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Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd Edition (Longman Classics in Political Science) 2nd Edition

4.9 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0321121851
ISBN-10: 0321121856
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Pearson; 2nd edition (August 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0321121856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321121851
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Carl A. Redman on January 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
John Kingdon attempts to answer very difficult questions in his work "Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies." What makes an idea's time come? What makes people in and around government attend to some subjects and not to others? In short, Kingdon explores how ideas become policy in his 1994 award-winning book.
The book makes many interesting conclusions, as Kingdon uses scientific research methods to discuss how ideas become policy. It is amazing that Kingdon is able to quantify how influential certain groups are to policy formulation and implementation. In doing this, he looks at the influence of groups in and outside of government. Kingdon then goes onto his major two concepts of the policy primeval soup and the political stream. Both of these are wonderful illustrations of how policymaking happens.
In the end, this is a great book for public policy students. My only complaint is that Kingdon is oftentimes too wordy. It seems that he could have written a much more effective piece by summing it up in a 40-page journal article. In any event, the book is worth the read, even if some chapters are only skimmed.
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Kingdon has produced an innovative and useful theory of the policy process. This book is clearly not intended for the lay reader, but for political scientists and policy specialists interested in theorizing about policy formation.

Kingdon's writing style is somewhat formal, and at times stiff, but the book is easy to get through. Kingdon provides many concrete examples of the ideas he discusses, making the abstract principles easier to understand.

Recommended for classes on the policy process, especially in conjunction with Baumgarter and Jones' Agendas and Instability in American Politics.
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In this very readable book, Kindgon provides an insightful perspective on how agendas are set and public policies made in the government. Using the "garbage can model" as the basis and starting point, Kindgon develops his "policy window" concept of policy making that has three fundamental components: problems, policies, and politics. Each component has a life of its own and is independent from each other. The concept of "policy entrepreneurs" is also introduced.
I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in public policy formulation.
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I am in the graduate program at American University's School of Public Affairs. This book was required for one of the core classes. The theory--the dynamic, fluid model that Kingdon builds in this book has been practically adopted as THE mantra within policy formation/agenda setting research.
The book is well organized and easy to follow. It is not a challenging read but I found sections of the book to be a bit dry. Also, be ready to contend with literally hundreds of fluid metaphors that Kingdon employs throughout the book.
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Agenda setting, in the world of politics, is when a problem becomes identified as an issue that calls for government attention, discussion, and--possibly--decision making. This book is one of the most important works on agenda-setting.

John Kingdon has stated that:

Political events flow along according to their own dynamics and their own rules. Participants perceive swings in national mood, elections bring new administrations to power and new partisan or ideological distributions to Congress, and interest groups of various descriptions press (or fail to press) their demands on government.

The author sees three streams that must come together for an issue to be placed on the agenda--a political stream (just noted above), a policy stream (in which some policy proposal emerges as "best"), and a problem stream (a problem develops that people label as important). If they come together and if the window of opportunity for success is there, then the issue can become an agenda item. If the streams do not come together, agenda placement is unsuccessful--as with President Clinton's health care plan. That plan had two of three requirements in place. One, the political stream was supportive. A new President had been elected with his party having a majority in both houses of Congress; furthermore, Clinton outlined as a campaign issue support for a more ambitious health care program for Americans. The confluence of these two factors produced something like a "mandate" for change. Two, the problem stream saw health care bubbling up toward the top. That is, increasingly, people seemed to define health care as a serious problem about which something had to be done.

Nonetheless, no major initiative emerged to be fully considered.
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Kingdon attempts to explain two steps in the policy process: (a) why some issues are placed on the policy agenda while others are not, and (b) why some policy options - out of many alternatives - are considered and selected while others are not.

Like Cohen, March, and Olsen (1972) Kingdon contends that multiple, independent "streams" flow through the policy process. The streams consist of (1) problems, (2) policy proposals, and (3) political events (pg. 92).

Kingdon contends that the agenda - "subjects that are getting attention" - arise from the problems and politics steams (21). In regards to problems, Kingdon argues that indicators, focusing events, and feedback bring problems to the attention of government officials. Problems to not only gain attention and rise on the governmental agenda, but they can also fade away as conditions change or interest wanes. Political events - changes in public mood, partisan and ideological shifts, administration changes, etc. - also shape the agenda. Under various political conditions, some issues will prove important, while others will not. Furthermore, actors play a role in shaping the agenda. Visible participants - politicians, the media, parties, etc. - are most influential in setting the agenda. They are in positions to bring issues to light.

The policy stream is primarily concerned with generating alternatives, i.e. a set of conceivable government actions. The policy stream is occupied by "hidden participants," i.e. bureaucrats, academics, congressional staffers, etc. These "hidden participants" generate many alternatives, often before a problem emerges. Within this group of "hidden participants" ideas are bounced around regarding a particular policy area.
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