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About this book

The fully revised second edition of this textbook offers a comprehensive introduction to theories of public policy and policymaking. The policy process is complex: it contains hundreds of people and organisations from various levels and types of government, from agencies, quasi- and non-governmental organisations, interest groups and the private and voluntary sectors. This book sets out the major concepts and theories that are vital for making sense of the complexity of public policy, and explores how to combine their insights when seeking to explain the policy process. While a wide range of topics are covered – from multi-level governance and punctuated equilibrium theory to ‘Multiple Streams’ analysis and feminist institutionalism – this engaging text draws out the common themes among the variety of studies considered and tackles three key questions: what is the story of each theory (or multiple theories); what does policy theory tell us about issues like ‘evidence based policymaking’; and how ‘universal’ are policy theories designed in the Global North?

This book is the perfect companion for undergraduate and postgraduate students studying public policy, whether focussed on theory, analysis or the policy process, and it is essential reading for all those on MPP or MPM programmes.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction to policy and policymaking

Abstract
Public policy is so important because it influences all aspects of our lives. It is difficult to think of any aspect of social life that has no connection to policy. If so, it is important to get policy right, or at least explain what goes wrong, and what anyone can be expected to do about it. In other words, we compare simple stories of how we think policy should be made with more complex stories of how it is actually made. For example, we can focus on why particular decisions are made. Why did so many governments decide to ‘bail out’ banks, rather than let them fold, after economic crisis? Why did many governments ‘privatise’ their industries and introduce private sector ideas to the public sector? Why have so many governments introduced major tobacco control policies while others have opposed further controls? Why did the UK government introduce the ‘poll tax’ or the Australian government reform gun laws (McConnell, 2010: 149–53)? Why do some groups seem to ‘win’ and others ‘lose’ when governments make key choices?
Paul Cairney

2. What is policy and policymaking?

Abstract
Introduction: the need to define policy and policymaking
‘Public policy’ is important because the scope of the state extends to almost all aspects of our lives. However, it is one of many terms in political science – like democracy, equality and power – that are well known but difficult to define. Our definition of policy affects how we analyse and understand real policy issues. Different definitions, drawing on different aspects of the policy process, give us multiple perspectives and set the agenda for the study of policymaking.
Paul Cairney

3. Power and Public Policy

Abstract
Power is one of the most important but least clear concepts in political science. We need to define it to explain its role in public policy research, and our definition can have a profound effect on what we study. It says much about which aspects of political life we think are most worthy of research, in much the same way that governments declare the problems most worthy of their attention. It also highlights the importance of research methods, since uncertainty about the meaning of power may lead us to wonder how to gather knowledge of it.
Paul Cairney

4. Bounded Rationality and the Psychology of Policymaking

Abstract
suggests that some actors are powerful because they can exploit the ways in which other people think. Therefore, studies of power link strongly to studies in psychology about the cognitive ‘biases’ on which all people rely. In a complex world beyond our understanding, we all have to rely on efficient ways of thinking, ignoring almost all information available to us, to allow us to make choices decisively. Cognitive shortcuts can be described provocatively as ‘rational’, when we seek systematic methods to identify the best information, and ‘irrational’, when we rely on gut instinct and emotion to act almost instantly (Cairney and Kwiatkowski, 2017). However, the use of emotion and morality to take care of one’s loved ones without weighing up the costs and benefits is perhaps the most reasonable action of all (Gigerenzer, 2001)! A more relevant worry is that cognitive shortcuts leave us vulnerable to error and manipulation. Policymakers are no exception to this problem.
Paul Cairney

5. Institutions and New Institutionalism

Abstract
‘New institutionalism’ identifies the rules, norms, practices, and relationships that influences patterns of behaviour in politics and policymaking. ‘Institution’ once described policymaking organizations such as legislatures, courts and executives (Judge, 2005: 2). Now, it describes the formal and informal rules that guide action. Institutions are not the buildings or arenas within which people make policy. They are the rules of behaviour that influence how they make it.
Paul Cairney

6. Structures, Environments, and Complex Systems

Abstract
When we seek to understand policy change, we attribute the exercise of power to the individuals that make policy, but also recognize the context in which they operate and the pressures that they face. This context prompts us to consider a different perspective to ‘comprehensively rational’ policymaking and the idea that the policy process begins with the decision by a policymaker to identify a problem to Context includes geographical and socioeconomic conditions, the government infrastructure and policies that are already in place, and the events that often seem to be out of the control of policymakers and prompt them to act.
Paul Cairney

7. Collective Action Problems in Public Policy

Abstract
Political systems often represent the main venue for collective action. For example, government often involves coercion, through policy tools such as regulation and Or, governments use ‘behavioural public policy’ which incorporates psychological insights to ‘nudge’ people into changing their behaviour (Box 7.1). In this chapter, we take a step back from such specific measures, to consider more generally why people act individually and collectively. Why do people agree, or refuse, to cooperate with each other to produce rules to solve policy problems? What are the consequences for policymaking? Should market, state, or communal practices drive collective action?
Paul Cairney

8. Multi-level Governance and Multi-centric Policymaking

Abstract
Multi-level governance (MLG) describes the sharing of power between national central government and other levels of government (hence multi-level) and non-governmental actors (hence governance rather than government). It identifies blurry boundaries between formal and informal sources of authority, which make it difficult to identify clear-cut decisions or power relations. In the international arena, it is difficult to identify sovereignty within national governments. They are tied increasingly to the policies agreed between states and implemented by international organizations. In the domestic arena, the interdependence between multiple levels of governments, and public and private actors, suggests that policymaking does not result solely from the exercise of formal powers. Instead, central governments must try to influence, rather than control, policy outcomes.
Paul Cairney

9. Punctuated Equilibrium Theory

Abstract
Introduction: the profound importance of policymaker attention
Punctuated equilibrium theory (PET) tells a story of complex systems that are stable and dynamic. Most policymaking exhibits long periods of stability, but with the ever-present potential for sudden instability. Most policies stay the same for long periods while some change very quickly and dramatically. Policy change in a particular area may be incremental for decades, followed by profound change that sets an entirely new policy direction.
Paul Cairney

10. The Advocacy Coalition Framework

Abstract
Introduction: coalitions, policy-oriented learning, and policy change
The advocacy coalition framework (ACF) tells a simple story of policy action within a complex policymaking system. People engage in politics to turn their beliefs into policy. As policy actors, they form advocacy coalitions with actors who share their beliefs, and often compete with other coalitions. The action takes place within a subsystem devoted to a specific policy issue, and a wider policymaking environment that can influence the subsystem dynamic and provide constraints and opportunities to policy actors. Things get more complicated when we consider the scale of policy activity contained within such analysis. The policy process contains multiple actors and levels of government. It displays a mixture of intensely politicized conflicts coupled with technical and routine policy-oriented learning. There is much uncertainty and debate about the nature and severity of policy problems. The full effects of policy may be unclear for at least a decade 4.
Paul Cairney

11. Ideas and ‘Multiple Streams’ Analysis

Abstract
Different approaches treat ideas as more or less important to overall explanation. For some, the role of ideas is the independent variable, or the source of explanation, which makes, ‘history a contest of ideas rather than interests’ these streams, but as actors adapting to, not controlling, their environments. This messy image is something to bear in mind when, in Chapter 12, we extend our analysis to the transfer of ideas across political systems and subsystems. While the concept of policy transfer suggests that the same ideas may prompt similar actions across a range of countries, the ‘window of opportunity’ suggests that policy change often results from idiosyncratic elements linked to the particular circumstances of individual political systems.
Paul Cairney

12. Learning and Transfer

Abstract
Policy learning is a vague but useful term to describe acquiring new knowledge to inform policy and policymaking. Knowledge can be based on information regarding a current policy problem, lessons from the past, or the experience of others. Policy transfer is also a broad term to describe the sharing of policy ideas from one place to another . Further, transfer is not the only term to describe the exchange of policies and ideas. Lesson-drawing brings together the study of learning from the past as well as other countries policy diffusion describes the spread of solutions among, for example, US states and policy convergence refers to the factors causing similarities in policy across countries
Paul Cairney

13. Conclusion: policy theory as accumulated wisdom

Abstract
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could combine the insights from the theories and concepts in this book, to accumulate knowledge of policymaking, and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts? We have good reasons to be optimistic. Although there is a proliferation of approaches and concepts, they often display an impressive degree of unity and a common research agenda. Most theories of public policy identify the same key empirical themes and conceptual issues. They ask comparable questions and identify similar causal processes. At a conceptual level, most identify bounded rationality and the interplay between individuals and their policymaking environment (Box 13.3). Most consider the interplay between the exercise of power and the role of ideas, and seek to theorize the relationship between sources of stability or instability and policy continuity or change. At the empirical level, many theories consider the pervasiveness of specialization and policy subsystems, and seek to account for a shift from the centralization of power towards a more competitive group government process and multi-centric policymaking
Paul Cairney
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