we mentioned in our first part, political institutions are dominated by
deep-rooted norms and values, and therefore are often highly resistant to
change. However, this does not preclude the possibility of change under the
right conditions. But this change is complex and is a result of many different
influencing factors. In this section, we are going to consider some of the
factors that might influence change.
to change is the policy environment. This refers to the context in which
policymakers make their decisions. These factors are usually out of the control
of a policymaker and can influence or constrain their policy choices. Elements
of the policy environment may include demographic change, the economy, changes
in social attitudes and behaviour, global trends and significant local,
national or global events. For example, an ageing population may give
governments little option but to respond and plan for its consequences or an
economic recession may necessitate governments to introduce policies to protect
the country against its effects.
on their own these factors do not result in the policy changes we see. Otherwise,
we would expect all countries to follow the same policy route when responding
to the same event or policy problem.
policy environment, rather than being seen as the sole reason policy changes,
should instead be seen as providing a window
of opportunity, which can be used to create policy change. This model of
change is called punctuated equilibrium .
Punctuated equilibrium states that when an event occurs or there are changes to a
policy environment, it disrupts (or punctuates) the equilibrium of particular
policy ideals. This disruption can be used as a window of opportunity for political
actors to challenge current policy in favour of a new policy direction. If
enough pressure is exerted in this challenge, this new policy direction may
replace previous policy directions, becoming the dominant policy ideal.
to this challenging is the framing
process. Policy problems do not necessarily receive the most attention by
policymakers, because they are the most important or immediate issues facing
society, but because those advocating for them are able to convince people that
their issues are the most worthy of discussions. It is how an issue is framed or presented that
influences the policy to it and not necessarily the issue itself.
media plays an important role in the framing process. It can act as both a
filter and a booster of political issues, being used to increase public and
political pressure about certain problems and encourage the public and policymakers
to see policy issues in certain ways.
policy theorists Baumgartner and Jones use American nuclear power policy as a
useful example to understand how this process of policy change occurs .
Initially when nuclear power was introduced after World War 2, there were
minimal opposing voices. Nuclear power was seen in policy domains as
representing technological progress. This remained the dominant policy image
until the 1970s, when national unions and environmental activists began to challenge
it by raising concerns of the environmental danger of nuclear power. These
concerns were backed up by scientists, giving these claims credibility, and
environmentalists used the mass media to disseminate this new message. Through these efforts, this new policy image
gained the attention of congress, courts, local government and regulatory
bodies, exerting pressure on them and resulting in regulatory change in nuclear
to the punctuated equilibrium theory
is Kingdon’s (1995) Multiple Streams
Analysis . Like, punctuated equilibrium theory, Multiple Streams Analysis, acknowledges
that the process of change starts with a ‘window of opportunity’. But in order
for this opportunity to be used to bring about change, Kingdon argues that
three ‘separate’ streams need to come together at the same time: the problem
stream, the policy stream and the politics stream. The problem stream, refers
to the framing process (mentioned above), where sufficient attention is drawn
towards a policy problem, highlighting the need for it be addressed through
policy. However, attention to an issue alone is not enough to lead to change.
There must be an available solution to the problem (the policy stream), either
identified by those drawing attention to the policy problem, or policymakers
themselves. There must also be political motive and opportunity to implement
policy change (the politics stream), as ultimately it is those in political
power who can decide whether or not to take heed of public opinion and the
arguments made by interest groups. Without all three of these streams coming
together, a window of opportunity will not lead to policy change.
we see that change is complex and it is only under the right conditions that a
window of opportunity will lead to change. Nevertheless, there are ways that we
as individuals who may be seeking to influence policy might use this knowledge,
when campaigning on issues that are important to us. Make sure to keep an eye
on the policy environment, looking for windows of opportunity; be it an event, changes
to public attitudes or a demographic change. Secondly, make sure you’ve thought
about how you might frame your issue and what channels you might use to
increase awareness and place pressure on policymakers to address it. Then, you
might want to identify a solution to policymakers, showing them that not only
is there an identifiable problem, but there is also an identifiable way
forward. Finally, you might want to
think about carefully about how you might convince policymakers that supporting
a particular reform would be in their own interests.
Baumgartner, F., & Jones, B. (1993).
Punctuated equilibria in politics. Agendas
and instability in American politics, 3-24.
 Kingdon, J. W. (1995). Agendas, alternatives, and public
policies (2nd ed.). New York, NY: HarperCollins College Publishers.