Bounded rationality models and their closely related garbage can family of models have emerged as important ways of examining national policy-making when goals are not widely shared, attention is fleeting, time is scarce, choice is biased by framing effects, and collective benefits differ from individual interests. Under these conditions the utility of optimizing rationality is limited. Instead, Simon’s logic of bounded rationality stresses cognitive, computational, and organizational limitations in rational problem-solving while March and Olsen’s garbage cans and Kingdon’s multiple streams add the concepts of ambiguity and temporal sorting as fundamental steps in understanding how policies are made and legitimated. This chapter reviews their intellectual development, identifying their differences and similarities and specifying their benefits and drawbacks. The approaches supplement but do not supplant rationality. They remain fundamentally embedded within a broader information processing and interpreting view, indicating limitations and explaining deviations and pathologies. Both frameworks hypothesize robust processes that more closely match empirical observations of how policy is actually made, but doing so also complicates them substantially by increasing the amount of information needed to explain or predict public policies.
Punctuated equilibrium theory (PET) seeks to explain simple observation: Political processes are often driven by a logic of stability and incrementalism, but occasionally they produce large-scale departures from the past. In this introduction to punctuated equilibrium we an overview of the approach, and discuss how it has evolved. Then we examine some of the major critiques leveled against it, and some of the new work inspired by the approach. Finally, we review some of that recent work which has grown from PET and examine how it fits into the larger examination of dynamics in policy studies.
We will argue that our understanding of public policy can be improved by explicitly infusing institutional theory drawn from the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis. Our aim is to start a conversation towards a second-generation research agenda on policy studies, which is explicitly grounded in political and institutional theory–in particular the Institutional Analysis and Development framework. Much of the policy literature has relatively been institutions free or do not explicitly recognize the institutional foundations of public policies. We will explore some of the main ideas and contributions of the Ostrom Workshop namely political theory, politics as the art and science of association, polycentricity, methodological individualism and behavioral rational choice.
Various approaches to the study of public policy have used a ‘tools’ or ‘instruments’ approach to make sense of the complexity of contemporary policy-making. The Tools of Government approach developed by Hood (1983) and later by Hood and Margetts (2007) argues that for any policy problem government has four basic tools at its disposal: nodality, the property of being at the centre of social and information networks; authority, the legitimate legal or official power to command or prohibit; treasure, the possession of money or fungible chattels which may be exchanged; and organizational capacity, the possession of a stock of people, skills, land, buildings and technology. Any policy solution will be composed of some combination of these four tools, each of which has advantages and disadvantages in terms of being more or less expensive or renewable, for example. By treating government as a ‘black box’ and focusing on how it interacts with society, the approach provides a simple and elegant way to think about public policy, but in order to achieve this simplicity requires a radical simplification of core concepts of public policy.
Neo-institutional theory has become a major approach to the social sciences generally, and this chapter will assess the utility of institutionalism for understanding public policy. This task is complicated by the various different strands of institutionalism–normative, rational choice, historical and discursive— each having different strengths and weaknesses in explaining policy choices. That said, there are some common strengths, such as linking structures to choice. There are also some common weaknesses, notably difficulties in explaining change. This chapter will focus on the capacity of institutional approach taken as a whole to address fundamental issues of policy formation, maintenance and change.
The turn to arguments is the focus of a deliberative approach to policy analysis which has emerged to counter the standard technocratic emphasis on empiricism. Rather than emerging from epistemological considerations per se, it is based on an examination of what policy analysis and decision makers actually do in the real world of policy making. As such, it addresses the question of relevance which has long plagued policy analysis. Moreover, contrary to misunderstandings, it is more rather than less rigorous than neo-positivist policy analysis insofar as it accepts the need for empirical inquiry but requires that the data be examined against the contentions and assumptions of normative policy arguments. By facilitating deliberation, it seeks to elucidate the social and political meanings of competing policy discourses and the arguments derived from them. The resultant transparency is seen as a contribution to a more participatory approach to democratic policymaking.
Nearly 30 years ago, Paul Sabatier and Hank Jenkins-Smith created the advocacy coalition framework for scholars interested in gaining a better understanding of some of the most perplexing puzzles in public policy, including the formation and maintenance of coalitions, the propensity for learning and the role of science and technology in policy processes, and the factors associated with policy change over time. The ACF has since developed into a research program with scholars applying the framework, testing and developing its hypotheses, and exploring new methods of data collection and analysis in political contexts that span the globe.