THEORIES OF THE POLICY PROCESS Sabatier, Paul A. Theories of the Policy Process. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Chapter 1: The Need for Better Theories by Paul Sabatier I. Simplifying a Complex world with theories and frameworks The policy process is enormously complex:
1) involving 100s of actors
2) sometimes spanning decades
3) involving dozens of different programs in any specific policy domain (i.e., pollution) over multiple levels of government (local, state, federal)
4) involving policy debates that are often quite technical
5) involving deeply held values and interests
A policy analyst must find a way to simplify the process if there is ever a hope to understand it. How is this done? Through a set of presuppositions (that later can be described as conceptual frameworks or theories).
These set of presuppositions help in 1) figuring out what to look for and 2) how to classify or categorize the information
For example, institutional rational choice tells us to look at institutions, individual actors and how they strategically maneuver institutional rules to pursue self-interested goals.
How do we develop these presuppositions?
1) common sense: via experience we can set up assumptions and expectations
2) science: developing a set of propositions and relationships via a public method of deata collection and analysis and clearly defining the concepts and logically connecting them.
The scientific method is considered superior because it is more open and provides a method that produces propositions that are “clear enough to be proven wrong” (note key term: empirically falsifiable) and is designed to be self-consciously, error seeking, and thus self-correcting.
Terminology: Conceptual Framework: a set of variables and description of how they are related used to account for a phenomena.
Theory: A theory provides a “denser” and more logically coherent set of relationships.
Model: A representation of a specific situation. It is usually much more narrower in scope than a theory but more precise in its assuptions.
What is a good theory: 1) scientific (open, clear, well-defined, give rise to falsifiable hypotheses); 2) should be subject to recent use and empirical testing; 3) be a positive theory (explain something), not just normative (judging something); 4) should address a broad range of factors considered important to political scientists.
II. Theoretical Frameworks of the Policy Process The book discusses 7 conceptual frameworks:
1. The Stages Heuristic: divides the policy process into stages (agenda setting, policy formation, legitimation, implementation, evaluation, etc.). Popular in the 1970s and early 80s, but is now considered to lack a causal theoretical bases and overly simplistic and even inaccurate.
2. Institutional Rational Choice: how institutional rules alter the behavior of rational and strategic actors pursuing self-interested goals. Arguably the most developed and most widely used in the U.S.
3. The Multiple-Streams Framework: Views the policy process as composed of three streams of actors and processes: a problem stream (consisting of problems and their proponents); a policy stream (containing a variety of policy solutions and their proponents); and a politics stream (consisting of public officials and elections). These streams often operate independently except during “windows of opportunities” when some or all of the streams may intersect (and cause substantial policy change).
4. Punctuated-Equilibrium: policy process tends to feature long periods of incremental change punctuated by brief periods of major policy change. The latter come about when opponents manage to fashion a new “policy image or images” and exploit the multiple policy venues of the U.S. (courts, legislatures, executives at the local ,state and federal level.
5. The Advocacy Coalition Framework: focuses on the interaction of advocacy coalitions (each consisting of actors from a variety of institutions who share a set of policy beliefs). Policy change is a product of the competition and interaction between these coalitions.
6. Policy Diffusion Framework: developed to explain variation in the adoption of specific policy innovations, such as the lottery, across political jurisdictions.
7. The Funnel of Causality and other Frameworks in Large-N Comparative Studies: Describes a set of studies that use a variety of variables (institutional, socioeconomic, public opinion) to explain variation in policy outcomes across a large number of states.
III. Omitted Frameworks 1. Arenas of Power: Developed by Lowi (1964, 1972), describes 3 or 4 policy types (regulatory; distributive; redistributive) and describes the different political dynamics and actors that each type has. Recently there has been little interest in this framework.
2. Cultural Theory: policy outcomes influenced by four different general ideologies (individualism; hierarchicalism; egalitarianism; fatalism. Critical concepts remain ambiguous.
3. Constructivist Framework: focuses on the “social construction” of policy problems, policy belief systems, and frames of references. Tends to be more popular in Europe than in U.S. True aspects of our reality are socially constructed but they are also connected to real phenomenon (socioeconomic conditions, political institutions and rules, etc.).
4. Policy Domain Framework: a rather complex set of concepts for guiding network analysis. It argues that within a given policy domain/subsystem, organizations with an interest in a given policy area develop patterns of resource exchange and seek to influence policy events.
Chapter 2: Institutional Rational Choice: An Assessment of the Institutional Analysis and Development Framework by Elinor Ostrom I. INTRODUCTION The author suggests that institutional rational choice is too big for one person to summarize, especially in just a small chapter in an edited book. So instead, Ostrom focuses on institutional analysis and development (IAD) framework. This is a framework that began to be developed in the 1980s to help integrate a broad range of work undertaken by political scientist, economists, sociologists, lawyers, anthropologists, geographers, social psychologists and others interested in how institutions affect the incentives confronting individuals and their resultant behavior.
II. THE CHALLENGES OF STUDYING INSTITUTIONS. Ostrom discusses 6:
The term institutions refers to a broad type of entities
institutions are invisible
because there are many types of institutions, one needs input from a wide range of disciplines (economics, political science, sociology, psychology, etc).
Multiple disciplines means multiple languages/terms/concepts
rules (institutions) are created at multiple levels (global, federal, state, local, neighborhood, family) and so an analysis must be multi-level
combinations of rules are configural rather than additive.
a. Multiple definitions There are multiple definitions so one of the first tasks a framework must do is pick one.
"Rules, norms, and strategies adopted by individual operating within or across organizations."
"Referring to the shared concepts used by humans in repetitive situations organized by rules, norms and strategies."
b. Invisibility of Institutions Because institutions are fundamentally shared concepts, they exist in the minds of the participants and sometimes are shared as implicit knowledge rather than in an explicit and written form.
Examples: Property-rights systems that farmers have constructed over time.
c. Multiple Disciplines—Multiple Languages Scholars within different fields (history, political science, law, etc.) learn separate languages. One reason for developing IAD was to develop a common set of linguistic elements that can be used to analyze a wide diversity of problems.
d. Multiple Levels of Analysis The nested structure of rules within rules, within further rules is a particularly difficulty analytical problem to solve for those interested in the study of institutions. Those who study institutions at the macro level may examine the constitutional structure. These affect collective choice decisions the micro level. Example voter turnout in Belgium and the United States, why is Belgium much higher? Constitutional factors, local political structures, individual socialization (individualism vs. communitarianism).
e. Configural relationships Rules are not independent or additive. When rules are adopted they my interact with other rules in complex ways. Examples: Campaign finance with Constitutional protections of freedom of speech, Affirmative action with norms of fairness and equality, welfare in a capitalistic, free market system. A quorum rule requiring a high proportion of membership and a simple majority rule may be more restrictive than the pairing of a 2/3 majority combined with a quorum rule specifying a low proportion of membership attendance.
III. INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORKS, THEORIES, AND MODELS Research should be conducted at three levels: frameworks; theories, and models. The development and use of a framework helps identify the elements and relationships that need to be considered for institutional analysis (i.e. a general list of variables)
Theories enable the analyst to specify which elements of the framework are particularly relevant to certain kinds of questions.
A model makes precise assumptions about a smaller set of parameters and variables.
Ostrom wants one common framework that will help organize a large and diverse discipline in analyzing institutions. Within that framework there will be a family of theories and within those theories models can be tailored to particular problems at hand.
For policymakers and scholars interested in issues related to how different governance systems enable individuals to solve problems democratically, the IAD framework helps to organize diagnostic, analytical, and prescriptive capabilities. It also aids in the accumulation of knowledge from empirical studies and in the assessment of past efforts at reforms.
IV. THE IAD FRAMEWORK One part of the framework is the identification of an action arena and the resulting patters of interactions and outcomes and the evaluation of these outcomes.
The first step in analyzing a problem is to identify a conceptual unit—called an action arena—that can be utilized to analyze, predict, and explain behavior within institutional arrangements.
An action situation can be characterized by seven clusters of variables:
1) participants; 2) positions; 3) outcomes; 4) action-outcome linkages, 5) the control that participants exercise; 6) information; 7) the cost and benefits assigned to outcomes
All of these variables define the structure of the action area. Analysis proceeds toward the prediction of the likely behavior of individuals in such a structure.
V. DIAGNOSIS & EXPLANATION WITHIN THE FRAME OF AN ACTION ARENA a. An action situation – overharvesting from a common-pool resource Where to start?:
the participants: who and how many individuals withdraw resources from this resources system
Positions: members of an irrigation association, chair of a committee, enforcement officers
Set of allowable actions: what harvesting technologies exist and/or allowed
Potential outcomes: what geographic region and what events in that region are affected by participants in these positions? What chain of events links actions to outcomes
the level of control over choice: do appropriators take the above actions on their own initiative, or do they confer with others (permits required, etc.).
the information available: how much information do uses have about the condition of the resources, about other actors costs and benefits, and about the costs of cumulative joint actions.
Cost and benefits of actions and outcomes: how costly are various actions to each type of actor, what kinds of benefits can be achieved as a result of various group outcomes.
b. The Actor: Theories and Models of the Individual The IAD approach adopts the homo economicus assumptions of human behavior.
People’s behavior is shaped by incentives and constraints (rational)
People are intelligent and creative (strategic)
These assumptions can be tweaked: i.e. fallible learners, people make mistakes but certain institutional incentives may encourage them to learn from their mistakes.
The most fully developed, explicit theories of individual choice compatible with the IAD framework are game theory and neoclassical economic theory.
These theories, and the assumptions they hold, may not always be practical in certain settings. Therefore less strict assumptions may be adopted such as the assumption of bounded rationality--that persons are intendedly rational but only limitedly so—for the assumptions of perfect information and utility maximization (frequent example in judges in criminal justice).
c. Predicting Outcomes within an Action Area Not easy. In some cases modeling behavior have made very accurate predictions (common-pool resource use – race to consume), but changing rules, adaptations, and learning often complicate prediction
d. Evaluating outcomes
Economic Efficiency (cost/benefit ratio)
Fiscal Equivalence (those who benefit from a service should bear the cost)
Redistributional Equity (it may be important to redistribute resources to the needy)
Accountability (in a democratic polity accountability is critical)
Conformance to General Morality (reduce cheating, bribes, ethical behavior being rewarded)
Adaptability (ability to adapt to unique or changing circumstances)
VI EXPLANATION: VIEWING ACTION AREAS AS DEPENDENT VARIABLES Underlying the way analysts conceptualize action arenas are implicit assumptions about the rules individuals use to order their relationships, about attribute of states of the world and their transformations, and about the attributes of the community a. Rules
where rules originate
what is required, prohibited, or permitted
how rules are changed
types of rules, working rule, social habit, written rules, informal/formal
stability or fluctuation of a rule/
share mean of a rule or multiple definitions of a rule
b. Rule Configuration What are the rules in use that help structure an action situation?
Entry and Exit rules (residency, race, age, gender, etc.)
Position rules (how to move from member to a higher position)
Scope rules (rule that expand or limit the domain of an action)
Authority rules (what actions can authorities take)
Aggregation rules (Do certain actions require prior permission from, or agreement of, others?)
Payoff rules (how big can sanctions be, how is conformance to rules monitored, who is responsible for sanctioning nonconformers, how systematic/reliable are sanctions imposed, are there positive rewards)
c. Attributes of States of the World: Physical and Material Conditions What actions are physically possible?
What are the physical attributes of the world?:
size of the legislature
how one can address the legislature (one at a time)
when and where elections are held
d. Excludability and the Free-Rider Problem Is it difficult or impossible to exclude an individual from a good (clean air, fire protection, etc.)
This is critical in understanding actor behavior and policy/solution options.
e. Subtractability of the flow rivalrous or nonrivalrous consumption. Does my use interfere with your use. Traffic congestion, over fishing, vs. national defense. This is important because it determines how we can distribute, regulate or even charge for certain services.
Nonexcludable and rivalrous goods like a common pool resource like Cod require carefully crafted, detailed and fair rules to regulated and protect the good.
Providing adequate roads, which are excludable and nonrivalrous, but with congestion is less complicated and requires less complicated mechanisms.
f. Attributes of the Community Homogeneity or heterogeneity of the preferences of those living in the community.
The term culture is often applied to this bundle of variables.
Language, customs, trust, word of honor, etc.
VII LINKING ACTION ARENAS Understanding that most of social reality is composed of multiple arenas linked sequentially or simultaneously.
VIII MULTIPLE LEVELS OF ANALYSI Three levels of rules that cumulatively affect actions taken and outcomes obtained in any setting.
1. Operational rules directly affect day-to-day decisions made by the participants in any setting.
2. Collective-choice rules affect operational activities and results through their effects in determining who is eligible and the specific rules to be used in changing operational rules.
3. Constitutional-choice rules affect operational activities and their effects in determining who is elegible and the rules to be used in crafting the set of collective-choice rules that in turn affect the set of operational rules
IX USES OF THE IAD FRAMEWORK Wide variety of uses:
Used to study policy service delivery in metropolitan areas
International Forestry Resources
Theories of the Policy Process. Westview Press, 1999.
[No longer a chapter in New Edition] The Stages Approach to the Policy Process, What has it done? Where is it going? Peter deLeon In his 1951 paper “The Policy Orientation”, Harold Laswell detailed the first formal usage of the policy sciences concept. Here, Laswell operationalized ideas about improving governance by improving the quality of information provided government. He focused his attention on policy process, i.e. the functional stages any given government policy goes through during its policy life. His approach was process oriented.
Laswell emphasized what he termed “knowledge of the policy process”. He created a conceptual map or image of the major phases of collective acts, and proposed 7 stages of what he would later call the decision process; intelligence, promotion, prescription, invocation, application, termination, and appraisal.
This idea of a delineated-sequential process framework was much admired and advocated by numerous authors and academics. His policy process model directed an entire generation of research by policy scholars. Nevertheless, his approach of performing analyses of individual stages had a downside in that it oriented scholars toward looking at just one stage at a time thereby neglecting the entire process.
Policy researchers came to view the process in one of three ways. First, they were viewed as a sharply differentiated set of activities. Second, as disjointed episodic processes rather than a more ongoing continuous one, or three, as a policy phenomenon that appeared to transpire in a short period of time, more like the typical policy maker’s fast paced working schedule than the real life span of a given policy.
In the 1980’s academics such as Nakamura, Sabatier, and Jenkins-Smith proposed that the Laswell’s heuristic had serious limitations in that it neglected the role of ideas, particularly ideas involving the relatively technical aspects of policy debates. Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith listed six complaints.
1) The stages model is not really a causal model and does not lend itself to prediction.
2) It does not provide a clear basis for empirical hypotheses testing.
3) It suffers from descriptive inaccuracy.
4) It suffers from a built-in legalistic top-down focus.
5) It emphasizes the policy cycle as the temporal unit of analysis.
6) It fails to provide a good vehicle for integrating learning throughout the process.
Counter arguments supporting Laswell suggested that Sabatier’s and Jenkins-Smith’s six criticisms were overly narrow and overlooked the presence of what Laswell called a central theory that integrated policy events, and that the purpose of the seven steps was not prediction. Laswell had never suggested a theoretic model.
Peter deLeon suggests that the stages process still has value in policy research. He argues that we must recognize that it is not a model in the formal sense of the word. It has strengths as a means for categorizing policy actions as they vary from stage to stage. The policy process framework can be useful in moving the policy sciences toward a set of policy oriented theories.
Chapter 3 Multiple Streams
Lens/approach (terms used interchangeably according to Zachariadis)
Explains how policies are made
Specifically in its ability to explain policy formation such as agenda setting or decision making
According to Multiple Streams (MS) lens, it offers three answers to the three following questions
How is the attention of the policy makers rationed?
How are the issued formed?
How and where is the search for solutions and problems conducted
Level and Unit of Analysis
The MS lens is considered to be at the systemic level
The unit of analysis of MS is the incorporation of the entire system
MS focuses on the process of converting inputs into outputs, and subsequently pays great attention to the complexity of possible outputs rather than viewing it as a linear approach
As previously mentioned, MS explains policy formation. But also only under conditions of ambiguity
State of having may ways of thinking about the same circumstances or phenomena
As a result, it may create an environment of vagueness, confusion, or stress
Ambiguity differs from uncertainty
The inability to accurately predict an event
Why MS is useful?
Theories that are grounded in rational behavior tend to not apply in these cases due to
Problems and preferences aren’t fully known
They are vague and constantly shifting
Often difficult to determine if it is relevant or irrelevant
State agency told to strengthen oversight however budget is halved
Therefore time is a commodity that decision makers utilize and this framework of MS emphasizes the management of time rather than specific tasks
Kingdon’s 3 Streams
These streams are independent of one another, and in certain situations the streams are coupled with policy entrepreneurs
Moreover, sometimes the streams do converge and the development of policy formation is greatly enhanced
1st Stream: Problems
Given various conditions that exist, policy makers further define those conditions as problems by the following criteria
Indicators such as statistics are used to determine the importance of that condition
i.e. # of highway deaths over x amount of years
infant mortality rates
dramatic events or crises may prompt more scrutiny to the condition
feeding of current programs in place may warrant additional attention to the condition
not all conditions become problems
some conditions are views as problems due to the individual’s perception and how they choose to interpret the condition. Their evaluation may categorize it as a problem or leave it as a condition
2nd Stream: Policies
Policies are ideas generated by various groups (think tanks, bureaucrats, congressional staff, academia)
There are a large number of ideas in the policy arena however only a small percentage are considered due to technical feasibility and value acceptability
3rd Stream: Politics
overall sentiment of a country at any given time which may or may not change
pressure group campaigns
the consensus of the interest group is indicative of the political arena
national mood and administrative change are most important in having an effect on agendas
An important aspect in Kingdon’s argument
During critical moments in time, there are opportunities when a stream may converge with another. At this time, which is defined as a “policy window” there opportunities for advocates to push their pet solutions
It is during these times that great policy change is made
If the opportunities pass and the policy maker refuses to invest the time, money, or energy, then they must usually wait until another policy window presents itself
Differences between Kingdon and Zahariadis
Z uses MS to explain full policy formation whereas Kingodn applied it to a pre-decision process
Z’s interpretation of MS may be used at the comparative study of policy
May shift the unit of analysis due to interpretation
Kingdon – entire national government
Z may be framed in privatization
Specific issues and concerns
Are streams independent?
Some argue that no they are not
Changes in one stream may trigger change in another; therefore, the concept of coupling is less “fortutitous and more purposive and strategic”
Independent streams allow researchers to uncover rather than assume rationality
What is the precise role of the policy window in coupling?
Kingdon defines 2 areas in which policy windows open
i.e. airplane crash
Outcome of an election
When these two streams converge, there is a greater possibility for policy change
Do solutions always follow an incremental evolution in the policy stream?
Critics see MS as ahistorical and does not place enough emphasis on previous solutions to current situations
MS needs to generate more falsifiable hypotheses
Further research may question as to why some decisions tend to become garbage cans
There is the need to anchor the framework within specific institutional contexts
The MS approach may link various stages of the policy making process under a single lens
Multiple Streams Framework Structure, Limitations, Prospects
A good theory of choice provides answers to three questions
How is attention rationed?
How and where is the search for alternatives conducted?
How is selection biased?
Definition – Multiple Streams (MS) - is a lens, perspective, or framework (may be used interchangeably) – that explains how policies are made by national governments under conditions of ambiguity. – Examined here only in its capacity to explain policy formation (Agenda setting and decision making)
Theorizes at the systemic level, and it incorporates an entire system or a separate decision as the unit of analysis.
In the tradition of the garbage can model of organizational choice. Collective choice is not merely the derivative of individual efforts aggregated in some fashion, but rather the combined result of structural forces and cognitive and affective processes that are highly context dependent.
Definition – ambiguity – a state of having many ways of thinking about the same circumstances or phenomena. These ways may not be reconcilable, creating vagueness, confusion, and stress.
Problems with ambiguity within organizations or governments :
Participation is fluid – turnover is high and participants drift form one decision to the next, and non-governmental actors exercise significant influence over the form certain decisions will take.
People often do not know what they want
Technology – an organizations process that turns input into products is unclear – participants may know their parts but not the “big picture”
Choice is the collective output formulated by the push and pull of several factors.
MS achieves this by assuming a temporal order – adoption of specific alternatives depends on when policies are made – and by proposing a theory of political
“Who pays attention to what and when is critical. Time is a unique, irreplaceable resource, whose supply is totally inelastic” – because a primary concern of decision makers is to manage time effectively rather to manage tasks, it is reasonable to pursue a lens that accords significance to time rather than rationality.
Individual attention or processing is serial, systemic attention or processing is parallel. – Individual can only attend one issue at a time. Creates small number that a policy maker can actually consider/ however division of labor allows for more issues to be attended to simultaneously
A. the sequence in which solutions are considered strongly affects the decision outcome
B. Parallel processing – the ability within political systems with many subsystems that facilitate attention to many issues simultaneously
2) Policy Makers operate under significant time restraints –suggests a sense of urgency in addressing them. Time constrains limit the range and number of alternative to which attention is given
3) The Streams flowing through the system are independent – if systems can do in parallel, then each element or stream may be conceived as having a life of its own
Manipulation is the attempt to control ambiguity. Including the generation of facts to change people’s minds
Three streams are identified as flowing through the policy system
Problems – various conditions that policy makers and citizens want addressed – Policy makers find out about them through Indicators, focusing events, and feedback
Policies – a “soup” of ideas that compete to win acceptance in policy networks. Ideas are generated by specialists in policy communities and are considered in various forums and forms. – Only a few ideas will ever receive serious consideration on the basis of technical feasibility and value acceptability
National mood – the notion that a large number of individuals in a given country tend to think along common lines and that the mood swings from time to time
pressure group campaigns
Administrative or legislative turnover
Each is conceptualized as separate form the others at critical points in time, termed policy windows, the streams are coupled by policy entrepreneurs. The combination of all three streams into a single package dramatically enhances the chances that a specific policy will be adopted by policy makers.
1) Policy Windows - choices are made when the three streams are coupled or joined together at critical moments in time – “fleeting opportunities for advocates of proposals to push their pet solutions, or to push attention to their special problems” Can be opened by a compelling problem or by events in the political stream.
2) Policy Entrepreneurs – individuals or corporate actors who attempt to couple the three streams. They are more than mere advocates of a particular solution, they are power brokers and manipulators of problematic preferences and unclear technology.
Definition – coupling – attaching problems to their solutions and find politicians receptive to their ideas – a policy’s chances of being adopted dramatically increase when all 3 streams are coupled in a single package.
Processes – combination of the elements to produce choice
Attention – policy makers need to ration their attention among a limited number of issues. – MS argues this is resolved by institutional structure, the type of policy window that opens, and they symbols used to attract attention. Attention to particular issues is a function of opportunity, bias, formal position in an organization or government, and the number of issues competing for policy maker attention.
Search - the search for solutions and their availability are heavily influenced by the structure of policy networks within which the search is taking place – where policy makers search for solutions and how ideas germinate depends on the degree of integration of the policy communities
Selection – biased by the manipulating strategies and skills of policy entrepreneurs. Strategies include framing, affect priming, salami tactics, and the use of symbols. Not merely a function of perception but a question of skill at coupling.
General Concerns –
Something fundamentally wrong with the underlying structure and logic
Empirically based rather than assumption driven?
Problem may not be with the lens itself but with diffusion of knowledge of works in the field of policy studies.
Specific Concerns –
Are the streams really independent?
Can hypotheses generated by MS be statistically tested?
While MS provides the better overall explanations because it explains more accurately a greater number of occurrences, it systematically under-explains cooperative policy
Prospects – broader than the original application of only agenda –setting in a single national setting. It constitutes a lens of the policy process that is useful in a single case or in comparative applications across time, countries, issues, and policy domains.
MS amends arguments concerning the study of public policy developed explicitly by reference to narrow policy communities
The lens address the issues of ideas in public policy – solutions are developed not simply on the basis of efficiency or power, but also on the basis of equity. Political ideology is a good heuristic in an ambiguous and rapidly changing world
MS subscribes to the notion that institutions make things possible, but people make things happen
While MS provides the better overall explanations because it explains more accurately a greater number of occurrences, it systematically under-explains cooperative policy
Chapter 5: “The Network Approach.” Silke Adam and Hanspeter Kriesi.