Skip to main content

About this book

A major new introduction to theories of public policy. The author provides an accessible assessment of a wide range of theories and models from policy cycles, policy transfer, rational choice and socio-economic explanations to multi-level governance, advocacy coalitions and punctuated equilibrium and of their value to policy analysis.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction: Theories and Issues

The aim of this chapter is to identify the key themes that run throughout the public policy literature, and the book as a whole. We consider:
  • From the old to the new? How contemporary theories draw on, or reject, the classic focus on policy cycles and ‘bounded rationality’.
  • Power, agenda setting and public policy. The role of policymakers and the actors that seek to influence how policy is made.
  • Governance and the power of the centre. The extent to which power is concentrated within central government or dispersed to other types of governmental and non-governmental actors.
  • Individuals, institutions and environments. The individuals that make decisions, the institutions in which they operate and the socio-economic pressures that they face.
  • Bureaucratic politics, policy networks and group–government relations. The importance of ‘sub-systems’ or ‘policy networks’ in which relationships form between policymakers, civil servants and other policy participants such as interest groups.
  • The role of ideas. The pursuit of policy goals may depend as much on the strength oif the argument, and the beliefs of the participants, as the strength of the participants.
  • Stability and instability; continuity and change. Why policymaking involves stable relationships and policy continuity at one point, but instability and policy change at another.
Paul Cairney

Chapter 2. What is Public Policy? How Should We Study It?

The aim of this chapter is to:
  • Consider definitions of public policy and policy analysis.
  • Describe the main ways to measure policy change and identify policy types.
  • Develop the idea of competing narratives to describe and explain the results of policy studies.
  • Establish the role of theories and models of the policy process.
  • Describe the ‘stages’ or ‘policy cycles’ approach to policy analysis.
  • Explain why the policy cycles approach has been replaced by other theories.
Paul Cairney

Chapter 3. Power and Public Policy

This chapter examines:
  • How we define power.
  • The community power debate.
  • The three ‘dimensions’ of power.
  • The right to exercise power and the issue of popular consent.
  • The methods we use to identify power within political systems.
Paul Cairney

Chapter 4. Institutions and ‘New Institutionalism’

The aim of this chapter is to examine:
  • Institutions as the ‘structures of government’ that vary across policymaking systems.
  • How we define institutions and institutionalism.
  • Key variants of new institutionalism — historical, rational choice, normative, sociological, and constructivist.
  • Is there more to unite than divide the new institutionalisms? For example, we consider the debate between ‘empirical’ and ‘network’ institutionalism and consider the argument that common policy styles can be found in most political systems despite their institutional differences.
Paul Cairney

Chapter 5. Rationality and Incrementalism

This chapter examines:
  • How we define comprehensive and bounded rationality.
  • The literature which uses comprehensive rationality as a point of departure.
  • The argument that incrementalism is both a realistic description of how policy is made and how it should be made.
  • How the study of incrementalism informs the big questions of political science, such as: how should we make policy? Should power be concentrated in the ‘centre’ or spread throughout political systems?
  • The applicability of bounded rationality and incrementalist studies to multiple political systems.
  • How the effects of bounded rationality are conceptualized by modern theories.
Paul Cairney

Chapter 6. Structural Explanations

This chapter examines:
  • The main ‘structural’ sources of variation in the policy environment.
  • The extent to which these factors ‘determine politics’ or represent the beginning of the ‘funnel of causality’.
  • The extent to which policymakers are constrained by their economic environment, drawing on discussions of Marxism, globalization and studies of public expenditure.
  • The extent to which policymakers are constrained by the structures of government, drawing on idea of ‘inheritance before choice in public policy’ and that most policy change is ‘policy succession’.
  • Theories of complexity or complex systems.
  • Our need to identify both the constraints of the policy environment and the ability of policymakers to influence, and make choices within, that environment.
Paul Cairney

Chapter 7. Rational Choice Theory

This chapter examines:
  • What rational means, what rational choice entails and what rational choice theory is.
  • The role of game theory — what real world policy issues does it raise?
  • The collective action problem in public policy and how we deal with it.
  • The main debates between rational choice advocates and critics. RCT is controversial, and the debates go to the heart of how we understand science.
Paul Cairney

Chapter 8. Multi-Level Governance

This chapter examines:
  • How we define governance.
  • The ‘governance problem’ as an unintended consequence of policymaking.
  • How we pin down the meaning of multi-level governance.
  • The applicability of MLG to the UK, EU and other political systems;
  • The links between MLG and studies of federalism.
  • The links between MLG and other theories such as punctuated equilibrium.
Paul Cairney

Chapter 9. Punctuated Equilibrium

This chapter examines:
  • The meaning of punctuated equilibrium, policy community and monopoly.
  • The literature on agenda setting.
  • The use of venue shopping to explain issue expansion, shifts of attention and policy change.
  • The applicability of punctuated equilibrium within US and other political systems.
  • The value of this theory to the wider concerns of this book, such as: how do we identify power within a political system; and, why does policy change?
Paul Cairney

Chapter 10. The Advocacy Coalition Framework

This chapter examines:
  • The key aspects of the ACF, including the role of beliefs, the composition of sub-systems and external sources of stability and change.
  • The meaning of ‘belief systems’, the distinction between core, policy core and secondary beliefs and the role of policy-oriented learning.
  • How the ACF has been revised over time.
  • The applicability of the ACF to political systems outside of the US.
  • The value of this analysis to the wider concerns of this book, including the study of group–government relations, policy cycles, socio-economic factors and the role of ideas.
Paul Cairney

Chapter 11. The Role of Ideas

This chapter examines:
  • How we define and identify ideas.
  • The literature which treats ideas as independent variables — viruses, norms, ideologies and world views.
  • The use of multiple streams analysis to bring together a focus on powerful ideas and the receptivity to them.
  • The applicability of multiple streams analysis to the US and other political systems.
Paul Cairney

Chapter 12. Policy Transfer

This chapter examines:
  • What is policy transfer and how do we distinguish it from other terms such as lesson-drawing, diffusion and convergence?
  • Who does it?
  • Where do they transfer from?
  • Why do they do it?
  • What do they transfer?
  • How much do they transfer?
  • How ‘rational’ and how successful is the process of transfer?
Paul Cairney

Chapter 13. Conclusion

The aim of this chapter is to consider:
  • The scope for synthesis when we combine several theories.
  • The extent to which theories of public policy are complementary or contradictory, exploring the idea of a ‘policy shoot-out’.
  • The value of multiple, independent perspectives.
Paul Cairney
Additional information