Unitary vs Federal Arrangements

In any country, the relationship between the levels of government generally falls into one of two categories: unitary system or federal system. Highlighting the difference between a unitary relationship and a federal one requires a brief discussion of authority and power.

Authority Opens in new window is not power but authority creates power. Authority refers to the mandatory and discretionary power to carry out functions or services affecting the community, and sanctioned by state or the constitution.

In a unitary system, governmental relations are mostly the result of enforced duties as prescribed by the constitution that controls lower governments by virtue of the centralized control of power and authority by the national government. In a federal system, however, the formal stipulations in the constitution define the authority of every government level — central, state and local.

Background of Counterfactual

What is Counterfactual Thinking?

Counterfactual thinking is a well-developed line of research in psychology associated with attribution theory (Roese, 1997). Attribution theory focuses on how people try to make sense of the world by attributing causes to events they encounter (Weiner, et al., 1988).

Counterfactual thinking means thinking that is contrary to the facts. When faced with an outcome that is unexpected and/or harmful, such as a car accident, people think of alternatives to the event. The original event is called the factual event while the alternatives are called default events. People engage in “what if” thinking. “What if I had been driving more slowly?” “What if it had not snowed last night?” (Wells & Gavanski 1989).

The default events people create are overwhelmingly an outcome that is more positive than the actual outcome; this is called upward counterfactual thinking.

Counterfactual thinking is limited to alternative versions of the past. People alter or mutate some antecedent/facet of the factual event in order to change the outcome (Roese, 1977).

A mutation is the ability to change a factual event and to create alternative endings that undo the outcome. A critical aspect of mutability is whether or not the alternative/default event can undo the negative outcome of the factual event. Events vary in their ability to be mutated. Some events easily provide default events that undo the outcome, while others prove difficult to find default events that might undo the outcome (Wells & Gavanski 1989).

Consider a machine fire crisis, for instance; it is easy to undo the crisis situation with the maintenance error; simply make sure proper maintenance is performed. The faculty machine part is more problematic to undo, especially if the fault cannot be found through simple visual inspection. How do you know if the part is faulty and may break?

Events that have controllable antecedents are more mutable than those with uncontrollable antecedents (Roese 1997). Human actions are viewed as more controllable, hence they are easier to mutate (Morris, et al. 1999). The mutability of an event affects causal attributions. If the default event undoes the crisis, people are more likely to judge the factual event as the cause of the outcome (Wells & Gavanski 1989). An organization should be able to control maintenance to its machines but it is harder to control a defective part from a supplier that is difficult to detect. We posit that mutability is the key to understanding why stakeholders make distinctly different attributions of crisis responsibility for technical error accidents and recalls and human error accidents and recalls.

Source: The Handbook of Crisis Communication, edited by W. Timothy Coombs, Sherry J. Holladay