Policy Formulation

These reviews will be required throughout the course and focus on a particular article from a magazine, newspaper, or journal that covers the policy and political arena – incorporating the readings for that week. You can use any article just list it as a reference.
As we have just seen, the movement from policy agenda setting and formulation to adoption is not a simple one-step matter. Kingdon summarizes these points clearly: “. . . it is not enough that there is a problem, even quite a pressing problem. . . . The subject [issue] with an ‘available alternative’ is the one that rises on the agenda, crowding out equally worthy subjects that do not have a viable worked-out proposal attached . . . . The availability of a viable alternative is not a sufficient condition for a high position on the decision agenda. . . . But the chances for a problem to rise on the governmental agenda increases if a solution is attached to the problem.”
Put differently, “viable” is the key word and it means, “what will fly?” And what will fly means what combination of compromises will be needed to gather enough support to ensure votes for passage of a bill. So, a policy concern must be understood in its sense of political viability for every issue will have many proposals at the ready.
Viability, in effect, is an outcome of two processes of analyzing goals and means and creating explicit alternative recommendations for action aimed at winning enough support for a proposal–or combinations of them. I seem to be saying that policymaking–at least, the movement from formulation to adoption–has a glimmer of rationality associated with it. As human beings, we discuss and debate matters by arguing how to do something we want to accomplish in logical ways, even though as part of that logic certain other analytical elements involve careful calculations of how to garner needed political support that some people may not consider rational. I can make the point about rationality by saying opponents call each other’s position “irrational.” To understand the adoption stage, we return to how human beings make decisions.
Decision Theories: Incrementalism and Comprehensive-Rational Revisited
Recall in our discussion of policy theories how theorists used the same terms to describe different things. The notes highlighted policy theory paradigms, namely incrementalism and comprehensive-rational. First, remember that incrementalism focuses on how policy changes occur in the margins of existing programs by narrowing and limiting the task to be accomplished. Incrementally does not mean non-rationally. It means that the analysis of the task involves not treating goals and means, as well as alternatives, either fully or to take all of them or seriously. Many of the tasks and alternatives considered in policy adoption can be explained by one of the incremental policy theories: political systems, interest group, elite, institutionalism, or garbage can (GCT). Explaining how political viability of most policy proposals occurs will fall under the wing of one of those theories.
For our purposes here, we will assume that there is really only one rational-comprehensive policy theory that emulates the workings of the marketplace, namely, rational choice theory (RCT). It comes particularly into play when decisions are moving into unplowed territory. (Incrementalism has a hard time with such agenda setting.)
No matter whether a policy’s adoption can be explained by incremental or comprehensive-rational policy theories, both types of theories will be influenced by the way human beings–executives, legislators, or bureaucrats make decisions. All decisions involve making choices among alternatives–sometimes called preferences. There are decision theories that explain the intellectual activities associated with choosing among alternatives–these may be described as the formal aspect of decision-making. What overall frameworks capture the way the decision-making unfolds? If you query people on how they make decisions, most talk about setting objectives and figuring out how to fulfill them. In other words, we all like to believe we are talking about what passes for rationally, or so we tell ourselves. Hence, we employ Rational Comprehensive Theory (RCT) to explain this type of decision making. Yet, in reality, a kind of bumbling along through tasks and alternatives occurs most of the time–a kind of “muddling through.” That term captures the essence of Incrementalism in decision making.
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