#Awalkinthepark – Policy Theories and how to mash them up.

Making sense of it all?  How do we mash-up public policy theories, improve them. What should we worry about as we do this?

Cairney, P. 2013. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: How Do We Combine the Insights of Multiple Theories in Public Policy Studies? Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 41, (1), pp.1-21.

Petridou, E. 2014. Theories of the Policy Process: Contemporary Scholarship and Future Directions. Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 42, (1), pp.S12-32.

Howlett, M. McConnell, A. and Perl, A. 2016. Moving Policy Theory Forward: Connecting Multiple Stream and Advocacy Coalition Frameworks to Policy Cycle Models of Analysis. Australian Journal of Public Administration, in press.

Cairney, who is very good at this sort of thing, points out that combining multiple theories in policy studies could be a Very Good Idea but warns  there are “important ontological, epistemological, methodological, and practical issues that need to be addressed to ensure disciplinary advance.”
(Cairney, 2013: 1)

You can’t, sadly, bish-bosh-she’ll-be-right…  For one thing,

“key terms—such as “evolution,” “punctuated equilibrium,” or “policy entrepreneur”—… may have different meanings and refer to different phenomena within different intellectual traditions.”
(Cairney, 2013: 3)

His article looks at synthesis (combining the lot), complementary approaches (they sit alongside) and contradictory (there’s a Highlander style contest- “there can be only one).

I really really liked this, and it gives significant space to the pros and cons and ins and outs of these three approaches.

“Entrepreneur” may be used to explain policy innovations linked to exceptional individuals, but we can have little confidence that different studies are talking about the same thing and building their research on common foundations (see Christopoulos & Ingold, 2011; Mintrom & Norman, 2009). Such terminological problems may be magnified if we seek to identify similar processes in the natural and social worlds (where, for example, the idea of agency may be profoundly different).
(Cairney, 2013:7)

Parsimony comes with a price-

Treating states as unified actors may produce parsimonious explanation but only at the expense of more nuanced explanations based on organizational procedures, the decision-making environment, and the need for policymakers to bargain within government (pp. 253–54).  Of Allison 1971
(Cairney, 2013:8)

“Complementary” approaches (cheery cherry-picking /bricolage) comes with a price, too..

In most cases, advocates of this approach use a more manageable, and superficial, proxy for theoretical comparison. They produce an empirical case study, often based on documentary analysis supplemented by elite interviews, then set up a summary of several theories, and use those theories to identify a series of perspectives.

In this context, we can use the exercise to draw attention to the assumptions of a dominant understanding of the research problem, but we cannot expect to do justice to the empirical research agenda associated with each theory. The analogy of a “toolkit” for explanation may be apt as it gives us the image of someone who can draw on a wide range of theories but perhaps as a “jack of all trades and master of none” (although the analogy soon becomes contentious, as the flexible theorist may describe himself or herself as someone who knows which jobs require which tools—Ostrom, 2006, p. 8).
(Cairney, 2013:9)

And Cairney makes a point that should not be surprising to anyone who has been paying attention –

For example, Meier (2009) suggests, provocatively, that the popularity of theories depends on the academic abilities and standing of their proponents (compare with Fischer, 2003, p. 111 on the relationship between research findings and trust in the researchers). To this, we can add a more general point about the fashionability of some concepts, and the rise and fall of attention to them, which does not seem to relate to the rise and fall of their value or the weight of the evidence produced (much like the rise and fall of issues on the political agenda).
(Cairney, 2013:12)

And some scholars have a near monopoly on certain information (e.g. they’re the ones who did the elite interviews).  So

“it makes sense to encourage scholars to present multiple empirical narratives or multiple interpretations of the information that they have gathered.”
(Cairney, 2013:14)

After all, the world is very very complicated (and complex) and everyone has a limit to what they can do and know, so we need

“to manage the need to conduct specialist research in some areas and rely on others to provide knowledge of other areas, by seeking the best way to communicate those findings and learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives. We are also subject to factors that promote further academic specialization, such as: increasingly sophisticated research that requires specialization in a small number of fields and, therefore, a reliance on others to conduct research in other fields; and many “career incentives” associated with promotions procedures and the evaluation of academic work (Poteete et al., 2010, pp. 15–17, 20–21).We need some way to decide if the information provided by others is worthy of our attention (and, in a specialized and interdisciplinary world, a means to ensure that we understand the information provided by others).
(Cairney, 2013:15)

Without getting stuck in “fruitless debates” (p15)

Cairney has some choice things to say about the chest-beating and lamp-post pissing (my terms) that can go on at conferences and in journals –

This issue seems more serious when high-ranking peer-reviewed journals encourage fruitless debates in which the authors talk over each other and give each other straw men titles (including the term “positivist,” which is often used to discredit the work of some scholars without considering the substance of their research or arguments) instead of trying to engage on their terms.
(Cairney, 2013:15)

And wants people, within reason, to be open about not just research methods and hypotheses but also their empirical findings

To read for the thesis
Christopoulos, Dimitrios, and Kariin Ingold. 2011. “Distinguishing between Political Brokerage and Political Entrepreneurship.” Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 10: 36–42.

To read after the thesis
Allison, Graham. 1969. “Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis.” American Political Science Review 63 (3): 689–718.

Parker, Charles, Eric Stern, Eric Paglia, and Christer Brown. 2009. “Preventable Catastrophe?” Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management 17 (4): 206–20.

Petridou has done an admirable job of summarising recent (2011-2) thinking on various policy theories.

Interestingly in Advocacy Coalition Frameworks “coalition defection” is understudied (p.S14) – Guy Pearse’s 2005 thesis on how the greenhouse mafia enforced discipline is worth another look.

Then there is the question of resource coalitions and venue shopping

The issue of coalition resources, a hitherto less developed aspect of the framework, is investigated by Nohrstedt (2011), who suggests some resources are more important than others thus pointing out the need for thinking vertically when it comes to resource salience. Nohrstedt also highlights the instrumentality of policy entrepreneurs in venue shopping and their part in achieving policy change. Policy entrepreneurs in the form of policy brokers and the role in policy change are investigated by Ingold and Varone (2011).
(Petridou, 2014:S14)

There’s also good stuff on Social Construction and Design-

Normative aspects of policymaking were addressed by the social construction of target population and policy design framework, originally by Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram (1993). Policymakers manipulate, respond to, and perpetuate social constructions of target groups; that is, portions of the population receiving benefits or being burdened by costs, partially because it reinforces the policymakers’ gains of political capital (Ingram, Schneider, & deLeon, 2007). A positively constructed group, for example the military, is deserving of benefits, whereas a welfare queen (single mother, usually of color) is unequivocally undeserving of benefits.
(Petridou, 2014:S17)

And as with ACF, they have found it takes a decade to shift perceptions.

On Punctuated Equilibrium she observes that

In order to rid the framework from the pitfalls of the metaphor, Prindle (2012) suggests renaming it “punctuated incrementalism”; indeed Howlett and Migone (2011) find incrementalism to be very much a salient component of PET.
(Petridou, 2014:2S19)

There’s very useful stuff on Multiple Streams Framework (Kingdon)

As per Cairney 2013 above, the term entrepreneur has gotten smudgy

The policy entrepreneur emerged as a complementary component of broader theories of policy change including the ones reviewed in this article (Mintrom & Norman, 2009). PE has suffered from conceptual imprecision because the term “entrepreneur” has traveled across disciplines, because it has been used with many modifiers (policy, public, political etc.), and also because PE is as much about the individual actor (entrepreneur) as it is for the process (entrepreneurship).
(Petridou, 2014:S22)


Strategies are the focus of Brouwer and Biermann (2011). How do policy entrepreneurs manage commons resources? Brouwer and Biermann (2011) identify four types of strategies in their research of Dutch water management: attention and support seeking strategies, linking strategies, relational management strategies, and arena (venue) strategies. They argue that use of these strategies by policy entrepreneurs at the right timing could influence the development of policy streams.
(Petridou, 2014:S22 emphasis added)

She then turns to ‘Evolving Trends’ and mentions ‘Institutional grammar’ and then ‘Narrative Policy Framework’.  This might sit alongside/within/above some kind of discursive institutionalism, perhaps?  Dunno.

The Narrative Policy Framework is an evolving theory of the policy process investigating the empirical role of policy narratives in the policy process and whether policy narratives influence policy outcomes. Policy narratives are strategic stories with a plot, villains and good guys, and a moral lesson (Jones & McBeth, 2010; Shanahan, McBeth, &Hathaway, 2011). They can also include adjuvant components such as a plot and a causal mechanism (CM), and narrative strategies, such as the distributions of costs and benefits and policy beliefs
(Shanahan, Jones, McBeth, & Lane, 2013).
(Petridou, 2014:2S24)

There is some dead useful looking stuff (#notforthesis)  on “Collective Learning Framework”

In two recent articles, Gerlak and Heikkila (2011) and Heikkila and Gerlak (2013) build a conceptual approach to define and understand learning at the collective level, a concept which remains fuzzy despite the amount of literature devoted to it. First, Gerlak and Heikkila (2011) used the extreme case of the Everglades restoration program to define the different aspects of learning in policy making and unpack the factors which inform it. Their 2013 work refines this approach. Heikkila and Gerlak (2013) address three main challenges: first, they define and distinguish between the process of learning and the products of learning; second, they investigate the differences between individual and group learning; and third, they identify factors fostering or inhibiting learning.
(Petridou, 2014:2S25)

And finally, stuff on “Beyond subsystems: Policy Regimes”

Not quite sure where this fits;  Aren’t these just instrument coalitions?

The regimes approach centers on the interplay between policies and politics (May & Jochim, 2013) rather than being a tool aimed at measuring (policy) change. Moving beyond subsystems, policy regimes are conceptualized as “the governing arrangements for addressing policy problems” and may include “institutional arrangements, interest alignments, and shared ideas” (May & Jochim, 2013, p. 428). Ideas are the glue that holds the regimes together, much like beliefs are the glue of subsystems. The policy regimes perspective starts with the policy problem; as a descriptive lens it works backwards to map the governing arrangements for addressing this problem. As an analytical lens, the policy regimes proposes that the stronger the regime, the greater the levels of policy legitimacy, coherence, and durability.
(Petridou, 2014:2S25)

To read for the thesis
Brouwer, Stijn, and Frank Biermann. 2011. “Towards Adaptive Management: Examining the Strategies of Policy Entrepreneurs in Dutch Water Management.” Ecology and Society 16 (4): 5.

Howlett, Michael, and Andrea Migone. 2011. Charles Lindblom Is Alive and Well and Living in Punctuated Equilibrium Land.” Policy and Society 30: 53–62.

Ingold, Karin, and Frédéric Varone. 2011. “Treating Policy Brokers Seriously: Evidence from the Climate Policy.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 22: 319–46.

Ingram, Helen, Anne L. Schneider, and Peter deLeon. 2007. “Social Construction and Policy Design.” In Theories of the Policy Process, ed. Paul A. Sabatier. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 93–126.

Jones, Michael D., and Mark K. McBeth. 2010. “A Narrative Policy Framework: Clear Enough to Be Wrong?” Policy Studies Journal 38 (2): 329–53.

Nohrstedt, Daniel. 2011. “Shifting Resources and Venues Producing Policy Change in Contested Subsystems: A Case Study of Swedish Signals Intelligence Policy.” Policy Studies Journal 39 (3): 461–84.

Prindle, David F. 2012. “Importing Concepts from Biology into Political Science: The Case of Punctuated Equilibrium.” Policy Studies Journal 40 (1): 21–43.

Shanahan, Elizabeth A., Mark K. McBeth, and Paul L. Hathaway. 2011. “Narrative Policy Framework: The Influence of Media Policy Narratives on Public Opinion.” Politics and Policy 39 (3): 373–400.

Shanahan, Elizabeth A., Michael D. Jones, Mark K. McBeth, and Ross R. Lane. 2013. “An Angel in the Wind: How Heroic Policy Narratives Shape Policy Realities.” Policy Studies Journal 41 (3): 453–84.

To read after the thesis

Gerlak, Andrea K., and Tanya Heikkila. 2011. “Building a Theory of Learning in Collaboratives: Evidence from the Everglades Restoration Program.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 21: 619–44.

Heikkila, Tanya, and Andrea K. Gerlak. 2013. “Building a Conceptual Approach to Collective Learning: Lessons for Public Policy Scholars.” Policy Studies Journal 31 (3): 485–513.

Lubell, Mark. 2013. “Governing Institutional Complexity: The Ecology of Games Framework.” Policy Studies Journal 41 (3): 538–60.

Schneider, Anne, and Helen Ingram. 1993. Social Construction of Target Populations: Implications for Politics and Policy.” American Political Science Review 87 (2): 334–47.

And finally (though I should probably link it to another MSF extension paper that I read on the 26th April), Howlett et al.  This is another corker, aimed at combining insights from multiple streams and advocacy coalitions into policy cycle models of analysis (as you’d guess from the title.)

It hasn’t been published in dead tree format, so the pages refer to the pre-publication version, numbered 1 to 15….

So, they are setting out to do some combining (synthesising or complementarity, as per Cairney, 2013)

A pivotal feature of policy studies since the mid-1980s has been the development and use of several different analytical frameworks to help capture the main characteristics and dynamics of policy processes (Pump 2011). These frameworks are oriented toward moving beyond the particularities of policy-making processes in such a way as to guide investigators and help both students and practitioners make sense of the complex set of socio-political activities that constitute policy-making as well as its outputs and outcomes (Althaus et al. 2013; Cairney 2013; Howlett et al. 2009). However in their present state, these models contain contradictory elements and their use has led to many studies and scholars focusing upon or promoting one model over another in a process of ‘dueling analytical frameworks’.
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 1)

They point out that both policy-making and so analysis of policy-making is  all very messy and complicated (Bismarck’s sausages would be a GREAT name for a policy wonkery blog, imho).

Their article argues that if models are to advance thinking about policy-making, then both MSF and ACF approaches

“need revision if they are to apply to the post-agenda setting and post-formulation activities involved in policy development and implementation. Specifically, this article argues that a reconciliation of streams, advocacy coalition, and cycles models only becomes possible once it is recognized that neither the multiple streams model nor the ACF, as presently constituted, can deliver fully functional frameworks capable of understanding the entirety of policy-making activity and behaviour.”
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 2-3)

“Cycle” models have been around a long time, despite detractors

(e.g. Colebatch 2006; Sabatier 1991) who have argued that it presents an idealized image of sequential policy-making activity rarely encountered in practice,
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 3)

Yeah. Ibn Khaldun has published bugger all lately…

There’s a nice contrast of the relative strengths of the two approaches

Whereas Kingdon’s units of analysis for discovering the causes of stasis and change on the policy agenda were the heterogeneous forces and factors that converged upon Congress, Sabatier and his colleagues focused on political actors as the drivers of policy development. But rather than rely on the classic vehicle of pluralist group interaction as a mode of collective action (Truman 1971), or the amorphous issue network concept that had been proposed by Heclo (1977), Sabatier and Jenkins Smith created the ACF, an analytical structure in which like-minded actors formed competitive teams within each policy subsystem…. Although helpful in specifying who was involved in policy-making and how they interacted, however, the strength of the ACF formulation came at the expense of ignoring the decision-making process and reverting to a pre- Lasswellian ‘black box’ in which the inputs formulated by a successful coalition somehow were melded together to produce policy outcomes.
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 5)

There’s good stuff (as per Mukherjee and Howlett) on the idea of adding two new streams – a “policy process stream” and  a “program stream” to the existing model.  To my untutored eye, these are helpful rather than gaudy/gratuitous.

The policy process stream when the three problem, politics, and policy streams coalesce temporarily in the typical ‘policy window’ fashion that he described. This intersection creates a new policy process stream that becomes the main or central pathway upon which other streams subsequently converge. In turn, critical junctures are created that set up the future impetus for policy deliberations and establish the initial conditions, which animate subsequent policy process advances (or retreats) essentially becoming the ‘choice’ stream mooted by Cohen, March, and Olsen.
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 8 – emphasis added)

The program stream;

At this point the ‘policy’ stream separates from the main flow, which is comprised of the process, politics, and problem streams, and is now joined by a program stream composed of the actors and interests working to calibrate new program instruments (and integrating or alternating them with established ones) to generate new outputs.
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 9)

FWIW, I think they’re right when they claim

The research possibilities involved in working with this new framework are enormous, once we begin to see the value in adapting and combining the core insights of stages, streams, and coalition approaches, rather than seeing them as mutually exclusive. A new synthesis allows us to meld together analytical approaches that focus on different stages of policy processes, the interplay of multiple forces that shape these processes, and the competition between different sets of actors (and beliefs) as they vie for influence.
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 9)

And it looks squiggly beautiful…

howlett et al 2016

To read for the thesis

Voß, J.-P. and A. Simons. 2014. ‘Instrument Constituencies and the Supply Side of Policy Innovation: The Social Life of Emissions Trading.’ Environmental Politics 23(5):735–754.

Wilder, M. and M. Howlett. 2014. ‘The Politics of Policy Anomalies: Bricolage and the Hermeneutics of Paradigms.’ Critical Policy Studies 8(2):183–202.

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