July 15, 2006

John Kingdon and accountability

John Kingdon's Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies (1984) is now a classic in political science and policy analysis, arguing that issues attain policy salience when the streams of publicly-recognized problems, policy solutions, and politics intersect. My colleagues Larry Johnson and Kathy Borman used Kingdon's framework to analyze higher-ed politics in Florida (and the temporary absence of a statewide governing board for our universities here).

Kingdon's contribution to policy analysis is the framework he provides for analyzing contingency in policy creation and the adept way that his argument handles the existence of policy entrepreneurs. I've been trying to figure out why Kingdon's approach still doesn't appeal to me with long-term questions such as the shape of high-stakes accountability, and I think I have it (though I should look in the poli sci literature to see who has more sophisticated critiques): Kingdon's framework alone cannot easily explain long-term patterns in a political system. Why doesn't the United States have a European-like welfare state? Theda Skocpol's classic Protecting Soldiers and Mothers has plenty of contingency, but I don't think she cited Kingdon at all. You think about problem, solution, and politics streams and ... rrrrrgggggg. Nothing there on the long-term radar screen. There certainly have been policy entrepreneurs, as the new-institutionalism literature points out, but Kingdon's analysis doesn't necessarily point in a single direction for the long term. There's nothing wrong in that, of course, but it's a limitation.

Time to read Julian Zelizer's 2004 article on political science and history, I think. There are plenty of syllabi with both Kingdon and the new institutionalists (e.g., a 2000 policy course syllabus at the University of Illinois at Chicago), so I suspect the relationship between the two hasn't been ignored.

Practically speaking, for me the question is the degree of contingency in the development of high-stakes accountability systems. Kingdon's approach doesn't quite ring true here, but I should be able to wring something useful out of it, and I can't quite yet.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on July 15, 2006 8:29 AM |