Moving forward: the politics of public policy process.


As is evident particularly after an election cycle where messaging inundates every American household, politicians use what may seem to be a foreign language in the delivery of messaging regarding party politics and public policy to the masses.  Using models in public policy one can determine how a political party might trend toward regarding policy as amplified over various topics of note.  In this exercise, using speeches from two different recent political campaigns, I will attempt to link a theory, framework or model to a political party that could be applied to their party approach in various other areas of thought.  While there are several ways in which one might apply theory, framework, or models to politics in general and while multiple concepts apply to each campaign, an attempt was made here to isolate a method of analysis to just one speech given at each primary political party national convention during the presidential election campaign of 2012 through just one theory, method, or framework for purposes of this paper.


Adam and Kriesi in Sabatier’s Theories of the Policy Process (2007) explain that political processes in policy are not controlled by an actor alone, but rather characterized by the interactions between public and private actors dependent on each other as they need each other’s resources for which to achieve a goal (Adam and Kriesi, 2007).  Per the Network Approach to policy, the value lies in policy making as a process involving a “diversity of actors who are mutually interdependent” (p. 146) with their interactions taken into account via a cause and effect relationship.   This implies that the actors are not “atomized and isolated, but are mutually interlinked” (p. 146) with their actions defining the structure of the outcome.

Former President William (Bill) Clinton’s remarks at the 2012 Democrat National Convention lobbying for Barack Obama as the party nominee included from the first few minutes a message of interwoven futures and a participatory government and relationship for the success of the United States:

We Democrats — we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it — with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly share prosperity. You see, we believe that “we’re all in this together” is a far better philosophy than “you’re on your own.” It is.

Word selection throughout Clinton’s speech ideally aligns with the Network Approach to policy as Adam and Kriesi highlight choosing phrases like “we’re all in this together”, “good for all”, “cooperative”, “common good”, “bipartisan movement”, “constructive cooperation”, “shared opportunities”, “shared responsibility”, “shared prosperity”, “shared community” and “democracy is not a blood sport.” The image of Network Approach to policy is succinctly represented through a metaphor: “regular communication and frequent exchange of information lead to the establishment of stable relationships between actors and to the coordination of their mutual interests” (p. 129).  The importance of the intersection between need and innovation is one that advanced the point for Clinton showing that the common good thinking can pay off in favorable terms economically by offering this dichotomy:

Now, there’s — there’s a reason for this. It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics. Why? Because poverty, discrimination and ignorance restrict growth. When you stifle human potential, when you don’t invest in new ideas, it doesn’t just cut off the people who are affected; it hurts us all. We know that investments in education and infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase growth. They increase good jobs, and they create new wealth for all the rest of us.

As this approach represents a collaborative experience for all actors involved and [implied] mutual prosperity it also implies that problems encountered by the network affect the entire network.  The degree of cooperation is a hallmark dimension of the Network Approach following the consideration of basic distribution of power and actor types.  It accurately reflects that cooperation varies based on distribution of power changes the chances of policy monopoly or the chance that just one policy agenda could become primary for one group of people.  As this framework demonstrates in chapter five of Sabatier, the variance within is great, including six different types of policy network to consider:

An adequate distribution allows for common prosperity, participation, positional- and reputational-based indicators as well as appropriate consequence.  Monitoring and engaging via participation the type of interaction within the networks or subsystems nationally can keep the common perspective intact and prosperous.

Or as Clinton (2012) describes:

And I have been honored to work with both Presidents Bush on natural disasters in the aftermath of the South Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the horrible earthquake in Haiti. Through my foundation, both in America and around the world, I’m working all the time with Democrats, Republicans and independents. Sometimes I couldn’t tell you for the life who I’m working with because we focus on solving problems and seizing opportunities and not fighting all the time.  And so here’s what I want to say to you, and here’s what I want the people at home to think about. When times are tough and people are frustrated and angry and hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good. But what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation. What works in the real world is cooperation, business and government, foundations and universities.

Network Approach doesn’t only take into consideration the actors but also the varying relationships present.  While distribution indicates widespread throughout the network, it does not indicate that it will be equal therefore, the degree of concentration of power within the network is expected to determine the potential for efficacy within the model and propensity for change (Adam and Kriesi, 2007).

At the 2012 Republican National Convention another scope of value was at play as Marco Rubio addressed fellow party-leaders:

Do we want our children to inherit our hopes and dreams, or do we want them to inherit our problems? Mitt Romney believes that if we succeed in changing the direction of our country, our children and grandchildren will be the most prosperous generation ever, and their achievements will astonish the world. The story of our time will be written by Americans who haven’t yet been born. Let’s make sure they write that we did our part. That in the early years of this new century, we lived in an uncertain time. But we did not allow fear to cause us to abandon what made us special.  We chose more freedom instead of more government.

Prosperity and freedom regarding choice taking a front seat to his remarks, reminiscent of Multiple Streams Theory that pays a limited amount of attention to the arrangement of the institutional or common good, and instead “remains focused on individual behavior and the behavioral factors that affect individual choice” (Schlager, 2007). According to Schlager’s dissection, this theory pays the least attention to collective action as a process of people coming together to meet a shared goal and is firmly grounded in the example of a “boundedly rational individual and the garbage can model of choice” (Zahariadis, p.66).  Instead, the theory focuses on roles of critical individuals playing certain roles as policy entrepreneurs and the conditions that are necessary for them to succeed and make change or achieve a high-level of success.  As Rubio contributes a story of his own grandfather:

In 1980, I watched my first Republican convention with my grandfather. He was born to a farming family in rural Cuba. Childhood polio left him permanently disabled. Because he couldn’t work the farm, his family sent him to school, and he became the only one in the family who could read. As a boy, I would sit on our porch and listen to his stories about history, politics and baseball while he puffed on one of his three daily Padron cigars. I don’t recall everything we talked about, but the one thing I remember, is the one thing he wanted me to never forget. The dreams he had when he was young became impossible to achieve. But there was no limit to how far I could go, because I was an American.

Kingdon via Schlager (2007) suggests that “one nice property of this picture of agenda change involving entrepreneurial activity is that it makes some sense of ‘great man’ theories of history” (p. 302) that present through politics. For example:

Tonight, you’ll hear from another man who understands what makes America exceptional. Mitt Romney knows America’s prosperity didn’t happen because our government simply spent more. It happened because our people used their own money to open a business. And when they succeed, they hire more people, who then invest or spend their money in the economy, helping others start a business and create jobs.  Mitt Romney’s success in business is well known. But he’s more than that.

He’s a devoted husband, father and grandfather. A generous member of his community and church.  Everywhere he’s been, he’s volunteered his time and talent to make things better for those around him.

Once again through this account:

We’re special because dreams that are impossible anywhere else, come true here.

That’s not just my story. That’s your story. That’s our story.

It’s the story of your mother who struggled to give you what she never had.

It’s the story of your father who worked two jobs so doors closed for him would open for you.

The story of that teacher or that coach who taught you the lessons that shaped who you are today.

And it’s the story of a man who was born into an uncertain future in a foreign country. His family came to America to escape revolution.  They struggled through poverty and the great depression. And yet he rose to be an admired businessman, and public servant.

And in November, his son, Mitt Romney, will be elected President of the United States.  We are all just a generation or two removed from someone who made our future the purpose of their lives.

These concepts mentioned through Rubio support Multiple-Streams Theory in that very important policy entrepreneurs do not control events; rather they can bend them to a degree based on anticipation and are critical to the public success (Schlager, 2007).  Through this individual work comes individual gain effectively separating politics [government] from the individual [entrepreneur].  A hallmark value of the modern Republican Party is that creating individual power, not government providing for its constituents.

Kingdon via Zahariadis in Sabatier’s (2007) Theories of the Policy Process provides a clear explanation for how an individual policy agenda is set. He describes how three metaphorical process streams [the problem stream, policy stream, and political stream] open a window of opportunity for policy change when linked together through which a policy entrepreneur can successfully enter. When this window opens, a proposal has an increased likelihood of making it onto the policy agenda. Then, once the issue is on the agenda, policymakers consider proposals to address the policy problem.  This perfect storm of sorts, is addressed in Rubio’s (2012) speech:

I know that for so many of you, these last few years have tested your faith in the promise of America.

Maybe you are at an age when you thought you would be entering retirement. But now, because your savings and investments are wiped out, your future is uncertain.

Maybe, after years of hard work, this was the time you expected to be your prime earning years. But instead, you’ve been laid off, and your house is worth less than your mortgage.

Maybe you did everything you were told you needed to do to get ahead. You studied hard and finished school. But now, you owe thousands of dollars in student loans. You can’t find a job in your field. And you’ve moved back in with your parents.

You want to believe we’re still that place where anything is possible. But things just don’t seem to be getting better. And you are starting to wonder if things will ever be the same again.

Yes, we live in a troubled time. But the story of those who came before us reminds us that America has always been about new beginnings.

Zahariadis (2007) talks about the omnipotent policy making under conditions of ambiguity that Multiple Streams Theory is engulfed.  He refers to it as “a state of having many ways of thinking about the same circumstances or phenomena” (p. 66) which does not provide one clear and reconcilable way of aleveating the stress, confusion and vagueness as a result.  Much like individuals, engaging amid certain phenomena will yield different results if not driven by the same goal.  Rubio talks about the destination being “new beginnings” in his speech.  With individual drivers each out for separate new beginnings, it is impossible to predict a national outcome with accuracy.  Political manipulation (Zahariadis, 2007) also comes into play here where the point of view of the entrepreneur might involve a competing self-interest deviating from the need of the entire system.

Success, as Zahariadis points out in Sabatier, is when one of the persistent policy entrepreneurs discovers a window of opportunity and through the relentlessness of his/her behavior has multiple solutions that can be coupled in order to fit within the acceptable three streams.  Entrepreneurs who are placed at a high level in government are most likely to be successful in the manipulation of this kind of data in a singular mindset:  policy adaption.


Sabatier lobbies for the use of multiple perspectives via analysis through multiple frameworks for added insight to the political policy adoption process (2007).  As theory, models, and frameworks live in a metaphorical dreamland with clarification sometimes difficult to attain through the historical writings of public policy narrowing down just one lens through which to view the aforementioned speeches was a task that was both exciting and frustrating.  With emphasis weighing so heavily on the individual champion and his/her pursuits in the Republican address at the National Convention, a model focused on an individual actor was the perfect, though not the only natural competitor from the Democrat address of “all for one, one for all-shared prosperity in a competitive world” (Clinton, 2012) which relied more heavily on groups of actors moving toward a common goal together.


Adam, Silke and Kriesi, Hanspeter (unk). The Network Approach. In Paul A. Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (129-154). Boulder, CO: Westview.

Clinton, William (Speaker). CSPAN (Producer). (2012, September 5). Democrat National Convention.  Obama Nomination. Retrieved from

Rubio, Marco (Speaker). ABC News (Producer). (2012, August 30). Republican National Convention. Romney Nomination. Retrieved from

Sabatier, Paul A. (2007). Fostering the Development of Policy Theory. In Paul A. Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (321-336). Boulder, CO: Westview.

Schlager, Edella (unk). A Comparison of Frameworks, Theories, and Models of Policy Processes. In Paul A. Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (293-319). Boulder, CO: Westview.

Zahariadis, Nikolaos (unk). The Multiple Streams Framework: Structure, Limitations, Prospects. In Paul A. Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (65-92). Boulder, CO: Westview.

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