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The Policy Process


Policy as craft knowledge ... There is no one policy science, but... Policy studies are inherently interdisciplinary ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Policy Process

The Policy Process
  • PA 598 Public Policy Research
  • North Carolina State University
  • January 29, 2008

How to conceive of policy
  • Policy process studies
  • Policy analysis (welfare economics)
  • Policy as craft knowledgePolicy as expertise on
    a particular area of policy (science, biology,

Why I focus on the process
  • Strong foundation in political science
  • Strong theoretical orientation
  • Theory tells us something about what to look for
    in the real world to confirm or disconfirm our
  • We test theories through hypothesis testing just
    like other sciences do

The Policy Process Tradition
  • Starts with Harold Lasswells admonition for
    policy science
  • There is no one policy science, but
  • All aspects are policy focused What government
    does or does not do.
  • Policy studies are inherently interdisciplinary
  • My work is located in the policy process tradition

Features of other approaches
  • Policy analysis
  • Highly economistic
  • Fails to understand the role of a community
  • Economics doesnt really deal with the problems
    of market failure, externalities, etc.
  • But, the models are good for teasing out
    questions of effectiveness, trade-offs, etc.

Features of other approaches
  • Policy as craft knowledge (like in an MPP or this
  • Good on the nuts and bolts of policy making, and
    useful in this way
  • But not very strong theoretically why does the
    process work this way?
  • This is much like the difference between
    engineering and science (although this
    distinction is overdrawn)

Features of other approaches
  • Subject area expertise
  • Advantages People like this are needed to help
    move policy along
  • Disadvantages
  • Some experts dont know how the process works
  • Experts work may be misused
  • Some experts choose not to become involved in the
    policy process because of personal preferences

Our Approach Evidence Based Policy Advocacy
  • Realizes that evidence from analysis is important
    and useful
  • Realizes that evidence is not enough to win
    policy debates
  • Realizes that some questions are not strictly
    analytical or scientificthat politics are
  • Success in policy debate relies on advocacy and
    effective argumentation
  • Success also requires knowledge of the system

Concepts, Definitions, and the Policy Environment
Some basic concepts
  • Politics Who gets what
  • Public Policy What government chooses to do or
    not to do
  • If the government in the Babcock Place or Seattle
    Commons cases had chosen to do nothing, this is
    still a policy choice
  • The Policy Process
  • The process by which politics is translated to

A Framework for thinking about public policy
  • Individuals
  • Groups
  • Institutions
  • Rules
  • Ideas
  • Ideas are created by, and shaped in or by,
    individuals, groups, institutions, and rules

Are individuals really the essential unit of
analysis in policy?
  • No, according to political scientists
  • Societies are not marketssometimes societies are
    zero-sum games
  • People in societies are not necessarily
    rationally acting, utility maximizing actors
  • Social benefit is not necessarily the product of
    exchanges, because markets experience market
    failures (information asymmetry, externalities)
  • The more appropriate unit of analysis is the
    community or Polis
  • The Polis need not exist in a strictly
    market-based system
  • But, policy entrepreneurs are very important.

Are individuals really the essential unit of
analysis in policy?
  • Yes, according to the economists
  • Societies are the product of voluntary exchanges
  • The sum of these exchangesincreased social
  • But what are the assumptions of economics?
  • Perfect information
  • Mutually beneficial exchanges
  • The full cost of a good is captured in its price
  • Are these assumptions reflected in reality?

Deborah Stones Idea of The Polis
  • Public Interest
  • Commons Problems
  • Actions with private benefits that entail social
  • Social benefits that require private sacrifices
  • The challenge getting people to forgo benefits
    or to accept some sacrifice for the broader good.
  • Influence
  • Cooperation
  • Loyalty
  • Groups
  • Information
  • Passion
  • Power

The basic building block in politics and policy
is the group
  • The limited power of individuals
  • Collective action problems and how groups
    overcome them
  • The benefits of group membership

  • Formal political institutions
  • The three branches
  • The 50 states
  • The gt80,000 local governments
  • Informal or unofficial institutions
  • The media
  • Membership groups
  • Policy networks or communities

  • Formal rules laws, regulations, standard
    operating procedures, organizational charts
  • Informal rules favors, prioritizing (agenda
    setting), decision systems, collegial networks
  • These shape and are shaped by institutions

Rules that shape institutions
  • The Constitution
  • Creates the three branches, implies an executive
  • Laws, such as enabling legislation
  • But, EPA has no single enabling act
  • Many actsNEPA, Clean Water Act, Clean Air act,
    etc.Thus, EPA organized on media lines

Institutions that shape rules
  • Agencies have regulatory power
  • Informal institutions have unwritten rules or
  • Institutional and leadership choices shape how
    laws are actually put into practice (implemented)

  • Ideas are what drives the policy process forward
  • Ideas come from individuals and groups in the
    policy process
  • How are ideas organized in a way that policy can
    be made?

Historical and Environmental Features that Shape
  • Political culture
  • The Constitution
  • Separation of Powers
  • Federalism
  • The social environment
  • The economic environment
  • The technological environment

Policy Process Elements
Elements of the Policy Process
  • Problem definition
  • Agenda setting
  • Policy development
  • Alternative selection
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation
  • Feedback

Problem Definition
  • What is a problem?
  • How did we define the problem in the Seattle
    Commons case?
  • Is there one definition of a problem?
  • Which problem definitions are most likely to be
    accepted as the definition

Problems and conditions
  • Problems something we can do something about
  • Conditions Things we cannot influence
  • What turns conditions into problems?
  • Social changes
  • Science and Technological Changes
  • The shift from condition to problem is often a
    trigger for agenda setting

Agenda Setting in the Policy Process
  • What is an agenda?
  • What are the levels of the agenda
  • The agenda universe
  • Systemic agenda
  • Institutional Agenda
  • Decision Agenda

What are actors goals in agenda setting?
  • To put things on the agenda
  • To take things off the agenda
  • This is an important element of power

Why Does Agenda Setting Matter?
  • Limited agenda space for issues
  • Limited space for different constructions of
  • Because more attention usually yields more
    negative attention

Why Does Agenda Setting Matter?
  • Groups seek to gain attention to their preferred
    issues, while blocking other issues from the
  • Because the act of getting an issue on the agenda
    can influence the choice of policies that are
    ultimately adopted
  • Focusing events are opportunities to advance
    issues or interpretationsthat is, ideas--on the

How do issues reach the agenda?
  • Changes in indicators of a problem
  • Focusing events
  • An event that is or is potentially harmful,
    affects a particular community of interest, and
    that is known by mass and elite actors almost

Policy Development
  • Most policy ideas already exist but wait for an
    opportune time to arise
  • The Patriot Act
  • The Oil Pollution Act of 1990
  • Policies are part of the whole universe of ideas
    that are constantly being debated
  • Policies are the expression of ideas and belief

Alternative Selection
  • Why are some policies chosen over others?
  • Tradeoffs between two values
  • Fiscal concerns
  • Political feasibility
  • Is the best policy always chosen?

  • One of the most studied aspects of policy
  • The question why are some policies successfully
    implemented, while others fail?
  • Poor policy design or theory
  • Disagreements between federal, state, local,
    street-level implementors
  • Insufficient resources

Evaluation and Feedback
  • How are programs evaluated?
  • Scientifically
  • Politically
  • What happens to programs that dont work
  • What do we mean by dont work?
  • Does failure on traditional criteria mean that we
    replace the policy?

The Problems with the Stages Model
  • Not every step always happens
  • Not every step always happens in order
  • The model doesnt always run to completion
  • There is very little theory here
  • Recent better theories have enhanced our
    knowledge of agenda setting

Foundational Work in the Policy Process Tradition
  • Paul Sabatiers Advocacy Coalition Framework,
    dating to the late 1980s
  • John Kingdons streams metaphor of agenda
    setting and policy choice (1984, 1995)
  • Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Joness work on
    long-term stability and short-term instability
    (punctuation) in the policy process.

Common Features of the New Process Literature
  • A rejection of the stages model of the policy
  • A recognition of the value of individuals (policy
    entrepreneurs) and groups (including coalitions)
  • The role of ideas in the policy process

Kingdons Streams Metaphor
                  Screen clipping taken
4/2/2005, 126 PM    
Focusing events reveal problems
Baumgartner and Jones Punctuated Equilibrium
  • Why is there long periods of stasis in policy
    followed by sudden periods of change?
  • Greater attention to an issue? greater negative
    attention ? changes in the policy image
  • What triggers attention? Sometimes, a focusing

Sabatiers Advocacy Coalition Framework
  • There are often many groups in a policy domain.
  • but they coalesce into two to four advocacy
  • Policy disputes are mediated by policy brokers
  • The policy domain is the site for learning among
    participants in the advocacy coalitions

  • The policy process is not as neat, orderly, or
    tidy as textbooks or civics classes would have
    you believe
  • Nor is it completely irrational and illogical
  • You can (and maybe should!) participate in the
    policy processtheres no secret handshake
  • But, basic knowledge of how the process really
    works is essential to successfully navigating
    through the policy process