Virtual Issue on the latest policy process theory research from Policy & Politics

By Sarah Brown and Elizabeth Koebele

Welcome to our first virtual issue of 2023 featuring the latest policy process theory research published in Policy & Politics. This issue features three recently published articles that apply and develop different policy process theories across a range policy contexts.

Our first article, Advocacy Coalitions, Power and Policy Change by Tim Heinmiller, critiques a core principle of the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) – that major policy change will not occur as long as the advocacy coalition that instated the policy remains “in power” in a jurisdiction. Firstly, Heinmiller explores what it means for a status quo advocacy coalition to be in power in a jurisdiction, especially as it relates to the ACF’s theory of policy change. After critically examining how this concept has been used in existing ACF scholarship, the author proposes a standard operationalization of being in power, drawing on the veto players literature, which he then illustrates using a case study of Canadian firearms policy. His conclusion demonstrates how the proposed operationalization is an improvement on existing practices that advances the theory around and measurement of policy change in the ACF.

Our second article, by Jonathan Pierce, is entitled Emotions and the policy process: enthusiasm, anger and fear. It explores the question: do existing theories and frameworks of public policy explain the influence of emotions on policy making processes? His conclusion, unfortunately, is no, signalling a major potential gap in the policy process literature. Pierce argues that commonly employed dimensional approaches to analysing emotions (e.g. positive and negative effect) are of limited use. Instead, he advocates for a constructivist theory of emotion, which proposes that emotions are constructed out of language and concepts to make meaning out of affect. He concludes that this method of analysis can be integrated to great benefit in theories of the policy process in order to better understand how policy actors think and behave.

Our final article, by Sebastian Sewerin, Benjamin Cashore and Michael Howlett, is entitled New pathways to paradigm change in public policy: Combining insights from policy design, mix and feedback. The authors argue that policy science scholarship is better at explaining policy change in retrospect, rather than formulating forward-looking recommendations about how to achieve major or paradigmatic change. Potentially even worse, existing scholarship emphasizes the importance of external shocks in initiating major policy change, which doesn’t augur well for tackling the major problems of our time such as climate change. In their article, the authors identify two conceptual and theoretical gaps that might limit how policy scholars think about major or paradigmatic change: 1) a lack of shared understanding of what ‘policy change’ is, and 2) a focus on (changing) policies in isolation rather than on policies as part of complex policy mixes. Against this background, they argue that combining insights from policy design, policy mix and policy feedback literature allows us to identify other pathways towards initiating and achieving policy change.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual issue featuring our latest research on policy process theories. We always welcome new work in this area so please consider submitting your next article to us if this is of interest to you.

Articles featured:

Heinmiller (2023): Advocacy Coalitions, Power and Policy Change

Pierce (2021): Emotions and the policy process: enthusiasm, anger and fear

Sewerin et al (2022): New pathways to paradigm change in public policy: Combining insights from policy design, mix and feedback

Policy & Politics Highlights collection on Transformational Change in Public Policy Special Issue: free to access November 2022 – January 2023

Sarah Brown


This quarter’s highlights collection focuses on three of our most widely read and cited articles this year. All three were featured in our special issue published in July on Transformational Change in Public Policy which was guest edited by our co-editors: Oscar Berglund, Claire Dunlop, Elizabeth Koebele and Chris Weible.

Our first article is the introduction to the special issue entitled Transformational change through Public Policy written by our four co-editors.

The authors highlight how significant time and effort has been spent seeking to understand policy change around the major societal issues we face. Yet their findings show that most change tends to be incremental. The consequent challenge they set out is whether or not public policy scholarship is up to the job of developing a coherent research programme to build knowledge and enable necessary, positive transformational change.

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NEW SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 7 – New pathways to major policy change: combining insights from policy design, mix and feedback

Special issue blog series on Transformational Change through Public Policy.

SewinSebastian Sewerin, Benjamin Cashore, Michael Howlett

The study of major policy change is certainly nothing new in the Policy Sciences. Yet, it seems fair to say that the most prominent contributions to the theorisation of policy change have been more interested in policy change per se, rather than in its direction of travel. Take Peter Hall’s influential study of paradigm change in the UK: The shift in economic policy during the Thatcher government certainly deserves being labelled as paradigmatic but whether it was, from a point of social equality and justice, a ‘good’ change in the ‘right’ direction seems highly questionable. Continue reading