Process sequencing

Authored by: Carsten Daugbjerg

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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Much policy research is undertaken within a restricted time perspective. In explaining policy decisions, many studies focus on the immediate, assuming that ‘causes and outcomes … are both temporally contiguous and rapidly unfolding’ (Pierson 2003: 178, see also Bulmer 2009). As Pierson (2003: 180) argues: ‘There is … no reason to think that most political processes, or the most interesting ones, are necessarily best understood by invoking accounts with this kind of temporal structure’. A research strategy in public policy analysis focusing on the immediate may at best provide partial understanding of policy evolution since important dynamics which are rooted in past events may be missed. Hence, in the recent two decades or so, there has been a growing interest among policy analysts in policy development over time, in particular among historical institutionalists who have attempted to establish the reproduction mechanisms maintaining path dependent policy development (see Kay, this volume). An alternative, but related, approach to explaining policy evolution over time is process sequencing. It focuses on the temporal connections between policy events and attempts to establish how previous policy change enables and shapes subsequent policy changes. While analysis on path dependency focuses on the mechanisms retaining policy development within a particular path, allowing for bounded policy change, the sequencing approach concentrates on the way in which policy evolves without assuming that the policy direction resulting from a series of policy reforms would be predetermined by path dependency. Rather, it is an analytical approach to policy evolution in which fine-grained temporal analysis of the causal relations between policy events is the key to explaining policy evolution. The basic assumption in process sequencing is that an event in a policy sequence is both a reaction to an antecedent event and a cause of a subsequent one. Thus, policy outcomes feed back and become inputs in the policy process. In process sequencing, the analytical focus is on the structural constraints and opportunities embedded in previous policy events and the ability of reform advocates to overcome the constraints and utilise the opportunities in order to respond to challenges emerging from the broader policy context or from within the policy. Though each policy adjustment is unlikely to be radical, the sequence of adjustments may over time cumulatively amount to substantial policy change (Rose 1990: 264).

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