After Disaster: Agenda Setting, Public Policy, and Focusing Events

By Thomas A. Birkland | Go to book overview

6
The Importance of
Focusing Events in Policy Making

In this chapter I conclude by considering two final issues that help to explain the importance of focusing events in policy making. First, I consider the process by which focusing events can lead to actual policy change, not simply greater attention to the problem. After considering the mechanism through which policy change can occur, I discuss two types of focusing events that have not yet been considered in this study. Such events include, on the one hand, focusing events in domains where very few potential focusing events have occurred before, and, on the other hand, focusing events in domains where the particular event is quite common, but where important features of the event make particular events much more important in agenda terms. These different kinds of potential focusing events suggest that there is considerable room for more research on this phenomenon.

The results of the case studies suggest that focusing events can work as a catalyst for policy change by serving as signals of policy failure and opportunities for participants in policy making to "learn." This learning is facilitated by the opportunities for policy advocacy afforded by a focusing event. This discussion is framed by Sabatier's (1988) advocacy coalition framework of policy change and learning. In particular, focusing events provide the raw material for what Sabatier calls "policy-oriented learning." Focusing events also open up policy communities to greater scrutiny, and therefore, as found in Baumgartner and Jones's study of the collapse of policy monopolies, lead to changes in the configuration of participants in policy making and, sometimes, to policy change itself.


ADVOCACY, ANALYSIS, AND POLICY CHANGE

For some time, students of the policy process considered policy analysis to be an apolitical and technical activity that is divorced from normative assessments of policy. But while "policy analysts of the decisionist persuasion would like to project the image of technical, nonpartisan

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