Ambiguity and Choice in Public Policy: Political Decision Making in Modern Democracies

Ambiguity and Choice in Public Policy: Political Decision Making in Modern Democracies

Ambiguity and Choice in Public Policy: Political Decision Making in Modern Democracies

Ambiguity and Choice in Public Policy: Political Decision Making in Modern Democracies

Synopsis

Zahariadis offers a theory that explains policymaking when "ambiguity" is present -- a state in which there are many ways, often irreconcilable, of thinking about an issue. Expanding and extending John Kingdon's influential "multiple streams" model that explains agenda setting, Zahariadis argues that manipulation, the bending of ideas, process, and beliefs to get what you want out of the policy process, is the key to understanding the dynamics of policymaking in conditions of ambiguity. He takes one of the major theories of public policy to the next step in three different ways: he extends it to a different form of government (parliamentary democracies, where Kingdon looked only at what he called the United States's presidential "organized anarchy" form of government); he examines the entire policy formation process, not just agenda setting; and he applies it to foreign as well as domestic policy.

This book combines theory with cases to illuminate policymaking in a variety of modern democracies. The cases cover economic policymaking in Britain, France, and Germany, foreign policymaking in Greece, all compared to the U. S. (where the model was first developed), and an innovative computer simulation of the policy process.

Excerpt

Ambiguity is a fact of political life. People often do not know what they want. Governments are asked to address issues they do not understand well with instruments that they frequently neither know how to use nor know their effectiveness. Politicians make promises to solve problems they have little intention, time, or energy to solve. This world can only be described as partially comprehensible. Yet choices are made, problems are defined, and solutions are implemented.

In this book, I put forth a theory of manipulation that explores the dynamics of policy choice under conditions of ambiguity. I adapt a multiple streams model, which was developed by Kingdon (1995) to explain agenda setting in the United States, and I extend it to policy formation (agenda setting and decision making) in parliamentary systems. Can a model developed to explain policy in what Kingdon calls a presidential “organized anarchy” be useful even in “orderly” parliamentary systems? How do national governments formulate policies when ambiguity is present, and why is one policy more likely to be adopted than another?

Assumptions and the Logic of the Argument

Multiple streams rests on the notions of ambiguity and temporal sorting. The main argument is that policies are the result of problems, solutions, and politics, coupled or joined together by policy entrepre-

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