December 15, 2009

Softening up the target

The theme at Goat Rope these days is public policy and how it happens (or doesn't). If you're interested in this kind of thing, please click on earlier posts. You'll also find links and comments about current events.

Political scientist John Kingdon's Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies looks at the political ecosystem from major players like presidents and senators down to humble policy wonks. We're on the wonk part now.

One pleasant surprise for me in reading Kingdon's analysis is his assertion that ideas actually matter (to a degree anyway). This is especially true in what he calls the policy community, which consists of interest groups, think tanks, academics and others interested in this kind of thing.

You might think that policy ideas are developed as solutions to particular problems. Kingdon agrees that this happens, but also maintains that "people in and around government sometimes do not solve problems. Instead, they become advocates for solutions and look for current problems to which to attach their pet solution."

Just because one has a viable idea that holds up well to arguments and critiques, it doesn't follow that it will become a reality--but it might. The next phase involves what he calls "softening up:"

To some degree ideas float freely through the policy primeval soup. But their advocates do not allow the process to be completely free-floating. In addition to starting discussion of their proposals, they push their ideas in many different forums. These entrepreneurs attempt to "soften up" both policy communities, which tend to be inertia-bound and resistant to major changes, and larger publics, getting them used to new ideas and building acceptance for their proposals. Without this preliminary work, a proposal sprung even at a propitious time is likely to fall on deaf ears.

That rings true in my experience of working at the state level. Once you've developed an idea, you need to get it out there to all kinds of people in all kinds of ways for it to stand a change of going anywhere. This involves both public education and coalition building. Sometimes this can take years.

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1 comment:

Nina said...

Que cabron! Me gusta mucho leer sus comentarios y los opiniones. Espero mas.