- 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: 21 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd Edition (Longman Classics in Political Science) 2nd Edition
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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. Clinton's plan was very nearly DOA (dead on arrival) once serious discussion began. Why? No single policy proposal garnered enough support. Democrats supported several different plans--such as a single payer system (in which government becomes the insurer), "pay or play" (in which businesses would largely fund health care insurance), and the Clinton plan itself (which focused on managed care). Thus, the policy stream never did "come together" around any single proposal. As a result, the initiative died and no substantial changes were forthcoming in the health care system.
What emerges in each stream is, to a large extent, "contingent," depending upon many factors--including chance. The result is unpredictability.
It may be that this work overemphasizes chance and contingency and underplays the role of human agency (for instance, the role of policy entrepreneurs who labot to get issues placed on the agenda and acted upon). Nonetheless, this is an exemplary work and well worth attending to if one is interested in setting the political agenda.
All that being said, I fairly enjoyed reading this book. The author chooses a lot of examples to illustrate his point about the workings of policy and how different actors throughout the process have a different influence on policy formulation. The examples may seem a bit dated at this point but I feel that they still add value to how things work today.
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. "Within the policy arena, or "policy primeval soup" alternatives face a certain level of natural selection. They are subject to a number of criteria - feasibility, congruence with values, political receptivity - that shape their acceptability. Those alternatives which meet these criteria - and are actively pursued by policy entrepreneurs - remain possibilities, while those that fail are no longer considered.
The question then becomes, how do problems, alternatives, and politics come together to create public policy. The answer lies in the "coupling" of streams. Although Kingdon contends that the streams generally operate independently, at times, they are joined together at "critical junctures" (20), that is, they are formed together into a single package. In such a "coupling," a problem is identified, a solution is "coupled" to it, and the political environment is ripe for action, thus creating a "policy window" in which new public policies can emerge.