Policy Sciences

, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 457–476 | Cite as

Networks and problem recognition: advancing the Multiple Streams Approach

  • Louise ReardonEmail author
Research Article


This paper responds to recent calls for more theoretically driven advancements of the Multiple Streams Approach (MSA). It does so by bringing networks theorizing into dialogue with the MSA; highlighting the inclusionary and exclusionary power of networks for determining problem frames and issue recognition. Subsequently, the paper argues that the addition of networks provides a clearer articulation of the role of institutions in steering problem stream processes, which have often been neglected within the MSA at the expense of a focus on agency. The paper puts forward two propositions. The first is that an issue is more likely to be recognised as a problem if it is considered compatible with the ‘appreciative system’ of the network's dominant coalition. The second proposition is that the more organisations a network consists of and the more varied these organisations are, the more likely it is that the dominant coalition alters a condition’s category if there are changes in the problem stream. These propositions are explored through a comparative analysis of recognition of quality of life as a problem in two local level transport sector networks in the UK. Support for these propositions in the findings suggest that the introduction of networks into the MSA can reduce ambiguity and therefore fortuity in relation to problem recognition; second, that the power of the policy entrepreneur can be facilitated or constrained by the institutional context; and third, that comparing multiple issues and their interactions is important for further advancement of the MSA.


Multiple Streams Approach Policy networks Problem recognition Framing 



Many thanks go to Professor Ian Bache, Professor Greg Marsden and Professor Nikolaos Zahariadis for their very helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. I am also endebted to the two anonymous Policy Sciences reviewers for their very constructive comments. The research underpinning this paper was funded by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Ph.D. Scholarship (Grant Reference ES/I023615/1), for which I am very grateful.


  1. Ansell, C. (2008). Network institutionalism. In R. A. W. Rhodes, S. Binder, & B. A. Rockman (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of political institutions (Vol. 2, pp. 75–89). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bache, I. (2003). Governing through governance: Education policy control under new labour. Political Studies, 51(2), 300–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bache, I., & Reardon, L. (2016). The politics and policy of wellbeing: Understanding the rise and significance of a new agenda. London: Edward Elgar.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bache, I., Reardon, L., Bartle, I., Flinders, M., & Marsden, G. (2015). Symbolic meta-policy: (Not) tackling climate change in the transport sector. Political Studies, 63, 830–851.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ball, S. (2008). New philanthropy, new networks and new governance in education. Political Studies, 56(4), 747–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barzelay, M., & Gallego, R. (2006). From “new institutionalism” to “institutional processualism”: Advancing knowledge about public management policy change. Governance, 19(4), 531–557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Biernacki, P., & Waldorf, D. (1981). Snowball sampling: Problems and techniques of chain referral sampling. Sociological Methods & Research, 10(2), 141–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Börzel, T. (1998). Networks: Reified metaphor or governance panacea? Public Administration, 89, 49–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bosomworth, K. (2015). Climate change adaptation in public policy: Frames, fire management, and frame reflection. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 33, 1450–1466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Butcher, L. (2013). Local transport governance and finance in England, 2010-: Standard note N5735. London: House of Commons Library.Google Scholar
  11. Cairney, P., & Jones, M. (2016). Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Approach: What is the empirical impact of this universal theory? The Policy Studies Journal, 44(1), 37–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. City of York Council. (2001). Local transport plan. York: City of York Council.Google Scholar
  13. City of York Council. (2006). Local transport plan 2006–2011. York: City of York Council.Google Scholar
  14. City of York Council. (2010a). Traffic Congestion Ad Hoc Scrutiny Committee—final report. York: City of York Council.Google Scholar
  15. City of York Council. (2010b). Towards a new local transport plan for York—LTP3: Issues and priorities—Draft report. York: City of York Council.Google Scholar
  16. City of York Council. (2011a). Local transport plan 2011–2031. York: City of York Council.Google Scholar
  17. City of York Council. (2011b). City of York local development framework. York: City of York Council.Google Scholar
  18. Cohen, M. D., March, J. G., & Olsen, J. P. (1972). A garbage can model of organizational choice. Administrative Science Quarterly, 17(1), 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Compston, H. (2009). Networks, resources, political strategy and climate policy. Environmental Politics, 18(5), 727–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. DfT. (2007). Towards a sustainable transport system. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
  21. DfT. (2008). Delivering a sustainable transport system. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
  22. Dudley, G. (2013). Why do ideas succeed and fail over time? The role of narratives in policy windows and the case of the London congestion charge. Journal of European Public Policy, 20(8), 1139–1156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Exworthy, M., Berney, L., & Powell, M. (2002). “How great expectations in Westminster may be dashed locally”: The local implementation of national policy on health inequalities. Policy & Politics, 30(1), 79–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fischer, T. B. (2004). Transport policy making and SEA in Liverpool, Amsterdam and Berlin—1997 and 2002. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 24, 319–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gent, C. E. (2000). Needle exchange policy adoption in American cities: Why not? Policy Sciences, 33, 125–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Greer, A. (2002). Policy networks and policy change in organic agriculture: A comparative analysis of the UK and Ireland. Public Administration, 80(3), 453–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hall, P. A. (1986). Governing the economy: The politics of state intervention in Britain and France. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Herweg, N., Zahariadis, N., & Zohlnhöfer, R. (2017). The multiple streams framework: Foundations, refinements and empirical applications. In C. M. Weible & P. A. Sabatier (Eds.), Theories of the policy process (4th ed., pp. 17–54). Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  29. Hindmoor, A. (2009). Explaining networks through mechanisms: Vaccination, priming and the 2001 foot and mouth disease crisis. Political Studies, 57(1), 75–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hooghe, L., & Marks, G. (2003). Unraveling the Central State, but how? Types of multi-level governance. American Political Science Review, 97(2), 233–243.Google Scholar
  31. Huitema, D., Lebel, L., & Meijerink, S. (2011). The strategies of policy entrepreneurs in water transitions around the world. Water Policy, 13(5), 717–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jones, M., Peterson, H., Pierce, J., Herweg, N., Bernal, A., Lamberta Raney, H., et al. (2016). A river runs through it: A multiple streams meta-review. The Policy Studies Journal, 44(1), 13–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kingdon, John. (1995). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies (4th ed.). London: Harper Collins College Publishers.Google Scholar
  34. Knaggård, Ǻ. (2015). The multiple streams framework and the problem broker. European Journal of Political Research, 54, 450–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. March, J. G., & Olsen, J. P. (1979). Ambiguity and choice in organizations. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget.Google Scholar
  36. Marinetto, M. (2003). Governing beyond the centre: A critique of the Anglo-governance school. Political Studies, 51, 592–608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Marsh, D., & Rhodes, R. (eds.) (1992). Policy networks in British government. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  38. Mucciaroni, G. (1992). The garbage can model the study of policy making: A critique. Polity, 24(3), 459–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rhodes, R. (1999). Control and power in central-local government relations (2nd ed.). Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  40. Rhodes, R. (2007). Understanding governance: Ten years on. Organization Studies, 28(8), 1243–1264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rochefort, D. A., & Cobb, R. W. (Eds.) (1994). Problem definition: An emerging perspective. In The politics of problem definition: Shaping the policy agenda (pp. 1–31). Kansas: University Press of Kansas.Google Scholar
  42. Schmidt, V. (2008). Discursive institutionalism: The explanatory power of ideas and discourse. Annual Review of Political Science, 11, 303–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Schmidt, V. (2012). Discursive institutionalism: Scope, dynamics, and philosophical underpinnings. In F. Fischer & H. Gottweis (Eds.), The argumentative turn revisited: Public policy as communicative practice (pp. 85–113). Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Scholten, P. W. A. (2013). Agenda dynamics and the multi-level governance of intractable policy controversies: The case of migrant integration policies in the Netherlands. Policy Science, 46(3), 217–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schön, D. A., & Rein, M. (1994). Frame reflection: Toward the resolution of intractable policy controversies. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  46. Smith, A. (2000). Policy networks and advocacy coalitions: Explaining policy change and stability in UK industrial pollution policy? Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 18, 95–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Somerville, W., & Wallace Goodman, S. (2010). The role of networks in the development of UK migration policy. Political Studies, 58(5), 951–970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stoker, G. (1998). Governance as theory: Five propositions. International Social Science Journal, 50(55), 17–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Winkel, G., & Leipold, S. (2016). Demolishing dikes: Multiple streams and policy discourse analysis. The Policy Studies Journal, 44(1), 108–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Yin, R. (2003). Case study research: Design and methods, 3rd edn. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  51. Zahariadis, N. (2008). Ambiguity and choice in European public policy. Journal of European Public Policy, 15(4), 514–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zahariadis, N. (2014). Ambiguity and multiple streams. In P. A. Sabatier & C. Weible (Eds.), Theories of the policy process (3rd ed., pp. 25–58). Westfield: Westfield Press.Google Scholar
  53. Zahariadis, N., & Allen, C. (1995). Ideas, networks, and policy streams: Privatization in Britain and Germany. Review of Policy Research, 14(1–2), 71–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zohlnhöfer, R., Herweg, N., & Rüb, F. (2015). Theoretically refining the multiple streams framework: An introduction. European Journal of Political Research, 54(3), 412–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV), School of Government and SocietyUniversity of BirminghamEdgbastonUK

Personalised recommendations