While ambiguity is a fact of public life, scholarship on its implications for public policy is not yet well developed. The gap is particularly deep during periods of crisis because of rapid and turbulent change and the lack of adequate information and limited information processing capacities. We have a good understanding of the strategic use of ambiguity but do not fully comprehend its implications for creating winners and losers in public policy.
On February 28, 2016, Tom Birkland and Nikolaos Zahariadis are putting together a two-day symposium on ambiguity and its effects during crises. The symposium explores the implications of ambiguity on policy making as conceptualized through the multiple streams approach (MSA) during man-made crises and natural disasters. The approach draws inspiration from March and Olsen’s garbage can model of organizational choice and John Kingdon’s agenda setting framework. MSA contends there is a “right” (and “wrong”) time to propose solutions to pressing public problems. The likelihood of any one idea becoming official government policy has as much to do with when it is proposed as it does with the political ideology of policy makers and the ability of entrepreneurial individuals to advocate, broker, persuade, or coerce others into accepting it. The overall aim is to enrich and expand this literature, assess its value-added relative to other policy process approaches, and place the findings within the broader political environment. What does the approach tell us about governance (both in terms of capacity and performance) under crisis? Continue reading