M.J. Motta

Project Description

Power and Puzzling: An Analysis of Offshore Wind Policy Innovation and Implementation

“Politics finds its source not only in power but also in uncertainty…

Governments not only ‘power’… they also puzzle.”

Heclo, 1974


Crafting solutions to public policy problems in the United States often involves lesson-drawing from other jurisdictions.  (Rose 1993) Policymakers readily learn from the experiences of others–‘policy learning’–and apply the lessons at home–‘policy diffusion.’ However, global crises like climate change present such novel and complex problems that there are few models, if any, for states to learn from. As a result, policy makers must experiment in the face of great uncertainty.

Existing learning and diffusion theory, however, does not account for adoption and implementation of innovative and experimental policies, (Gray 1973; Berry and Berry 1990; Karch 2007) (Boushey 2010)for example, only examines learning and diffusion of mature policies already diffused across many states. (2010) He finds that policy diffusion resembles the spread of viruses: policies diffuse across state borders suddenly and rapidly over relatively short periods of time, and then suddenly stop; some states seem to be “immune” to change; and interest groups are “carriers” from one state to another. However, Boushey does not consider that epidemiologists and virologists are not only concerned with how viruses spread, but also how they originate.

My study extends Boushey’s framework to newly emerging policies in Massachusetts–the first state to seek and receive approval for offshore wind energy development—and other early policy adopters. Offshore winds are considered to be one of the most promising clean sources of energy in the United States. (Musial and Ram 2010)


Although no state yet has commercial-scale offshore wind power, most coastal states have policies incentivizing development. Massachusetts and Texas are expected to be the first with offshore wind power, but other coastal states expect to follow in the next decade. The epidemiological framework provides an interesting way of understanding how offshore wind energy policies and implementation practices spread (or don’t spread) between U.S. states.



The unit of analysis within this study are those assumed to be the most likely to engage in policy learning and diffusion: mid-level agency officials. Officials in Massachusetts have wide discretion to implement the state’s clean energy policies, and it often falls to these experts to make critical policy decisions.

State agency officials were initially concerned with the technical and environmental uncertainty. However, Massachusetts officials were able to learn from research undertaken by Denmark and the U.K. The greatest uncertainty—one not predicted by the agencies, nor experienced in other countries—is political. From Cape Wind‘s proposal in 2001, the project faced significant opposition, primarily from the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound—a nationally funded advocacy group.

Meanwhile, other states—Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Maryland, among others—are learning from the experience of Massachusetts. And indeed, each of these states face significantly less opposition.

Viral Culture Lecture


Michael Julius Motta Jr., J.D. is a doctoral candidate in the Law and Public Policy program. His research focuses on sustainability and governance, particularly how policy makers in emerging sectors learn from policy experiences elsewhere, and how they apply lessons learned. In 2012, he co-edited a three-volume series, Cities and Sustainability, and has a forthcoming article in the Journal of Energy, Climate, and Environment, The Walking Dead or Weekend at Bernie’s? How the Public Trust Doctrine Threatens Alternative Energy Development. 



Berry, F. S., and W. D. Berry. “State Lottery Adoptions as Policy Innovations: An Event History Analysis.” The American Political Science Review, (1990): 395–415.

Boushey, Graeme. Policy Diffusion Dynamics in America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Karch, Andrew. Democratic Laboratories Policy Diffusion Among the American States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007.

Musial, W., and B. Ram. “Large-Scale Offshore Wind Power in the United States: Assessment of Opportunities and Barriers.” National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2010.

Rose, Richard. Lesson-Drawing in Public Policy A Guide to Learning Across Time and Space.      Chatham, N.J.: Chatham House Publishers, 1993.

Virginia, Gray. “Innovation in the States: A Diffusion Study.”  The American Political Science Review, (1973): 1174–85.