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.
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