The reading assignments of Week 2focuses on examining the advances and challenges of policy process theoriesfollowing Harold Lasswell’s foundational work, referred to as the “textbookpolicy process” (Nakamura 1987, 142). TheLasswellian approach holds that the policy process follows a sequence whereeach policy stage represents a specific activity and each activity, in ofitself, produces outcomes that help the policy process move forward (Nakamura1987, 142). Many researchers, however, argued that the approach was tooabstract for practical application in policy process research. As such, the fourassigned readings in this comparative analysis concomitantly provide severalcritiques of the “textbook policy process” (Nakamura 1987, 142) and advocatevarious reifications for the future of policy process research. Robert Nakamura’s (1987) mainargument finds that the concepts commonly associated with policy process researchparadigm carry different meanings to the researchers, scholars, and actorsinvolved (1987, 142-144).
As such, the Lasswellian approach poses both theoreticaland practical issues. This issues will then lead to misspecification andmisapplication in several key areas within the research field: policy formulation,policy implementation, and policy evaluation (1987, 145). As such, Nakamura(1987) suggests that an alternative approach to policy process research shouldbe centered on a “broadly defined sequence” with focus geared towards the”functional requirements of each area… separately and independently” (1987,152). Nakamura (1987) presents a strong argument against the usefulness of theapproach.
For starters, many policies are not solely precipitated bygovernmental action and, as such, many policies would be excluded on this basisalone (145). Secondly, as research suggests, policy decisions are fluid andunbounded. Therefore, behaviors of involved actors’ cannot be thoroughly predicted(146). Furthermore, the Laswellian approach holds that policy evaluation is thelast functional activity stage in policy process. However, as Nakamura (1987)points, evaluation occurs throughout the policy process – it is not simply aproduct of the process (147).
Paul Sabatier’s (1991) main argumentholds that the stages approach is not a causal theory and must be supplanted bya useful framework that includes “intergovernmental policy communities andsubsystems, substantive policy information, the importance of policy elites,longitudinal studies spanning over a decade, and the political behaviorspresent throughout the wide array of policy varieties” (147). As such, Sabatier(1991) discusses four frameworks that will help synthesize the traditionalpolicy process into one framework to make it more applicable: open systemsframework; institutional rational choice; policy streams approach; and theadvocacy coalition framework (149-151). The ACF, which was introduced bySabatier, merges the previous frameworks.
As such, the approach examines policyshifts over time among advocacy coalitions in the policy community, external shiftsof the subsystem, and the impact of “stable system parameters on theconstraints and resources of various actors” (153). The author presents acompelling argument for integrating the approaches, but the proposal is not devoidof criticisms. DeLeon (1999), for example, notes that Sabatier’s (1991) stagesheuristic complaints stem from a narrow view of empirical theory instead of thecentral theory present in Lasswell’s approach. Another critique of Sabatier’s(1991) ACF centers on its belief-based system. Sabatier’s (1991) explanationthat “core beliefs are hypothesized to be stable over periods of a decade ofmore” (153). Sabatier (1991) does not discuss how core beliefs are created, justthat they are present and stable. The author does not discuss how these corebeliefs come into existence and why they are stable. We are to simply assumethat core beliefs are not susceptible to external changes just like policysubsystems.
Peter deLeon (1999) discusses thecriticisms against the Lasswellian approach and addresses whether or not theframework offers some usefulness in the field of policy process research. DeLeon(1999) focuses much of his response on Sabatier’s (1991, 1993) criticisms againstthe stages approach’s lack of empiricism. In response, deLeon’s (1999) mainargument finds that the policy process is not as much a theoretical model as itis a device to help “disaggregate an otherwise seamless web of public policytransactions” (24). As such, deLeon (1999) holds that the framework is paradigmaticin the sense that it is not utilized to merely predict policy processes, but torecognize the “potential” of free choice through its central theory. To thisend, deLeon (1999) posits whether or not policy process research is useful forfuture research by examining several ‘improvements’ to the approach, such as:the “advocacy coalition framework,” which focuses on policy elements; the studyof “triggering events” which focuses on activities that change the “politicalstatus quo” (1999, 25); and even a systems analysis approach to policy process(28).
Nevertheless, deLeon (1999) maintains that the suggested alterationsstill do not provide a robust framework to study policy process research. Kenneth Meier (2009), on the otherhand, posits which policy theory and necessary reconfigurations are more likelyto steer future research. While policy process theories serve differentpurposes and scopes to address major public policy questions, Meier’s (2009) mainargument finds that a new variable within the field of research would bettercapture and assess the policy process: management. “Management not onlyexplains why some programs succeed and others fail, but it also explains a widevariety of other policy-relevant phenomena” (2009, 7). For Meier (2009),management influences actors in policy coalitions through strategic decisions,exchanges, and networks.
In addition to policy coalitions, management alsoinfluences institutions differently overtime given that institutions interactwith other variables. Aside from the missing variable assessment, Meier (2009)argues that policy process research should focus more on frameworks withtheoretical leverage and key causal chains (9).