Skip to main content

Connecting models of the individual and policy change processes: a research agenda

Abstract

This article proposes that closer attention to models of the individual provides substantial theoretical and empirical leverage to policy studies scholars. Capturing the nuances of individual choice can assist policy researchers in adjudicating between specific theories of policy change. We provide an analytical matrix for parsing models of the individual underpinning various collective processes of policy change and demonstrate the value of our approach by applying it to the case of Canadian provincial renewable energy policy. The article demonstrates that gathering evidence regarding individual choice can support the presence or absence of processes functioning at the collective level. It concludes with a discussion of the implications of this approach for future policy research on the relative explanatory power of different causal processes, sequencing of policy change, and the identification of new mechanisms of policy change.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    We chose to focus on these theories and frameworks because, in contrast to those that focus on a single phenomenon (such as diffusion or a common pool resource challenge) or a single causal variable (such as policy networks, or policy frames and narratives), each of these theories and frameworks acknowledges and tries to incorporate the complexity of human behaviour, systems, and institutions into the study of policy process. All four theories are recognized streams of scholarship in policy studies with well-established research programmes in a variety of policy areas and political jurisdictions (Sabatier and Weible 2014).

  2. 2.

    Google scholar lists nearly 16,000 citations, and that number is still climbing.

  3. 3.

    Based on our reading of the theoretical underpinnings of the MSF, we contend that there could be a case that the model of the individual in the MSF fits into quadrant 1—in which actors are mostly driven by their material incentives. However, based on the assertions of the lead authors in the field that the model of the individual is that of bounded rationality—implying that the particular institutional context guides choice—we have placed MSF into quadrant 2.

  4. 4.

    A careful observer will note that this pathway aligns with quadrant 2 in Parsons’ matrix, although the model of the individual in the ACF falls more firmly into quadrant 3. We would suggest that aligning the model of the individual and the internal and external events pathways in the ACF would help provide analytical clarity to these causal processes.

  5. 5.

    It is important to note that a significant proportion of policy feedback theory also concerns the role of elites (Pierson 1993; Mettler and Soss 2004; Mettler and SoRelle 2014). Although the model of the individual in PFT is often underspecified (Heikkila and Cairney 2017), we contend that the mechanism of policy learning as defined in PFT parallels the specification of belief change and policy-oriented learning in the ACF. We have thus omitted the mechanism of policy learning in PFT to reduce repetition in the illustrative figure.

References

  1. Barry, J., Ellis, G., & Robinson, C. (2008). Cool rationalities and hot air: A rhetorical approach to understanding debates on renewable energy. Global Environmental Politics, 8(2), 67–98.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Baumgartner, F. R., & Jones, B. D. (1993). Agendas and instability in American politics. Chicago: University of Chicago.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Baumgartner, F. R., Jones, B. D., & Mortensen, P. B. (2014). Punctuated equilibrium theory: Explaining stability and change in public policymaking. In P. A. Sabatier & C. M. Weible (Eds.), Theories of the policy process (3rd ed., pp. 59–104). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Baxter, J., Morzaria, R., & Hirsch, R. (2013). A case–control study of support/opposition to wind turbines: Perceptions of health risk, economic benefits, and community conflict. Energy Policy, 61, 931–943.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Beach, D., & Pedersen, R. B. (2016). Causal case study methods: Foundations and guidelines for comparing, matching, and tracing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. Bell, D., Gray, T., & Haggett, C. (2005). The ‘Social Gap’ in wind farm siting decisions: Explanations and policy responses. Environmental Politics, 14(4), 460–477.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Berger, R. G., Ashtiani, P., Ollson, C. A., Aslund, M. W., McCallum, L. C., Leventhall, G., et al. (2015). Health-based audible noise guidelines account for infrasound and low-frequency noise produced by wind turbines. Frontiers in Public Health. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2015.00031.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Biesbroek, R., Dupuis, J., & Wellstead, A. (2017). Explaining through causal mechanisms: Resilience and governance of social–ecological systems. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 28, 64–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Cairney, P., & Heikkila, T. (2014). A comparison of theories of the policy process. In P. A. Sabatier & C. M. Weible (Eds.), Theories of the policy process (3rd ed., pp. 363–390). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Cairney, P., & Weible, C. M. (2017). The new policy sciences: combining the cognitive science of choice, multiple theories of context, and basic and applied analysis. Policy Sciences, 50, 619–627.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Campbell, A. L. (2003). How policies make citizens: Senior political activism and the American welfare state. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  12. Campbell, A. L. (2012). Policy makes mass politics. Annual Review of Political Science, 15(1), 333–351.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Checkel, J. T. (2006). Tracing causal mechanisms. International Studies Review, 8, 362–370.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Devine-Wright, P., & Howes, Y. (2010). Disruption to place attachment and the protection of restorative environments: A wind energy case study. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 271–280.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Falleti, T. G., & Lynch, J. F. (2009). Context and causal mechanisms in political analysis. Comparative Political Studies, 42(9), 1143–1166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Fast, S., & Mabee, W. (2015). Place-making and trust-building: The influence of policy on host community responses to wind farms. Energy Policy, 81, 27–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Fast, S., Mabee, W., Baxter, J., Christidis, T., Driver, L., Hill, S., et al. (2016). Lessons learned from Ontario wind energy disputes. Nature Energy. https://doi.org/10.1038/nenergy.2015.28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Forester, J. (1984). Bounded rationality and the politics of muddling through. Public Administration Review, 44(1), 23–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. George, A. L., & Bennett, A. (2005). Case studies and theory development in the social sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Gerring, J. (2008). The mechanismic worldview: Thinking inside the box. British Journal of Political Science, 38(1), 161–179.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Grzymala-Busse, A. (2011). Time will tell? Temporality and the analysis of causal mechanisms and processes. Comparative Political Studies, 44(9), 1267–1297.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Hacker, J. S. (2002). The divided welfare state: The battle over public and private social benefits in the United States. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  23. Hedström, P., & Swedberg, R. (Eds.). (1998). Social mechanisms: An introductory essay. In Social mechanisms: An analytical approach to social theory (pp. 1–31). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  24. Hedström, P., & Ylikoski, P. (2010). Causal mechanisms in the social sciences. Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 49–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Heikkila, T., & Cairney, P. (2017). Comparisons of theories of the policy process. In C. M. Weible & P. A. Sabatier (Eds.), Theories of the policy process (4th ed., pp. 301–328). Boulder CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Heikkila, T., & Gerlak, A. K. (2013). Building a conceptual approach to collective learning: Lessons for public policy scholars. Policy Studies Journal, 41(3), 484–512.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Heikkila, T., Pierce, J. J., Gallaher, S., Kagan, J., Crow, D. A., & Weible, C. M. (2014). Understanding a period of policy change: The case of hydraulic fracturing disclosure policy in Colorado. Review of Policy Research, 31(2), 65–87.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Hill, S. D., & Knott, J. D. (2010). Too close for comfort: Social controversies surrounding wind farm noise setback policies in Ontario. Renewable Energy Law and Policy Review, 2, 153–168.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Hindmarsh, R., & Matthews, C. (2008). Deliberative speak at the turbine face: Community engagement, wind farms, and renewable energy transitions in Australia. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 10(3), 217–232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Howard, T. (2015). Olive branches and idiot’s guides: Frameworks for community engagement in Australian wind farm development. Energy Policy, 78, 137–147.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Jacobs, A. M., & Kent Weaver, R. (2015). When policies undo themselves: Self-undermining feedback as a source of policy change. Governance, 28(4), 441–457.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Jenkins-Smith, H. C., Nohrstedt, D., Weible, C. M., & Sabatier, P. A. (2014). The advocacy coalition framework: Foundations, evolutions, and ongoing research. In P. A. Sabatier & C. M. Weible (Eds.), Theories of the policy process (3rd ed., pp. 183–224). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. John, P. (2003). Is there life after policy streams, advocacy coalitions, and punctuations: Using evolutionary theory to explain policy change? Policy Studies Journal, 31(4), 481–498.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. John, P. (2018). Theories of policy change and variation reconsidered: a prospectus for the political economy of public policy. Policy Sciences, 51(1), 1–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Jones, B. D. (1999). Bounded rationality. Annual Review of Political Science, 2(1), 297–321.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Jones, B. D. (2001). Politics and the architecture of choice: Bounded rationality and governance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Jones, B. D. (2017). Behavioural rationality as a foundation for public policy studies. Cognitive Systems Research, 43, 67–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Jones, B. D., & Baumgartner, F. R. (2005). The politics of attention: How government prioritizes problems (1st ed.). Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Jones, B. D., & Baumgartner, F. R. (2012). From there to here: Punctuated equilibrium to the general punctuation thesis to a theory of government information processing. Policy Studies Journal, 40(1), 1–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Jones, B. D., Baumgartner, F. R., Breunig, C., Wlezien, C., Soroka, S., Foucault, M., et al. (2009). A general empirical law of public budgets: A comparative analysis. American Journal of Political Science, 53(4), 855–873.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Jones, C. R., & Eiser, J. R. (2009). Identifying predictors of attitudes towards local onshore wind development with reference to an English case study. Energy Policy, 37, 4604–4614.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Kay, A., & Baker, P. (2015). What can causal process tracing offer to policy studies? A review of the literature. Policy Studies Journal, 43(1), 1–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Kingdon, (1984). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Knopper, L. D., & Ollson, C. A. (2011). Health effects and wind turbines: A review of the literature. Environmental Health, 10, 78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Lindblom, C. (1979). Still muddling, not yet through. Public Administration Review, 39(6), 517–526.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. March, J. G., & Olsen, J. P. (1996). Institutional perspectives on political institutions. Governance, 9(3), 247–264.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. McAdam, D., Tarrow, S., & Tilly, C. (2008). Methods for measuring mechanisms of contention. Qualitative Sociology, 31, 307–331.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. McRobert, D., Tennent-Riddell, J., & Walker, C. (2016). Ontario’s Green Economy and Green Energy Act: Why a well-intentioned law is mired in controversy and opposed by rural communities. Renewable Energy Law and Policy Review (RELP), 2016, 91–112.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Mettler, S. (2002). Bringing the state back into civic engagement: Policy feedback effects of the G.I. Bill for World War II Veterans. American Political Science Review, 96(2), 351–365.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Mettler, S., & SoRelle, M. (2014). Policy feedback theory. In P. A. Sabatier & C. M. Weible (Eds.), Theories of the policy process (3rd ed., pp. 151–182). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Mettler, S., & Soss, J. (2004). The consequences of public policy for democratic citizenship: Bridging policy studies and mass politics. Perspectives on Politics, 2(1), 55–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Nowlin, M. C. (2011). Theories of the policy process: State of the research and emerging trends. Policy Studies Journal, 39(S1), 41–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Ostrom, E. (2011). Background on the institutional analysis and development framework. Policy Studies Journal, 39(1), 7–27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Paquet, M., & Broscheck, J. (2017). This is not a turn: Canadian political science and social mechanisms. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 50(1), 295–310.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Parsons, C. (2007). How to map arguments in political science. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Phadke, R. (2010). Steel forests or smoke stacks: The politics of visualisation in the cape wind controversy. Environmental Politics, 19(1), 1–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Pierson, P. (1993). When effect becomes cause: Policy feedback and political change. World Politics, 45(4), 595.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Prindle, D. F. (2012). Importing concepts from biology into political science: The case of punctuated equilibrium. Policy Studies Journal, 40(1), 21–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Rietig, K. (2016). The links among contested knowledge, beliefs, and learning in European Climate Governance: From consensus to conflict in reforming biofuels policy. Policy Studies Journal. https://doi.org/10.1111/psj.12169.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Rowlands, I. H. (2007). The development of renewable electricity policy in the province of Ontario: The influence of ideas and timing. Review of Policy Research, 24(3), 185–207.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Sabatier, P. A. (1988). An advocacy coalition framework of policy change and the role of policy-oriented learning therein. Policy Sciences, 21(2–3), 129–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Sabatier, P. A. (2007). The need for better theories. In P. A. Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (2nd ed., pp. 3–17). Boulder: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Sabatier, P. A., & Weible, C. M. (2007). The advocacy coalition framework: Innovations and clarifications. In P. A. Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (2nd ed., pp. 189–222). Boulder: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Sabatier, P. A., & Weible, C. M. (Eds.). (2014). Theories of the policy process (3rd ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Schenk, T., & Stokes, L. C. (2013). The power of collaboration: Engaging all parties in renewable energy infrastructure development. IEEE Power and Energy Magazine, 11(3), 56–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Schlager, E. (2007). A comparison of frameworks, theories, and models of the policy process. In P. A. Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (2nd ed., pp. 293–320). Boulder: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Simeon, R. (1976). Studying public policy. Canadian Journal of Political, 9(4), 548–580.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Simon, H. A. (1985). Human nature in politics: The dialogue of psychology with political science. American Political Science Review, 79(2), 293–304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Skogstad, G. (2017). Policy feedback and self-reinforcing and self-undermining processes in EU biofuels policy. Journal of European Public Policy, 24(1), 21–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Soss, J. (1999). Lessons of welfare: Policy design, political learning, and political action. The American Political Science Review, 93(2), 363–380.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Soss, J., & Schram, S. F. (2007). A public transformed? Welfare reform as policy feedback. The American Political Science Review, 101(1), 111–127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Steinberg, P. F. (2007). Causal assessment in small N policy studies. Policy Studies Journal, 35(2), 181–204.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Stokes, L. C. (2013). The politics of renewable energy policies: The case of feed-in tariffs in Ontario, Canada. Energy Policy, 56, 490–500.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Stokes, L. C. (2016). Electoral backlash against climate policy: A natural experiment on retrospective voting and local resistance to public policy. American Journal of Political Science, 60(4), 958–974.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Tilly, C. (2001). Mechanisms in political processes. Annual Review of Political Science, 4(1), 21–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1981). The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice. Science, 211(4481), 453–458.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Uggen, C., & Manza, J. (2002). Democratic contraction? Political consequences of felon disenfranchisement in the United States. American Sociological Review, 67(6), 777–803.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Walker, C., & Baxter, J. (2017). ‘It’s easy to throw rocks at a corporation’: Wind energy development and distributive justice in Canada. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 19(6), 754–768.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Walker, C., Baxter, J., & Ouellette, D. (2014). Beyond rhetoric to understanding determinants of wind turbine support and conflict in two Ontario, Canada communities. Environment and Planning A, 46(3), 730–745.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Walker, C., Baxter, J., & Ouellette, D. (2015). Adding insult to injury: The development of psychosocial stress in Ontario wind turbine communities. Social Science and Medicine, 133, 358–365.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. Weaver, V. M., & Lerman, A. E. (2010). Political consequences of the carceral state. American Political Science Review, 104(04), 817–833.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. Weible, C. M. (2008). Expert-based information and policy subsystems: A review and synthesis. Policy Studies Journal, 36(4), 615–635.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Weible, C. M., & Nohrstedt, D. (2012). The advocacy coalition framework: Coalitions, learning and policy change. In E. Araral, S. Fritzen, M. Howlett, M. Ramesh, & X. Wu (Eds.), Routledge handbook of public policy (pp. 125–137). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  84. Weible, C. M., Sabatier, P. A., Jenkins-Smith, H. C., Nohrstedt, D., Henry, A. D., & de Leon, P. (2011). A quarter century of the advocacy coalition framework. The Policy Studies Journal, 39(3), 349–360.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. Weyland, K. (2006). Bounded rationality and policy diffusion: Social sector reform in Latin America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  86. Workman, S., Jones, B. D., & Jochim, A. E. (2009). Information processing and policy dynamics. Policy Studies Journal, 37(1), 75–92.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  87. Zahariadis, N. (2014). Ambiguity and multiple streams. In P. A. Sabatier & C. M. Weible (Eds.), Theories of the policy process (3rd ed., pp. 25–58). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

A previous version of this article was presented at the Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA) conference, Ottawa, 2–4 June 2015. The authors thank conference participants who offered constructive criticisms, in particular, Daniel Béland, Lior Sheffer, Grace Skogstad, and Jennifer Wallner. The authors are also grateful to the Policy Sciences anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Heather Millar.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Millar, H., Lesch, M. & White, L.A. Connecting models of the individual and policy change processes: a research agenda. Policy Sci 52, 97–118 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-018-9327-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Policy process theories
  • Model of the individual
  • Bounded rationality
  • Policy change
  • Energy policy