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Sabatier-Summary Ch 1-5-Theories of the Policy Process

Sabatier-Summary Ch 1-5-Theories of the Policy Process

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Published by Gary Larsen

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Published by: Gary Larsen on Mar 11, 2011
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Gary L. LarsenJanuary 12, 2005
Theories of the Policy Process
: Sabatier 
Part 1Introduction
Chapter 1. The Need for Better Theories,
Paul A. Sabatier 
Sabatier first sets the stage for the need for better theories by identifying theextreme complexity of the policy process identifying its interacting elements to include(a) hundreds of actors, (b) time spans of a decade or more, (c) multiple programs within agiven policy arena, (d) technical disputes on all aspects, and (e) most policy disputes“involve deeply held values/interests, large amounts of money, and, at some point,authoritative coercion” (p. 4). He posits the necessity of a strategy of science whichemploys (a) verifiable methods and analysis, (b) explicit concepts and propositionsframed to be testable, (c) propositions should be general and focused on questions of relevance, and (d) critical peer review. He goes on to characterize three kinds of propositions: conceptual frameworks, theories, and models on a continuum of increasingcomplexity and narrowing of scope. While Sabatier acknowledges the prototypical“Stages Heuristic” of early policy process theoreticians, he finds it critically inadequatefor a variety of reasons necessitating exploration of more promising theoreticalframeworks. In advancing criteria by which to judge seven frameworks, he creates for policy process theories a Weberian ideal type that exhibits the following characteristics:(a) meets the test of being a scientific theory, (b) it has been subject to recent conceptualdevelopment and empirical verification with the result of being judged viable by peers,(c) the theory must be explanatory of the policy process, and (d) must address factorsjudged to be important by political scientists in their consideration of publicpolicymaking. By these criteria he has discriminated among the following frameworksthose meeting the criteria sufficiently to merit detailed analysis in his book.
Discriminating Policy Analysis Frameworks Using Sabatier’s CriteriaPromising Frameworks
The Stages Heuristic
Institutional Rational Choice
Multiple-Streams Framework 
Punctuated-EquilibriumFramework 
Advocacy CoalitionFramework 
Policy Diffusion Framework 
Funnel of Causality and Other Frameworks
Less-promising Frameworks
Arenas of Power 
Cultural Theory
Constructivist Frameworks
Policy Domain Framework 
Part 2Alternative Views of the Role of Rationality in the Policy Process
Chapter 2. The Stages Approach to the Policy Process: What Has It Done/ Where Is ItGoing?
Peter deLeon
DeLeon traces the genesis of the “Stages Heuristic,” following the transformationof Laswell’s seven “stages” (1951) into “the decision process” (1956) which ischaracterized by the following steps: Initiation, Estimation, Selection, Implementation,
 
Evaluation, and Termination. Sabatier finds this framework to be critically deficient for avariety of reasons including that (a) it is not a causal model, (b) it provides no basis for peer verification, (c) it is descriptively inaccurate, (d) it suffers from a legalistic top-downorientation, (e) it emphasizes the unit of analysis of policy cycle at the expense of otherssuch as a system of intergovernmental relations, and (f) it does not provide a good way tointegrate policy analysis and the policy learning that occurs through public process. Tocounter, DeLeon affirms the framework’s heuristic utility in policy research anddevelopment as evidenced by its wide adoption for a number of years and its strongcongruence of purpose with the very purpose of policy analysis to create, in Laswell’swords “better intelligence leading to better government” (cited by DeLeon as quoted byBrunner (1991) (p. 81)).Chapter 3. Institutional Rational Choice: An Assessment of the Institutional Analysis andDevelopment Framework,
Elinor Ostrom
The Institutional Rational Choice Framework creates an “action arena” whereactors play out action situations circumscribed by particular boundary conditions of physical/material conditions, attributes of community and rules-in-use. This bearssimilarity to Weber’s civil society that is merely the playing field upon which individualsmediate the effects of the state and the economy on people. Patterns of interaction lead tooutcomes, both of which are judged by evaluative criteria which, in turn, affect boundaryconditions, situations, and actors. Ostrom employs criteria of economic efficiency, fiscalequivalence, redistributional equity, accountability, conformance to general morality, andadaptability to judge policy outcomes. In her framework, action arenas are dependentvariables. She also suggests that the framework works well in characterizing multiple andnested action arenas for any one level as well as nesting of arenas across analysis levels.She characterizes the framework as being “a general language about how rules, physicaland material conditions, and attributes of community affect the structure of action arenas,the incentives that individuals face, and the resulting outcomes” (p. 59). In response tothe editor’s request to assess the framework, Ostrom identifies key questions that wouldneed to be answered in such an assessment. Interestingly, her response can also be framedas an ideal type of public policy theory which would have the following features: (a)provision of a coherent language for universal theory elements, (b) useful for discriminating differences and similarities, as well as for analysis of other theories, (c)stimulation of new theory development, (d) serves to organize empirical research in newareas, (e) leads to new theories and better explanations, (f) useful at multiple levels of analysis, (g) fosters integration across disciplines, (h) consistent with other frameworks,and (i) performs better than other theories.Chapter 4. Ambiguity, Time, and Multiple Streams,
Nikolaos Zahariadis
The Multiple Streams approach focuses on agenda setting and decisionmaking. Itaddresses (a) rationing of policymaker attention, (b) issue framing, and (c) location of thesearch for problems and solutions. It operates at both the unit of analysis of the singledecision as well at the level of policy systems, and has been subsequently extended todeal with policy issues/domains. Kingdon “identified three streams flowing through the
 
system: problems, policies, and politics. Each is conceptualized as largely separate fro theothers, with its own dynamics and rules. At critical points in time, the streams arecoupled by policy entrepreneurs” (p. 76). Policy windows are created when the threestreams are joined together at critical junctures. Such critical junctures arise either exogenously as in the case of a plane crash or endogenously by events in the politicalstream. Critics raise questions of (a) independence of the three streams, (b) the role of stream conjunctions and policy windows, (c) correspondence of solutions withincremental policy stream evolution, and (d) is the framework merely a heuristic device?The author concludes that the ambiguity in the framework cited by some critics isactually a reflection of the real world ambiguity faced by all policymaking.
Part 3Frameworks Focusing on Policy Change over Fairly Long Periods
Chapter 5. Punctuated-Equilibrium Theory: Explaining Stability and Change in AmericanPolicymaking,
James L. True, Bryan D. Jones, and Frank R. Baumgartner 
Punctuated-Equilibrium Theory seeks to explain the empirical world of policystasis which occasionally erupts into a new policy regime. This theory explains that“Political sytems, like humans, cannot simultaneously consider all the issues that facethem, so the existence of some form of policy subsystems can be viewed as a mechanismthat allows the political system to engage in parallel processing” (p. 100). For theexceptions, when the political system does fully embrace an issue, it does so in serialprocessingone at a time. From a systems feedback standpoint, the automatic parallelprocessing operates on negative feedback, and the system is reset to a new equilibriumpoint as the result of positive (goal-changing) feedback. Imbedded in the theory is thenotion that “the twin foundations of conservative and overlapping political institutionsand boundedly rational decisionmaking . . . combine to create a system that is bothinherently conservative and liable to occasional radical change” (p. 104). The inherentweakness of this system is also its strength. While its description of issue evolution isconsistent with observations of how issues actually change, the very non-linearity or singularity of the changes when they do happen make prediction of both timing andoutcomes of the new stasis particularly unpredictable.CommentsIn discussing the need for better theories in the first chapter, with only onedismissive reference to constructiveness theories, Sabatier argues for a strictly scientificapproach. In so doing he is tacitly arguing that only one world view is right. Heppner,Kivlighan, and Wampold (1999) assert that “Worldviews are the philosophicalfoundations that guide understanding of the world and how inquiries are made to further that understanding” (p. 236). They posit four worldviews:1.
Positivism
employs the scientific method and holds that the nature of the universecan be known and the scientist’s goal is to discover the natural laws that governthe universe.2.
Postpositivism
also employs the scientific method, but recognizes truth cannot befully known; we must therefore make probabilistic statements rather than absolute

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