Theories of the Policy Process
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Theories of the Policy Process

Christopher M. Weible, Paul A. Sabatier, Christopher M. Weible, Paul A. Sabatier, Christopher M. Weible, Paul A. Sabatier

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eBook - ePub

Theories of the Policy Process

Christopher M. Weible, Paul A. Sabatier, Christopher M. Weible, Paul A. Sabatier, Christopher M. Weible, Paul A. Sabatier

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Theories of the Policy Process provides a forum for the experts in the most established and widely used theoretical frameworks in policy process research to present the basic propositions, empirical evidence, latest updates, and the promising future research opportunities of each framework. This well-regarded volume covers such enduring classics as Multiple Streams (Zahariadis et al.), Punctuated Equilibrium (Jones et al.), Advocacy Coalition Framework (Jenkins-Smith et al.), Institutional Analysis and Development Framework (Schlager and Cox), and Policy Diffusion (Berry and Berry), as well as two newer theories—Policy Feedback (Mettler and SoRelle) and Narrative Policy Framework (McBeth et al.).

The fourth edition now includes a discussion of global and comparative perspectives in each theoretical chapter and a brand-new chapter that explores how these theories have been adapted for, and employed in, non-American and non-Western contexts. An expanded introduction and revised conclusion fully examines and contextualizes the history, trajectories and functions of public policy research. Since its first publication in 1999, Theories of the Policy Process has been, and remains, the quintessential gateway to the field of policy process research for students, scholars and practitioners.

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Informations

Éditeur
Routledge
Année
2018
ISBN
9780429973918
PART I
Theoretical Approaches to Policy Process Research
1. The Multiple Streams Framework: Foundations, Refinements, and Empirical Applications
Nicole Herweg, Nikolaos Zahariadis, and Reimut Zohlnhöfer
2. Punctuated Equilibrium Theory: Explaining Stability and Change in Public Policymaking
Frank R. Baumgartner, Bryan D. Jones, and Peter B. Mortensen
3. Policy Feedback Theory
Suzanne Mettler and Mallory SoRelle
4. The Advocacy Coalition Framework: An Overview of the Research Program
Hank C. Jenkins-Smith, Daniel Nohrstedt, Christopher M. Weible, and Karin Ingold
5. The Narrative Policy Framework
Elizabeth A. Shanahan, Michael D. Jones, Mark K. McBeth, and Claudio M. Radaelli
6. The IAD Framework and the SES Framework: An Introduction and Assessment of the Ostrom Workshop Frameworks
Edella Schlager and Michael Cox
7. Innovation and Diffusion Models in Policy Research
Frances Stokes Berry and William D. Berry
1
The Multiple Streams Framework: Foundations, Refinements, and Empirical Applications
NICOLE HERWEG, NIKOLAOS ZAHARIADIS, AND REIMUT ZOHLNHÖFER
With rising ambiguity and turbulence in global affairs, the Multiple Streams Framework (MSF) is fast becoming a major tool with which to analyze the policy process. In their recent literature review, Jones et al. (2016) report that no fewer than 311 English-language peer-reviewed journal articles published between 2000 and 2013 have empirically applied the framework—with an increasing trend over time. Moreover, in these articles, the MSF is applied to a wide variety of issue areas, countries, and levels of government. In addition, the academic debate of MSF’s theoretical refinement has recently broadened, signified by recent special issues of the European Journal of Political Research (issue 3/2015), the Policy Studies Journal (issue 1/2016), Policy Sciences (issue 1/2016), and the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis (issue 3/2016) as well as an edited volume on the framework (Zohlnhöfer and RĂŒb 2016a).
One of the reasons for the high number of MSF applications could be that the conditions under which policies are made increasingly resemble the framework’s assumptions—particularly in contexts for which the MSF originally had not been developed. Problems, from global warming and nuclear energy to migration and trade agreements, have become ever more contested, and even experts disagree fundamentally. Ambiguity has increasingly become (or has come to be realized as) a fact of political life. The same could be said about what the MSF conceptualizes as the political stream. Particularly in the parliamentary systems of Western Europe, things have become much less orderly, with more fragmented party systems, a decreasing relevance of party ideologies, and voting behavior growing ever more volatile. Nonetheless, MSF’s success comes at a price. As Jones et al. (2016) as well as Cairney and Jones (2016) show, many of the empirical applications remain superficial; theoretical innovations in the literature are often ignored, and key concepts more often than not lack clear specification.
In this chapter, we present the current state of MSF thinking, including many innovations that have been suggested in the recent surge of MSF literature. We aim to provide an up-to-date presentation and discussion of the framework from which scholars may begin MSF empirical applications or theoretical refinements. We begin by outlining the main assumptions of the MSF before presenting the five structural elements of the framework. Because the MSF was originally developed for the analysis of agenda setting processes, we discuss how it is, or can be, applied to other stages of the policy process (decision making, implementation, etc.) next. We then turn to the question of how the framework is applied empirically in different contexts and how it has to be adapted accordingly. Finally, we deal with the (alleged and real) limitations of the framework and its future prospects.
ASSUMPTIONS
Kingdon (2011), who originally put forth the MSF, was inspired by Cohen, March, and Olsen’s (1972) garbage can model of organizational choice. Consequently, the MSF’s basic assumptions deal with ambiguity, time constraints, problematic preferences, unclear technology, fluid participation, and stream independence. These terms characterize what Cohen et al. have called organized anarchies, such as universities, national governments, and international organizations. In the following sections, we summarize the meaning of each of these basic assumptions.
Ambiguity
Instead of assuming that policymaking is an exercise in rational problem solving, the MSF negates the existence of a rational solution to a given problem. In contrast, the MSF assumes that because of ambiguity, a multitude of solutions to a given problem exists. Ambiguity refers to “a state of having many ways of thinking about the same circumstances or phenomena” (Feldman 1989, 5). In contrast with uncertainty, which may be reduced by collecting more information (Wilson 1989), more information does not reduce ambiguity. For instance, more information can tell us how AIDS is spread, but it will not tell us whether AIDS is a health, educational, political, or moral issue. Therefore, we often do not know what the problem is. Because problem definition is vague and shifting, in principle, many solutions for the same circumstance are possible.
Time Constraints
Policymakers operate under significant time constraints and often do not have the luxury of taking their time to make a decision. Basically, time constraints arise because attending to or processing events and circumstances in political systems can occur in parallel, whereas individuals’ ability to give attention to or to process information is serial. Owing to biological and cognitive limitations, individuals can attend to only one issue at a time. In contrast, organizations and governments can attend to many (though not infinite) issues simultaneously (March and Simon 1958; Jones 2001) thanks to division of labor. Policymakers, for instance, can actively consider only a relatively small number of issues, whereas the US government can simultaneously put out fires in California, conduct trade negotiations with the European Union (EU), investigate mail fraud, and mourn the loss of soldiers killed in action. Thus, because many issues vie for attention, policymakers sense an urgency to address them and to “strike while the iron is hot.” Consequently, time constraints limit the range and number of alternatives to which attention is given.
Problematic Policy Preferences
Problematic policy preferences emerge in the presence of ambiguity and time constraints. How actors think about an issue depends on its overarching label (like health, education, politics, or morality) and on the information that has been taken into account. Consequently, actors’ policy preferences are not fixed and exogenously given but emerge during (inter)action. To use economic terms, ambiguity and time constraints result in intransitive and incomplete policy preferences.
The assumption of problematic policy preferences only means, however, that policymakers do not have clear preferences with regard to specific policies. It does not imply that they have no preferences at all. With regard to the outcome of the next election or the question of who will be the next president, they take an unequivocal stand: policymakers want to win elections, and they want their candidate to get elected as the next president.
Unclear Technology
In organizational theory, technology refers to work processes that turn inputs into products. If members of an organized anarchy are aware of only their individual responsibilities and exhibit only rudimentary knowledge of how their job fits into the overall mission of the organization, we speak of unclear technology. In political systems, for instance, jurisdictional boundaries are unclear, and turf battles between different departments or agencies are common. Members of the legislature often complain of unaccountable officials, who, in turn, frequently express their frustration with overburdening reporting rules and independent-minded public managers.
Fluid Participation
Unclear technology is complicated by fluid participation. Fluid participation means that the composition of decision making bodies is subject to constant change—either because it varies with the concrete decision to be made or because turnover is high. Legislators come and go, and bureaucrats, especially high-level civil servants, often move from public service to private practice. In addition, the time and effort that participants are willing and able to devote to any one decision vary considerably.
Stream Independence
In line with the garbage can model, the MSF assumes that independent processes or streams flow through the political system. In a nutshell, the MSF assumes that political problems, policy solutions, and politics—referred to as problem stream, policy stream, and political stream—develop mostly independently of each other. Problems, most obviously in the case of unpredictable problems like those caused by natural disasters, occur regardless of political developments or available policy solutions. Because consensus building in the political stream and in the policy stream takes different forms, these streams also have their own dynamic (Kingdon 2011). In the political stream, the mode of interaction is bargaining; in the policy stream, it is persuasion. More precisely, actors in the policy stream aim to gain acceptance for a policy solution, whereas participants in the political stream build on lobbying and group mobilization.
STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS
The MSF’s starting point is the notion of stream independence. Nonetheless, if an issue is to gain agenda prominence, and is ultimately to be decided on, these independent streams need to come together at some point. The opportunity to bring these streams together arises if a “policy window” (sometimes called “window of opportunity”) opens. Moreover, because there is no natural or inevitable connection between a problem and a solution, according to MSF thinking, the two often have to be coupled together by a policy entrepreneur and presented to receptive policymakers. We discuss the five structural elements of the MSF in turn—the three streams, the policy or, as we will call it, agenda window, and the policy entrepreneur.
Problem Stream
Policymakers will almost always argue that a policy responds to some problem. But what is a problem? According to the MSF, problems are conditions that deviate from policymakers’ or citizens’ ideal states and that “are seen as public in the sense that government action is needed to resolve them” (BĂ©land and Howlett 2016, 222). Thus, problems contain a “perceptual, interpretive element” (Kingdon 2011, 110) because people’s ideals and reality vary significantly. Moreover, we might come to see a condition that we previously perceived as acceptable as a problem once we learn that other countries are doing better in this regard. Or we start seeing a condition in a different context that turns the condition into a problem. Take the level of unemployment benefits as an example. From a social policy perspective, the relevant problem could be whether the benefits are high enough to provide an acceptable standard of living for recipients. In contrast, from an economic policy perspective, the problem could be that benefits are so high that recipients do not have incentives to look for a new job. As we switch from one perspective to the other, an acceptable condition (benefits are high enough for a decent standard of living) can become a problem (benefits are so high that recipients have no incentives to look for a job).
Nonetheless, many conditions deviate from citizens’ or policymakers’ ideal states, and not all of them receive political attention. Rather, indicators, focusing events, and feedback bring specific conditions to policymakers’ attention. Numerous indicators are in principle relevant for policymakers or the public, for instance, unemployment figures, budget balances, and crime statistics. Some of these indicators are published regularly, and in other cases they are collected for a specific occasion. It is important to keep in mind, however, that all of these indicators only inform about conditions until an actor defines them as problems. It will be easier to do so if an indicator changes for the worse because, if people did not worry about a condition previously and the condition has not changed, it is very difficult to frame the condition as a problem now.
According to Tom Birkland’s (1997) definition, focusing events are sudden and relatively rare, are at least potentially harmful, and are known to policymakers and the public at the same time. Although it is far from certain whether events like natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes), severe technical accidents (airplane crashes, nuclear accidents), and particularly serious forms of violent crimes (terrorist attacks, school shootings) will lead to agenda change, they at least increase the probability of agenda change. Moreover, there are different forms of focusing events. Whereas some are so grave that they “simply bowl over everything standing in the way of prominence on the agenda” (Kingdon 2011, 96), others are more subtle, including powerful symbols or personal experiences of policymakers (for an overview, see Birkland and Warnement 2016). Finally, feedback about existing programs may direct attention to specific conditions. If it becomes known to policymakers or the public that a program does not attain its goals, that costs are skyrocketing, or that unwanted side effects occurred, this might also be framed as a problem.
Nevertheless, policymakers are made aware of numerous problems on a daily basis, and it is impossible to pay attention to all of them because policymakers can attend to only a limited number of issues at any given time (Kingdon 2011, 184–186; Herweg, Huß, and Zohlnhöfer 2015). Thus, whether a problem receives policymakers’ attention also depends upon which other problems are currently discussed. In the aftermath of terrorist attacks or in a deep recession, other problems have a difficult time receiving attention. More generally, the more politically relevant a condition becomes, the more likely it is that it will be dealt with. However, what exactly political relevance means is not entirely clear. Herweg, Huß, and Zohlnhöfer (2015) suggest that political relevance is strongly related to the ...

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