Focusing events and policy windows

Authored by: Thomas A. Birkland , Sarah E. DeYoung

Routledge Handbook of Public Policy

Print publication date:  November  2012
Online publication date:  December  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415782456
eBook ISBN: 9780203097571
Adobe ISBN: 9781136223259


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Policy scholars have long argued that the “stages” model of the policy process is not a useful model for generating testable hypotheses about policy-making (Nakamura 1987; Sabatier 1988; Sabatier 1991a, 1991b). But scholars still find the stages as useful “sites” for the study of important elements of the policy process, from problem recognition through implementation (deLeon 1999). Among the most intensively studied stages is agenda-setting, which is the process by which some issues gain and others lose attention among policy-makers and the public. Agenda-setting is important to all theories of the policy process because “the definition of the alternatives is the supreme instrument of power” (Schattschneider 1975: 66). Groups—or, more specifically, advocacy coalitions, in Sabatier’s Advocacy Coalition Framework—engage in rhetorical battles, in many different venues, to gain access to the agenda while attempting to deny agenda access to other actors (Cobb and Ross 1997). Group competition, a major driving force in agenda-setting, can be fierce because of the limited capacity of any system or institution to accommodate all issues and ideas (Walker 1977; Baumgartner and Jones 1993; Cobb and Elder 1983). This competition is over both which problems are most important, and over what causes and solutions surround any one problem (Hilgartner and Bosk 1988; Lawrence and Birkland 2000, 2004; Birkland and Lawrence 2009). The agenda-setting process is therefore a system of sifting issues, problems and ideas, and implicitly assigning priorities to these issues.

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