Challenges Faced In A Policy Change Politics

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Lindblom (1959) defines incrementalism as the gradual, evolutionary changes in policy rather than eureka, or revolutionary. It is a method of working whereby we add to a project by small mostly unplanned for variations rather than sudden overhauls. We mostly use incrementalism without any reason to name it because it seems to humanity the most natural way to solve our everyday challenges. We deal with problems as they arise and some problems we cannot anticipate. For example, we can plan our route during a given field trip and allocate time for various activities like lunch break, but we can plan for smaller activities like the change of lanes. These activities are incremental in nature and at the end of the day; they contribute to the greater picture. With other possible processes of policy implementation like the revolution, we have a master plan and must accomplish it all before it is unveiled. In public policy, we carry out small policy changes in phases, which at the end of the day come to be a very big shift in the overall policy. We should note that incrementalism is part of the other processes like revolution because small initial steps taken at the beginning contribute to the bigger picture at the end of the day (Patashnik, 2008).

There are several barriers to significant policy changes; hence, almost all policy changes are incremental. To begin with the most obvious and basic one, we have to improve on the small policy changes we have made in the past to make them bigger and better for the future. This is to mean it is the small 'incremental' steps we have taken which at the end of the day culminate into a bigger and a whole one. Secondly, most other policy change processes are too drastic and subject to much more opposition and criticism. For example, President Barrack Obama's healthcare overhaul policy faced so much opposition from both the Republicans and the general United States public. This was due to its scope and long term implications. Therefore, most policy makers will opt for more gradual and less drastic policy shifts. Another fact we ought to note is that changes in policy most of the time cost money. This may mean more taxes to the citizenry, which may lead to widespread opposition. Apart from this, there are policies, which may have a bilateral implication; this means that there are other countries, which we will affect by such shifts in policy. In order to maintain good neighborly and foreign relations, countries find themselves in a dilemma on which direction to take (Patashnik, 2008).

According to Lindblom (1959), in order to come up with widely agreed on policies, those involved in a given policy formulation or implementation should seek a middle ground on which to settle. He gives example of the agreement, which existed in congress between the liberals and the conservatives. They both supported the extending of old age insurance because the liberals wanted to strengthen the welfare programs within the federal government while the conservatives aimed at reducing demands for private pension plans by the unions. Using one administrators objectives and turning it into the other administrator's means will also lead to an agreement and hence significant change. Agreement should also be the ultimate tool for coming into a consensus on whether to implement the policy or not. He argues that objectives should not be the yardstick because people have also argued and then agreed on them. In addition, having several incremental changes will help us to avoid huge sudden mistakes because we will have learnt gradually from the past mistakes and hence avoid the same pit falls in the future. He adds that we should provide an expanded approach to understanding the intersection of both international and domestic policy and politics making by a rigorous examination of the interplay between actors and institutions and this is possible through development of new policy venues, informed by the theory of incrementalism developed by Lindblom (1959).


Lindblom, E.C. (1959). The Science of "Muddling through" Public Administration Review, Vol. 19(2), pp. 79-88

Patashnik, E. M. (2008). Reforms at risk : what happens after major policy changes are enacted. Princeton, Princeton University Press.


Kingdon (1984) argues that with so many policies and various interest groups pushing through their own agendas through various policies, it is very hard to have meaningful policy change. Apart from this, seeking of electorate popular policies that at the end of the day may end up harming the said electorate has become the order of the day for the political class who seek cheap popularity at the expense of the long-term picture. In addition, he argues that majority of the bills supported by government sail through due to the obvious reason of the party forming the government having majority of the members in the senate and congress (Milner, 1997).

The equilibrium position among the preferences of the most important actors in the policy making process - or at least the equilibrium position among the preferences of the most important actors in the policy process at the time the policy was created (Zahariadis 1999). By their nature, equilibriums tend to be stable. Therefore, it takes a great deal of effort to move policy away from the status quo. The political class mostly favors the policy that minimizes risk or regret, which is risk averse. Prospect theory tells us that people are risk averse - that is, they value potential losses more highly than potential gains therefore, Politicians and other government decision makers have become especially risk averse, since they typically receive blame when public programs do not work well, but receive little credit when policies are successful.

Moreover, elected officials are under constant threat by competitors who want to take their jobs and any change from the policy status contains the promise of future benefits or gains, but this change also entails risk, and government decision makers may be unwilling to experience this risk. Zahariadis (1995) intimates that due to the complexity in coming up with policy changes, there is need for policy entrepreneurs to change tactics. For example, they must endeavor to find politicians who are receptive of their ideas so that they can sponsor the bills in either the senate or the congress. He calls for lobbying by the civil societies and other stakeholders in order to achieve their intended goals.


Milner, H. V. (1997). Interests, institutions, and information domestic politics and international relations. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press

Zahariadis, N (1999). Ambiguity, time and Multiple streams


Baumgartner and Jones define Punctuated equilibrium as a theory of explaining policy change whereby we have long periods in which we have a status quo and nothing is happening. This is the equilibrium (Baumgartner, 2003). However, after a long time, there is sudden renewed activism leading to massive shifts in policy or punctuating the equilibrium before the next long period of a statis. This theory is used to understand change in complex social systems. It has been used widely to study the evolution of change in policy and especially the evolution of conflicts (Gould, 1977) there has been suggestions that most social systems exist in an extended static period.

However, later there occurs a period of radical and sudden change. Baumgartner and Jones have tried to suggest that this is a more advanced way to explain the policy making process than incrementalism. Many authors have argued that when president Obama pushed through the healthcare plan it was a period of punctuation because due to a huge and ready democratic majority who were ready to follow him and help shape his first days in office. After this there has come a period of equilibrium whereby to pass any legislation is proving to be hard for the president.

Some of the barriers to change according to the theory of punctuated equilibrium is whereby we can stay for a very long time on an equilibrium without a punctuation. For example, it may take several years of an oppressive regime for there to be punctuation, an event that can make people say enough is enough and force change including force (Gould, 1977).


Baumgartner, Frank R., and Bryan D. Jones ( 1993). Agendas and instability in American politics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press

Gould S.J. and N. Eldredge (1977): Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered. Paleobiology 3, pp. 115-151


Advocacy coalition means a group of lobbies or other such organizations which have come together to argue for, support, agitate or promote a common cause (Sabatier, 1993). They share a set of causal and normative beliefs and engage in co-ordinate non-trivial activities overtime. They focus on guidance to the members of the coalitions pertaining to problems deserving the highest priority and the causes that ought to be closely examined as well as the government institutions likely to favor the coalition's point of view.

Some of the barriers to policy change may come about when the opponents of a proposed change challenge the validity of data used to draft the proposal hence casting doubt on seriousness of the problem. In addition, the opponents can mobilize polit6ical opposition to the proposal often pointing out to various costs to themselves and others, that is through creation or enhancing of their coalition (Patashnik, 2008).

For any significant policy change to occur there must be changes in individuals because of learning which will lead to attitudinal change. If we coupled this with the diffusion of new beliefs and attitudes in the society, which will contribute to group dynamics such the polarization of homogenous groups or groups facing some conflicts. In addition, the policy movers should strive to convince people that institutional arrangements planned will deal with the problems at hand with negligible politically unacceptable costs and thus help result in a more substantial government action plan. Open forums should be encouraged whereby participants can express a wide range of differing views and the pros and cons of each discussed at length. An example of this is to be found in the legislature whereby all sides have chance to be heard hence cultivating a culture of consensus and compromise (Winter, (1990).

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