This essay introduces a Policy Conflict Framework to guide and organize theoretical, practical, and empirical research to fill the vacuum that surrounds policy conflicts. The framework centers on a conceptual definition of an episode of policy conflict that distinguishes between cognitive and behavioral characteristics. The cognitive characteristics of a policy conflict episode include divergence in policy positions among two or more actors, perceived threats from opponents’ policy positions, and unwillingness to compromise. These cognitive characteristics manifest in a range of behavioral characteristics (e.g., framing contests, lobbying, building networks). Episodes of policy conflicts are shaped by a policy setting, which consists of different levels of action where conflicts may emerge (political, policy subsystem and policy action situations), interpersonal and intrapersonal policy actor attributes, events, and the policy issue. In turn, the outputs and outcomes of policy conflicts produce feedback effects that shape the policy setting. This essay ends with an agenda for advancing studies of policy conflicts, both methodologically and theoretically.
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Policy actors are those individuals actively involved in a policy issue. They may be affiliated or unaffiliated with any type of organization.
We adopt the ACF’s definition of policy subsystems (Jenkins-Smith et al. 2014a) because it is flexible enough to describe similar phenomena including policy regimes (May and Jochim 2013), issue networks (Heclo 1978), policy networks (Adam and Kriesi 2007), and policy space (Krehbiel 1998). It is also useful because the wording “subsystem” denotes the appropriate imagery of being a subset of a political “system.”
We adopt the action situation concept from Ostrom (2005) to connect PCF to decades of research on how institutional arrangements structure actor interactions and the outputs and outcomes of these interactions.
See for example, Heikkila and Weible (2017), who applied the PCF to understand the intensities of policy conflicts in unconventional oil and gas development in Colorado. Even though their work is just one case study, Heikkila and Weible (2017) underscore the importance of the policy setting in shaping policy conflict and the expected diversity of policy conflicts in both description and explanation.
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This research is supported by the AirWaterGas Sustainability Research Network funded by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CBET-1,240,584. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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Weible, C.M., Heikkila, T. Policy Conflict Framework. Policy Sci 50, 23–40 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-017-9280-6
- Policy conflict
- Policy process theories
- Technical debates
- Policy analysis and evaluation
- Political analysis
- Public policy