Policy Windows

A core concept of Multiple Streams Approach, resulting from the ‘coupling‘ of the streams/work by policy entrepreneurs.

Basically, the brief opportunity when the stars align so that something big can and might happen.  Policy windows don’t last long, necessarily, and actors may have to wait quite a while for the next one…

“Kingdon uses the metaphor of a launch window in a space flight mission. If the window is lost, then the launch has to wait until alignments become appropriate again. The successful launch of a policy change is the result of the opening of such a ‘‘window of opportunity’’ in the interplay of multiple streams. In this view, agendas are not just a reflection of power but also depend on chance.”
(Brunner, 2008:502, emphasis added)

“Kingdon used the static metaphor of ‘policy windows’ to capture such future prospects at the agenda stage, but this is a rather awkward mix of stream and non-stream metaphors. More to the point, for someone looking at the entire cycle it can be argued that, as Cohen, March and Olson originally specified, choice opportunities constitute a separate stream akin to a policy development process, one in which collective energies are marshaled at specific points in time in the expectation that a decision will be taken and then appropriate action will be pursued.”

(Howlett, et al. 2015:425.)

Windows have deadlines –

Recurrent – embedded in the temporal repertoire of institutions, such as national elections or budget negotiations” (Zaharadias, 2016: 9)
Episodic –“externally or internally imposed by say, judges or natural catastrophes” (Zaharadias, 2016: 9)

Zahariadis, N. 2016. Delphic oracles: ambiguity, institutions, and multiple streams. Policy Science, Vol. 49, pp.3-12.

Crucially, policy entrepreneurs must have good timing, luck and credibility.  (So, it helps the maintainers of the  no potential policy entrepreneur ever develops too much credibility.)

“Kingdon indicates several examples from a rich repertoire of strategies in which entrepreneurs must engage to achieve successful coupling. In all of these, timing is essential (see also Herweg, 2013; R€ub, 2006). Before a policy window opens, entrepreneurs must already be engaged in preparatory work, the rhetorical “softening up” (Kingdon, 2003, pp. 128, 141) of the political climate for a policy proposal. Logical connections to be made at the time the window opens must be prepared discursively in advance.”
(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:122)


Brunner, S. 2008. Understanding policy change: Multiple streams and emissions trading in Germany. Global Environmental Change, Vol 18, pp.501– 507.

Howlett, M. McConnell, A. and Perl, A. 2015. Streams and stages: Reconciling Kingdon and policy process theory. European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 54, pp.419-434.

Winkel, G. and Leipold, S. 2016. Demolishing Dikes: Multiple Streams and Policy Discourse Analysis. Policy Studies Journal,Vol. 44, (1), pp.108-129.

See also

Howlett, M. 1998. Predictable and Unpredictable Policy Windows: Institutional and Exogenous Correlates of Canadian Federal Agenda-Setting. Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol.31(3), pp.495-524.

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