Long quote, but the bold bit captures this very important concept very well. As William Goldman, the legendary Hollywood screenwriter says, “nobody knows anything”…
In contrast to models of rational behaviour, the MSF accords significance to context and time – the latter being a scarce and valuable resource of policymakers, whose primary concern is time, rather than task, management. Instead of choosing issues to solve, policy-makers are often forced to address a ‘multitude of problems that are thrust upon them by factors beyond their control’ (Kingdon 1995: 75). The MSF explores which issues get attention and when, how and which actors are mobilized to participate in a given choice opportunity, how issues are framed and meaning generated, and how the process is politically manipulated by skilled policy entrepreneurs. We use EU examples to illustrate the points made.
The lens makes three assumptions. First, policy-makers operate under significant and varying time constraints. In practice this means (a) they cannot attend to all problems, (b) they must use heuristics to get things done, and (c) they must accept outcomes that satisfice rather than optimize. Second, means and ends, solutions and problems are generated independently of each other. The implication is that information is vague, consequences are uncertain, and ‘there appears to be no satisfactory way of determining an appropriate set of means or ends that would obtain sufficient agreement among a diverse set of stakeholders’ (Alpaslan and Mitroff 2011: 23). Political conflict is endemic and issues are frequently settled by activating certain frames as EU actors move in and out of the process. Third, ambiguity permeates the process. Most actor preferences are opaque and not well defined; organizational technology is only partially comprehensible; participation is fluid. Information and institutions are not value-neutral. As a result, the process is open to political manipulation biased in favour of those who generate information, control access to policy venues, and synchronize or exploit group, national and institutional timetables.
Robert Ackrill , Adrian Kay & Nikolaos Zahariadis (2013) Ambiguity,
multiple streams, and EU policy, Journal of European Public Policy, 20:6, 871-887,
“A key MSA element is ambiguity, which involves contestations over issues, meaning, causes, and consequences. By encouraging rival interpretations, ambiguity affords opportunities for policy entrepreneurs to build and sustain coalitions that advocate or oppose policy change. We assume coalitions are built in the policy formation phase and explore coupling and decoupling processes during implementation.”
(Zahariadis and Exadaktylos. 2016;61)
Zahariadis, N. and Exadaktylos, T. 2016. Policies that Succeed and Programs that Fail: Ambiguity, Conflict, and Crisis in Greek Higher Education. Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 44 (1), p. 59-82.