Multiple Lenses and Multiple Narratives in Public Policy: Are They Complementary or Contradictory?
Paul A. Cairney
University of Aberdeen
APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper
Landmark studies in the discipline argue that there is considerable value to the use of multiple theories in the study of public policy. Yet, the literature is less clear about how we use them. For example, do we assume they are complementary and seek to combine their insights? If so, do we seek to combine their merits in one model or use them independently? Or, do we treat them as contradictory in some way (either in terms of their assumptions and predictions or at least the research effort involved), which forces us choose one over the other? This paper presents three possible answers to these questions. First, it considers the scope for synthesis by proposing the ‘policy transfer window’ as a means to combine insights from the literatures on policy transfer and the role of ideas. Second, it combines the insights from a wide range of models – including incrementalism, punctuated equilibrium, multiple streams analysis and policy diffusion – that take comprehensive rationality as a point of departure, but suggest multiple directions of travel for future research. Third, it demonstrates that theories with common starting points can have contradictory assumptions and predictions, by comparing three models - multi-level governance, punctuated equilibrium and the advocacy coalition framework - in the field of group-government relations. The paper argues that we should question calls for a ‘policy shoot-out’ in which one theory is chosen over another because it appears to produce the best results or most scientific approach. Rather, it advocates the use of multiple narratives of policy change. Our conclusions on the value of each model will be influenced heavily by our narratives of policy change. Therefore, if we are to take the multiple theories agenda seriously, we must be as open to challenge on the validity and assumptions of our empirical findings as we are our theories.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 17
Keywords: punctuated equilibrium, multiple streams analysis, bounded rationality, incrementalism, multi-level governance, advocacy coalition framework, policy transfer, diffusionworking papers series
Date posted: August 13, 2009 ; Last revised: September 6, 2009
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