Summary: John W. Kingdon, “Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, Update Edition, with an Epilogue on Health Care (2nd Edition)”


Just for my study review at graduate school of public health, I write down the summary of the book, John W. Kingdon, “Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, Update Edition, with an Epilogue on Health Care (2nd Edition)”, Longman Classics in Political Science. This book gave me a useful perspective and frameworks to analyze the process of public policy making. Abstractのみ日本語でも記載。

Kingdon, J.W. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies

1.     Abstract
What issues get on the agenda or not in public policy making process is determined by two factors: 1) Participants inside and outside governments and 2) Process which includes the problem stream, the policy stream and the political stream. Each of three streams has each distinct life, but when they come together, a specific problem becomes important on the agenda, policies that match to the problem get attentions, and then policy change becomes possible. When these streams come together is sometimes predictable but other times unpredictable. Thus policy entrepreneurs who advocate their own proposals should be well prepared to gain the chance.
政策形成のプロセスにおいて、重要なアジェンダとして取り上げられる問題とそうでない問題が分かれるが、それは、政策形成への1)参加者と2)政策形成プロセスそのものの影響を受けて決まる。政策形成の参加者は政府内外様々なアクターであり、そのプロセスとして、Problem(問題/課題)、Policy(政策/提案)、Politics(政治/政局)3種のStream(支流)が存在している。それぞれの支流は独立したコミュニティを形成しているが、それらが1つに合わさった時―特定の問題が重要だと認識され、それへの解決策が提示され、なおかつ政策の変更・決定が可能な政治状況が整う時がある。それがいつ起こるかは、必ずしも予測可能とは限らない。それゆえ、政策を提示し推進するPolicy entrepreneurは、機を逃さぬように準備を整えておくことが必要である。

 2.     Agenda
We use the word “agenda” in various meanings in our daily conversation. In this book the term “agenda” is defined as below:

The list of subjects or problems which governmental officials, and people outside of government closely associated with those officials, are paying some serious attention at any given time, including:
— The governmental agenda: getting attention by government
— The decision agenda: the list of items “so hot they are moving into position for legislative enactment”

Two factors, participants and the process determine the issues on agenda.

3.     Participants

  We can analyze which participants are important by discussing (1) the importance of each participant, (2) the ways each is important and (3) the resources available to each participant.

A)      Inside of Government

  • The Administration
    • President
      • Can singlehandedly set the agendas of people in the executive branch and Congress, but is unable to dominate the alternatives.
      • Resources: institutional (the veto and the prerogative to hire and fire), organizational (the unitary executive branch), a command of public attention (can be converted into pressure on other governmental officials).
    • Presidential Staff
      • Top personal advisors to president himself (top White House staff and cabinet appointees) are more focused on setting the administration’s agenda.
      • Members of such Executive Office agencies as the Domestic Policy Staff, Council of Economic Advisors, and the Office of Management and Budget are more focused on alternatives.
    • Political Appointees
      • Place ideas and proposals on the agendas of important people.
      • Elevate issues from within their own agencies and also arrive at some of their priorities from their interactions with the White House.
      • Generate substantial numbers of the alternatives from which White House people choose.
      • Impermanence: their length of service is shorter than the president’s two-term potential, the tenure of senior members of Congress or a career civil servant. Thus they desire to “put their stamp on something” during their term.
  • Civil Servants
    • Focus more on alternatives generation and implementation rather than agenda setting.
    • Characterized by: the necessary expertise, the dedication to the principles embodied in their programs, an interest in program expansion, and sheer staying power.
    • Line people are preoccupied with administering existing programs, while staff people focus more on policy changes.
    • Resources: longevity, expertise, and their set of relationships with people in Congress and in the interest groups.  
  • Congress
    • The location of the people’s representatives, the repository of many constitutionally established responsibilities, and the object of media and public attention.
    • Central to both agenda setting and alternative specification
    • The members have more impact on the agenda while the staffers concentrate more on alternatives
    • Resources: legal authority, formidable publicity (hearings, bills and speeches can be converted in the press), blended information from the wide range of specialists
    • Incentives: satisfying constituents, enhancing their intra-Washington reputation, and achieving the member’s conception of good public policy

B)      Outside of Government

  • Interest groups
    • Attach one’s own alternative to agenda items that others may have made prominent.
    • Types: business and industry, professional, labor, public interest groups (consumers and environmentalists) and governmental officials as lobbyists
    • Resources: electoral advantages and disadvantages, cohesion (their voice is regarded as representing the preference of its members)
  • Researchers, academics, consultants, foundations and think tanks
    • Can affect alternatives more than governmental agendas
    • Long-term: affects a general climate of ideas which would, in turn, affect policy makers’ thinking in the long run.
    • Short-term: policy makers listen to academics most when their analyses and proposals are directly related to problems that are already occupying the officials’ attention.
    • Some researchers and academics build “inner-outer” careers between academia and government in order to have a short-run impact in government.
  • Media
    • Affect public opinion agenda rather than alternatives
    • Quite and intensive period of sensational coverage
    • Report what is going on in government rather than having an independent effect on government.
    • Act as a communicator within a policy community in which busy people cannot cross frequently in the normal course of events.
    • Magnify movements that have already started elsewhere
    • Indirectly affect some of the participants through public opinion
    • More important for outsiders who have less access to government.
  • Elections-related participants
    • Election results may be interpreted as mandates for one or another policy direction, or at least as hints of the electorate’s preferences.
    • Politician’s promises during campaigns can conceivably form an agenda for them once in office.
    • A political party platform might form the core of an agenda for a subsequent administration of that party
    • During the campaign, parties affect the agenda more than the detailed alternatives considered by policy makers.
  • Public Opinion
    • Public opinion affects the agenda more than the alternatives
    • Public opinion may set limits on the possibilities and may affect an agenda of subjects in a general way.
    • Can have either positive or negative effects. The negative effects —  the constraints imposed on government rather than then positive forces prompting government action — are probably more noticeable.

     ※Visible and hidden participants

  • Visible participants include: the President, high-level executive branch officials, prominent members of Congress, the media, political parties
  • Hidden participants include: academics, career bureaucrats, congressional staff, lower-level political appointees.
  • Agenda setting is often driven more by a visible cluster of participants
  • The generation of alternatives is affected more by the hidden cluster of participants, who bring specific areas of expertise, including technical knowledge, to the process.

4.     The process

A)   Problems: problem stream
A condition is not necessarily a problem. Conditions become defined as problems when we come to believe that we should do something about them. People redefine conditions as problems and pay attention to them when there are changes in indicators, focusing events, feedback. They redefine social conditions as problems by making comparison and framing.

  • Indicators, Focusing Events, Feedback
    • Indicators
      • Changes in indicators (e.g. federal expenditure, disease rates, consumer prices) are observed through 1)routine monitoring activities and 2) studies on a particular problem at a given point in time
      • Determination of problem existence needs, not only indicators themselves, but also interpretation.
      • Policy makers use indicators to assess the magnitude of a problem and to become aware of changes in the problem.
      • Thus determination of problems is also a major part of the policy debate.
      • The methodology by which the facts are gathered and the interpretations that are placed on these factors are important.
    • Focusing events
      • Problems need a little push to get the attention of people: a focusing event such as a crisis or disaster, a powerful symbol, the personal experience of a policy maker.
      • Focusing events only rarely carry a subject to policy agenda prominence by themselves unless they are accompanied by something else.
      • They reinforce some preexisting perception of a problem.
      • Sometimes a disaster or crisis serves as an early warning.
      • Focusing events can affect problem definition in combination with other similar events.
    • Feedback (more programmatic factor than Indicators)
      • Feedback to governmental officials often brings problems to their attention.
      • Depends on the role of the agency and who is to blame. Their responsibility to the programs can function as incentives to feedback.
      • Channels of feedback are 1)systematic monitoring, 2)complaints and casework, and 3)bureaucratic daily experience.
      • Contents of feedback messages are 1)implementation that does not square with legislative or higher administrative intent, 2)a failure to meet stated goals, and 3)the cost of the program.
  • Budgets: a special problem
    • Budget, as a constraint, obliges important people to reduce the cost of proposals or to ignore some options.
    • Budget, as a promoter, pushes some items higher on a governmental agenda.

B)   Policy solutions: policy stream
Generating policy alternatives and proposals in communities of specialists resembles a process of biological natural selection. In policy “primeval soup,” many ideas appear, float around these communities and then fade. Both new and existing ideas confront one another and combine with in various ways, and finally some ideas survive and are taken more seriously as important policies. There are some criteria for survival such as technical feasibility and value acceptability.

  • Criteria for survival
    • Technical feasibility (“Work out.”)
      • Feasibility of implementation
      • Existence of actual mechanisms by which an idea would be brought into practical use.
    • Value acceptability
      • Compatibility of the values of the specialists.
      • Their views on some issues directly affect the alternatives they propose or oppose.
    • Anticipation of future constrains
      • Ideas and proposals are selected considering constrains such as budget, chances in politics, public opinions.
  • Policy communities
    • Specialists are scattered both through and outside of government.
    • They have in common their interactions with each other.
    • Some communities are extremely closed and tightly knit, while others are more diverse and fragmented.
    • Fragmentation in a policy community leads to,
      • Policy fragmentation.
      • Common outlooks, orientations and ways of thinking in the community.
      • Instability.
  • Policy entrepreneurs
    • Policy entrepreneurs are those who invest time, energy, reputation and money for advocating policies.
    • They play a key role in moving a subject up the agenda.
    • They could be in or out of government, in elected or appointed positions, in interest groups or research organizations.
    • Their three major qualities are,
      • Standing: expert of speaking for others.
      • Political connections and negotiating skills.
      • Persistence.

C)   Politics: political stream
Political stream is composed of such things as public mood, pressure group campaigns, election results, partisan or ideological distributions in Congress, and changes of administration. Changes in political stream have a powerful effect on agendas. The political stream’s consensus building is governed by bargaining.

  • National Mood
    • Government’s participants’ sense of the national mood serves to promote some items on their policy agendas and to restrain others from rising to prominence.
    • The mood does not necessarily reside in the mass public.
    • Social movements to change the national mood need organization and leadership.
    • Elected politicians judge their constituents’ mood from such communications as mail, town meetings, smaller gatherings, and delegations of people or even individuals coming to them during their office hours in the district.
    • Nonelected officials tend to sense the national mood from what they hear from politicians.
  • Organized Political Forces
    • Consensus and conflict among the organized interest build environment in which political leaders have to take balance between those for and those against a given proposal or the emergence of an item to agenda prominence.
  • Government in the political stream
    • Turnover of key personnel causes changes in agendas with new priorities.
    • Jurisdiction affect positions of administrative agencies and congressional committees, agenda setting is affected by their battles over turf, and some items are ignored because they are “defined away” by the drawing of jurisdictional boundaries.


D)   Policy Window
The policy window is an opportunity for advocates of proposals to push their pet solutions, or to push attention to their special problems. Policy entrepreneurs must be prepared, their pet proposal at the ready, their special problem well-documented in order to realize their goals while the policy window opens. Then, the separate three streams come together. A problem is recognized, a solutions is developed and available in the policy community, apolitical change makes it the right time for policy change, and potential constraints are not severe.

  • Policy window opens when
    • There is a new problem or definition of a problem.
    • There is a change in administration or Congress.
    • There is the national mood.
  • Policy window opens sometimes predictably, other times unpredictably.
  • Policy window closes when
    • Problem has been seemingly fixed.
    • People think it’s not going anywhere.
    • A crisis passes, or there may be a key personnel change.
    • There is no single alternative emerges.



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