Methodology of the Policy Database Framework

Motivation: The Why

Today’s ecological and socio-economic challenges threaten the long-term stability and resilience of European society. Even though the magnitude of these challenges is broadly acknowledged, political efforts to properly tackle them remain insufficient. To move Europe into the “safe and just space for humanity” (1), innovative policy approaches are required.

In fact, these policy approaches must equally address social, ecological and economic goals in a coherent manner and help overcome the primacy of economic growth as a policy goal. However, due to the perception that economic growth is essential to ensuring employment, tackling fiscal debt and achieving higher incomes and levels of well-being, this is easier said than done. Not only does policy have to focus on a wider set of objectives, it also has to liberate economic and political stability from its structural dependency on economic growth. In this way, policymakers are enabled to freely choose among different means to achieve political ends, rather than relying on one specific aspect like economic growth.

However, a consistent synthesis of policies seeking to overcome the existing growth imperatives and shape a sustainable and thriving European and global economy is currently missing. Researchers have put forward a multitude of proposals. However, the practical application of these proposals entails several challenges related to the interconnectedness, coherence and concretion of policies as well as their level of implementation by government.

This project aims to fill this gap. Our policy framework provides a coherent structure of policy proposals from the academic literature that can help shape sustainable prosperity. In doing so, the project aims to help policymakers comprehend what policy instruments are suitable to promote transformative actions and, in doing so, contribute to political objectives.

Methods: The How

The work on our policy framework was inspired by existing frameworks used by the United Nations (UN) for environmental (2) and industrial policymaking (3). Our policy framework comprises four interconnected hierarchical levels:

  • Goals constitute the highest hierarchical level and denote an overall abstract goal within a sustainable and well-being oriented economy, e.g. “Ensure a stable economy independent of economic growth”
  • Objectives represent a tangible specification of goals, e.g. “Ensure stable employment & income independent of economic growth”
  • Transformative actions refer to a particular change required to achieve certain objectives, e.g. “Working time reduction”
  • Instruments constitute the lowest hierarchical level and refer to a concrete policy aiming to achieve an objective via a transformative action, e.g. “Limiting the maximum amount of working hours per week via regulation”. Instruments can be structured along four categories: incentives/disincentives, regulation, information and ownership.

Using this structure, an unstructured expert-led literature review was initiated to compile policy instruments and develop concrete elements for all hierarchical levels by way of an inductive approach. To date, the literature database includes policy ideas from over 80 sources. This step was complemented by deductive work, whereby new objectives and transformative actions were derived from the existing content and its structure by identifying possible blind spots of the framework. In this sense, the establishment and concretion of the framework structure were not carried out in a strictly linear manner, but rather represented a back-and-forth process with on-going adjustments.

Subsequently, the multi-level structure of our policy framework was specified based on theoretical considerations and expert inputs. In this way, every element of an individual hierarchical level was assigned to one or multiple elements of the superordinate hierarchical levels. This multi-level relation of individual elements across all hierarchical levels is referred to as interlinkages within this framework, providing an intricate structure for the identification of relevant policy instruments.

Lastly, transformative actions were structured along a set of policy areas to increase the practicability of our policy framework for policymakers.


  1. Raworth K. Doughnut economics : seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing; 2017.
  2. Partnership for Action on Green Economy. Green Economy Toolkit for Policymakers [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2018 Dec 11]. Available from:
  3. United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit. Enhancing the Quality of Industrial Policies. Designing a transformative industrial policy package. 2017.