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Models of Policy Change

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Presentation on theme: "Models of Policy Change"— Presentation transcript:

1 Models of Policy Change
Week 6.1 Rationality and Incrementalism

2 The Emperor's New Clothes

3 Most accounts, old and new:
Examine the amount of control from the ‘centre’, either as a single decision-maker or a ‘core-executive’ Attempt to explain stability and change in the policy process Break down large complex systems into more manageable, discrete sections Dissatisfaction with artificial distinctions leads to rejection in favour of something new But the aim of explanation stays the same

4 Comprehensive Rationality - relevance to policy analysis
There are still plenty of attempts to appear rational in government or to make issues look technical (to be solved by experts) e.g. Comprehensive Spending Reviews (used for marginal change/ political pressure), CBA (M74?), major policy inquiries Rationality conditions are therefore a good point of departure, to examine the power of the ‘centre’ or explain why policy may not change as intended

5 Rationality and incrementalism
“Comprehensive rationality” often set up as an ideal (in 2 senses) or a strawman of decision-making procedures effecting policy change Different models – incrementalism, bounded rationality – presented as a more realistic description (with some debate over the prescriptive use of these terms) Key prescriptive difference may be in the assumption of a central/ single decision-maker

6 What is comprehensive rationality?
An ideal description or prescription of decision-making behaviour: Policy aims or ends are identified in terms of the values of the policy maker All means to achieve those ends are identified The best means are selected Analysis of the decision-making context is comprehensive – i.e. all relevant factors/ possibilities have been considered Are there assumptions – central decision-maker or coherent organisation? Everyone gets what they want subject to resource constraints?

7 John (1999: 33): “Put simply, the rational actor model conceives policy to be a logical, reasoned and neutral way organizations assess problems, propose solutions, then choose and carry out courses of action. The model has several assumptions … there are clear cut stages to decision-making. Organizations can make decisions when they are faced with choices. They rank the decisions and one emerges as a clear winner. When organizations make their choices, the preference rankings between them are consistent. Every participant in the policy process gets what they want, subject to the constraint of resources”.

8 Similar to rational choice?
Same use of ideal types – perfect information, unlimited resources … But not generally used as an aid to prediction Rather, used as a point of departure: Bounded rationality and ‘satisficing’ (implying comprehensive is the ideal) Incrementalism

9 Bounded rationality Incomplete knowledge and information
Uncertainty over current situation and consequences of policy “solution” Inability to consider every possible solution Unwillingness to consider all solutions Difficult to separate of facts and values Also note the distinction between individual and organisational rationality (is there such a thing as organisational rationality?) Simon’s solution relates to “satisficing” or seeking solutions which are “good enough” Focus on e.g. training to minimise problems

10 Similar discussion by Jones
Searches for knowledge are incomplete Organisations do not have the capacity or inclination to seek every available solution The means or solutions to achieve ends do not just exist – they have to be produced Policy problems are subject to definition Solutions often exist before problems A choice may be consistent with goal A but not goal B

11 Jones’ factors 3-5: Have obvious links with agenda setting literature (later lecture) Problems are subject to definition or “framing” Competition between policy actors (link to lectures on power) Solutions before problems associated with Kingdon Solutions creating problems?

12 Incrementalism – problems with comprehensive rationality:
Cognitive/ problem-solving ability Available information – especially of future consequences and future conditions The cost of research The inability to distinguish between facts and values The dynamics of the policy process and the way in which issues arise (decision-makers may need to react to events much more than devoting time to policy planning)

13 Solution is “successive limited comparisons” based on:
A recognition that values and empirical analysis are intertwined There is no widespread agreement on the cause and hence the solution of the problem (or the way to implement the solution) A rejection of means/ ends in favour of agreement/ negotiation between pressure participants and decision-makers Limited analysis of policies not already in place Big focus on solving problems of existing policy Success measured as the level of agreement of those involved

14 Benefits of incrementalism - descriptive
When decisions are made, the starting point is not a blank sheet of paper We cannot ignore: the extent of existing commitments the effort invested by decision-makers and powerful groups into achieving previous agreements on policy.

15 Expressed similarly in other accounts
Inheritance before choice in public policy: Most policy based on existing legislation. Most day-to-day policy has no ministerial input. Attention to one aspect of public policy means ignoring 99 others.

16 2. Policy succession Size and scope of government means that any “new” policy is likely to be a revision of an old one “New” policies often there only to solve problems caused by old policy

17 3. Lack of Policy Termination
Few policies terminated, even fewer not replaced Termination has costs (financial, political) and may smack of failure without replacement Termination opposed by vested interests Termination undermined by organisations operating under relative anonymity or seeking new ways to justify their existence

18 4. Path Dependence When commitment to a policy has been established and resources are devoted to it, over time it becomes increasingly or relatively costly to choose a different policy Examples in the UK include: Responsibilities in Scotland and Wales after devolution NHS or education “reconfiguration”

19 Benefits of incrementalism - prescriptive
More focussed on the problem at hand? Based on trials and error/ past decisions? Less costly or more efficient use of resources? Less disruptive? I.e. each actor will be more likely to accept decisions. In other words, no need to reinvent the wheel Assumes good reason for past decisions

20 Criticisms of incrementalism - prescriptive
Assumption that previous policies are adequate? Does not address the “grand issues”? What happens when society is predisposed towards significant change? Assumption of pluralism/ dispersal of power? E.g. focus on “mutual adjustment” rather than coercion or dominance (e.g. tobacco) US-centric? Assumption of checks/ balances?

21 Leads to alternatives:
Dror and meta-policy (deciding how to make policy) Incrementalism is accurate description Prescription of highlighting areas where incrementalism appropriate and other areas where bold steps are required Etzioni and mixed scanning – Applies also to description More focus needed and apparent on “fundamental” decisions such as declaring war (Yet even entering into war can be incremental process)

22 Criticisms of incrementalism – descriptive (Jones)
Does not explain examples of profound policy change when decision-makers shift their attention Long periods of stability are interrupted by short but intense periods of rapid change. Interesting that the basis for Jones’ argument is also the limit to rationality Limited resources (time, knowledge, attention) Cannot deal with full range of ideas/ problems Ignore most and lift few to the top of the agenda Result is profound change in a small number of areas

23 Intractable debate? Much of the debate comes down to the size of the increment Can radical change happen in a series of small steps? Distinction between incremental politics and adequacy of incremental approach to analysis? If the debate is intractable we can still extract basic points on stability/ change – description is qualified or constrained policy change? Difference by policy area?

24 Links to other lectures
Policy transfer – key critique that literature assumes rational process Agenda setting and policy monopolies (Jones) MLG – undermines the idea of a central decision-maker (a key feature of the incrementalist criticism of rationality?). Smoking – example of UK suggests strong political rather than “rational“ explanation Was change incremental or fundamental (see articles on Scottish and UK examples)? Also clear links to power lectures. Note the assumption of pluralism in early Lindblom, assumptions around the dispersal of power in both accounts

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