This crisis, also known as the “perfect storm”, marks a transition in human history from an era of benign problems to an era of wicked problems.
New ideas for new problems pose great challenges in addressing them. Big (global) challenges are often delegated to traditional state institutions that lack the experience and capacity to address these challenges. The problem of globalization, often summarized as disruption, is a perfect storm for the age-old demand for epistemological change. This attempt at epistemological change is incrementalist, meaning that old ways of thinking, acting and being are marginalized or modernized (Hartley et al., 2019). In an incrementalist approach, policy practitioners have two epistemological choices: either facilitate the transition (top-down engineering) or be resistant to outdated traditional methods.
Disruption from the top, middle and bottom
The problems of the 21st century can be summarized in the popular slogan disruption. Disruption itself implies different conditions of policy implementation, depending on the context. According to Chua (2022), disruption can be empirically classified into three definitions, namely disruption from above, disruption from the middle, and disruption from below. The first definition, disruption from above, refers to technological and managerial innovations driven by companies to find new sources of revenue designed as a driver of business competition. Disruption was first proposed by Clayton Christensen, and “disruptive innovation” characterizes technological change that shifts the dominant technological paradigm in a dynamic industry. Interestingly, disruption from above serves as a governance model that rationalizes “creative destruction” in times of crisis. Crises should not be seen as something to be avoided, but also as a business strategy that aims to prevent turmoil, embrace the changes that occur and turn them into future growth opportunities (Chua, 2022). In short, disruption from above has top-down operational characteristics.
Unlike disruption from above, which tends to adopt the spirit of capitalism, disruption from the middle shows that disruption does not come from the authorities or economic rationalization. However, this does not mean that grassroots social movements are the cause of the disruption. The actual manifestation of disruption from the middle includes the so-called privatization of the public sphere; through the assetization of infrastructure (Chua, 2022). This assetization process transforms public goods into private projects while reconfiguring the public sector to adapt to market needs. Although this type of disruption is said to be different from the first, its origin is also due to the influence of technological management innovations that create a new paradigm of economic rationalization. Infrastructure capitalization has the symbolic power of modernity and the economic power of connecting circuits of accumulation around the world, making countries dependent on the connectivity of global trade, which in fact plays a role in spreading this idea. The reason for this way of thinking is progress, which is techno-managerial in origin.
The assetization of infrastructure ensnares a large section of the lower class, bringing with it the harsh reality of the positive impact of disruption from above. Social crises are stronger than expectations of innovation itself. This also indicates that disruption actually provides an opportunity for contestation over transitional periods in the organization of life (Chua, 2022). At the same time, disruptive innovators, ranging from state actors to entrepreneurs, seek to shape infrastructure through large-scale experiments, and social movements have space to respond to the “failure” of their projects. In other words, this means civil blockades as a key tactic of struggle, which indicates a transformation of working-class resistance, as disruption from below essentially cuts off the flow of goods from top to bottom. It can also be argued that disruption does not benefit society as a whole because the idea of progress is exclusive to the few.
Between disruption from above, the middle, and below, we should certainly accept the following conclusions as reasonable: First, disruption occurs organically through natural changes such as climate change and population explosion, but also inorganically through innovation campaigns that are claimed to be the luxury of technological management progress. As a result, innovation itself becomes dual-functioning between solving existing problems and creating new complexities. Moreover, if disruption creates new “problems”, new complex ideas, the logical consequence is that bottom-up social movements will attempt to fix the failure of these ideas. Rather than thinking of these movements as radical, a more credible direction is to improve the new order through fair alternatives. We know that specific technology management innovation projects need to be decentralized in their implementation, as they require collective work and responsibility. Moreover, openness and participation in human development require greater democratic cooperation. Therefore, the next question is about the role of non-traditional actors in the age of globalization.
Political Behavior of Transnational Networks
The rise of Global Public Policy Networks (GPPNs) has matched the rapid rise of science. Most GPPN networks have recently emerged to gather knowledge and disseminate on specific issues (Reinicke, 2000). GPPNs are loose alliances between government agencies, international organizations, private businesses, and elements of civil society. Most importantly, the GPPN represents the neglected aspirations of civil society. Indeed, NPGs count because, firstly, they increase the integration of social and economic aspects around the world, secondly, they reduce the amount of time policy makers have to make policies, and finally, they address transnational issues (Reinicke, 2000). Facing disruption in the age of globalization, transnational network solutions go beyond the benefits of information dissemination to grassroots engagement to high politics.
GPPN in its political behavior reflects three important events. Starting from knowledge management capabilities, the NPG selects any contradictory perspectives, resolves them through consensus, and then the consensus is translated into action or policy. One example is the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) which coordinates and helps fund independent agricultural research work around the world (Reinicke, 2000). The second policy capacity of the NPG is to support the realization of market linkages and create opportunities to correct intergovernmental failures. This is organized in a trisectoral network through public service delivery and market deepening. This is linked to the third political capacity of the GPPN: uniting the participation of actors working towards conflicting goals (Reinicke, 2000). Network inclusiveness provides legitimizing benefits and maintains credibility through broad participation. Simply put, the political behavior of GPPNs emancipates the values, knowledge, and information that form informal relationships with transnational authorities. Disruption issues are largely voiced by transnational networks.
New Public Management, a Global Solution?
Here we need to understand disruption not only as a theory of innovation, but also as a theory of governance. As I wrote in the introduction, global change signals an epistemological shift where global issues such as environmental, social and cultural issues are managed in a decentralized system of shared responsibility, requiring the ability to organize and express. This argument, of course, does not deny the sovereignty of the nation-state. Rather than ignoring it, the international community must engage in the process of organizing collective life on Earth. Emancipating the values of the global community becomes meaningful given the complex political and knowledge systems that surround the logic of capitalism. This type of logic is operated by what is called New Public Management (NPM).
The strengthening of NPM logic was motivated by major changes in the management of public services in various countries in the 1980s (Ferrie, 2017). In particular, changes in the UK, New Zealand and Sweden show that the realization of the NPM movement has brought about a number of fundamental changes, including privatization and contracting, marketization of public sector services, and improved performance management and control. In general, the NPM governance model is a hybrid of market and management, combining increased competition between public service agencies with increased line control within agencies (Ferrie, 2017). Heuristically, the main features of NPM are described by the 3M (Market, Management, Measurement) model (Ferrie, 2017). The Market definition includes not only the privatization of nationalized industries but also the development of new quasi-markets for key public sector services. The Management definition emphasizes overall control across departmental areas, unraveling efforts to resolve service terms and conditions, reducing bureaucratic routines and internal and local political fragmentation (Ferrie, 2017). Finally, in this model, Measurement is the only aspect that actively increases trust in organizational performance.
The above criteria of political and technical practices contribute to the new construction of the current world system. Although the state as an international actor plays an absolute role in all human affairs, globalization is changing the situation in a more democratic direction. This means that governance issues not only change focus and objectives, but also involve broader responsibilities that include non-state actors. State institutions, corporations, environmental NGOs and epistemic communities are all evidence of the history of globalization today. They contribute knowledge, advocate for peripheral issues, and drive renewable innovations that were previously unthinkable. Disruption is the governance problem that NPM logic demands and presents. Of course, this is not the end of the story. NPM still needs to be modified and adapted to dynamic situations. It is true that transnational networks have a symbiotic relationship with NPM logic in global public sector solutions. As global complexity increases, the need for this kind of challenge and research must remain strong. This is not a solution because it is not over.