John W. Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies (1984).

_Main Argument:_

This book focuses on the agenda-setting process in the federal government and explains how and why the agenda changes over time. Kingdon seeks to understand why some subjects become prominent on the policy agenda and others do not, and why some alternatives for choice are seriously considered while others are neglected.


_Method:_ Kingdon developed two complementary sets of data. The one principally relied on is a series of nearly 250 interviews that Kingdon conducted personally, in four annual waves from 1976 to 1979, with participants in policymaking in two areas of federal activity, health and transportation. The author dismisses the rational-actor model, on the usual ground that it wholly fails to conform to reality.



== Notes ==


–     The first part of the analysis aims to sort out the relative roles in setting the agenda of a number of presumptive sources of influence, from presidents to bureaucrats, and policy experts to public opinion

–     Kingdon finds that no single actor, category of participant, or other source of influence dominates the agenda; and none is consistently ahead of the others in giving attention to new subjects

–     The most important category of actors consists of elected officials-among whom the President is clearly, but not overwhelmingly, preeminent

–     Bureaucrats have slight influence in determining what problems are on the agenda, they have much greater influence in shaping the alternatives


–     In the second part of the analysis, he treats agenda-setting pro-cesses and develops a version of Cohen, March, and Olsen’s so-called “garbage-can model” of organizational choice

–     The garbage-can model views the policy agenda as being formed by the coming together of three “process streams” – concerned respectively with problems, policies, and politics

–     Its central idea, in contrast with more structured, conventional views of decision-making, is that the three streams are largely independent: Each follows its own course and responds to its own set of influences

–     In the first stream, problems “come to occupy the attention of people in and around government”

–     This happens through monitoring systematic indicators or through the arrival of focusing events

–     The second stream consists of “the formation and refining of policy proposals”

–     In this process, the domain mostly of experts working in loosely organized policy communities, ideas are in-vented, laboriously researched, and endlessly amended

–     The third political stream is composed of such things as public mood, pressure group campaigns, election results, partisan or ideological distributions in Congress, and changes of administration


_Policy Change:_

–     Policy change can occur, then, when the process streams happen to converge so as to create what Kingdon calls a “policy window,” a brief period in which circumstances are propitious for action on a given proposal

–     But the real way policy happens is through political trends that largely determine which problems are regarded as serious, and that largely determines which proposals get developed

–     Policy alternatives do not really float about seeking problems without first having been put forth as solutions to other problems