Discussion Questions - Policy Windows


Consider a policy that you would like to see enacted into law. (It could be something you've read about, or something you've dreamed up.)

What might create a policy window for this particular proposal?

What could you do in the meantime to prepare for this window when it opens up?


The best example of a policy I’d like to see enacted and is currently experiencing a kind of policy window surrounds the issue of marriage equality. The U.S. is experiencing a rapid shift in public opinion on marriage equality, with more citizens expressing support for same-sex marriage then ever before. As a result, we are seeing high level elected officials such as President Obama (D), Hillary Clinton (D), Senator Rob Portman (R), MN State Senator Branden Petersen (R) publically support marriage equality. In the past year we have also seen the first state referendums to legalize same-sex marriage and the first referendum that blocked amending the constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. It would seem that we are in a policy window right now, but I’m not sure if we are in the beginning, middle or end of it. A lot hinges on the Supreme Court decisions on two marriage equality cases. I think the Supreme Court will have an enormous impact on the policy window of this particular policy issue. The Justice who is most likely to be the deciding vote on these issues, Kennedy, has been a strong supporter of State rights. As one of the cases deals directly with a State’s power to legalize same-sex marriage I would argue that the policy window may not be open at this time to enact same-sex marriage nationally.

In the meantime I think it is important for grassroots coalitions, such as MN United for All Families, to continue their advocacy work and connect with regional and national groups to keep the marriage equality movement at the forefront of political discourse. If the policy window is not open on a national level then groups and citizens must continue to take advantage of the open policy window on the state level, pushing for marriage equality bills, public education and partnership building.

I believe the policy window was open for Minnesota to create a policy alternative for the foreclosure issue it has been struggling with over the last four or five years. The problem window was definitely open and the public was aware of the issue of an unacceptable number of foreclosures. I was a fan of the "Home Owners Bill of Rights" (HF 83) that was proposed this legislative session, but was recently killed in mid-March. I appreciated this alternative out of the others in the policy stream because it was created by a coalition of actors, including individuals that were being foreclosed upon. However, the political stream did not come together with this alternative, likely because it didn't have the same support from many of banking lobbyist. The banking lobbyists latched onto another bill, that has not yet been killed, that is basically a less comprehensive version of HF 83. This bill is actually in the Senate, SF 1276, and is missing the following things in comparison to HF 83: mandatory mediation requiring banks to meet face-to-face with the homeowner and a mediator to discuss alternatives to foreclosure, a private right of action that enforces the ban on dual tracking by ensuring homeowner can go to court to stop or reverse a wrongful foreclosure, a single point of contact with the banks. SF 1276 is also missing protections for tenants renting from landlords in foreclosure and for military service members facing foreclosure.

This summer, when I worked with a homeowner going through foreclosure, the bank was constantly tried to confuse us with various diversion strategies like changing our point of contact at the bank and I know other homeowners who could not get a moment to talk face-to-face with a representative, in a place of power, from the bank. Having a mortgage is a huge deal to a homeowner and they should not be denied contact with their mortgage lender. These additional components do not seem outrageous to me and a similar bill of rights was passed in California and already decreased foreclosure filings by 60%.

Kingdon talks about a policy window closing once some action, whether or not it is adequate, has been taken. While I hope SF 1276 passes, I worry that these missing components will never make it into a bill. The HF 83 coalition will need to continue efforts to keep this problem on the radar, to show the necessity of these additional measures.

I would like to enact a policy addressing the issue of school violence. The policy would entail a hortatory campaign, or rather, an informational campaign disseminating includes disseminating information about anti-bullying by way of campaigning via in-person, online, and through print materials. Essentially, this policy package will provide information to educate students, parents, teachers, and other school staff on the warning signs and consequences of bullying in schools. The idea behind this alternative is that by exposing negative side-effects of bullying such as low attendance rates, low self-esteem, or even suicide, it will discourage students from harming one another and may encourage positive coalitions among peers and staff. Further, if individuals are trained on some of the warning signs that school bullying is occurring, reports and early intervention may take place attempting to prevent worsening of violent situations.

To prepare for proposal of this policy alternative, it would be wise to gather current data on bullying statistics such as supposed causes and the frequency of occurrences as well as highlight consequences (unintended or not) if the issue goes unaddressed by policymakers. Too many students are bullied in K-12 schools and, according to the National Center for Education Statistics in 2011, for instance, 28.8% or over one-fourth of all students in public K-12 schools reported being victimized from bullying. What’s more, in a survey conducted by the Center of Youth Ethics in 2010, 49.4% of public school students admitted to bullying another student one or more times in the previous six months. It would also be important to inform policymakers that if the issue of bullying in U.S. public schools is not addressed promptly, there will continue to be serious consequences for students, families, and school personnel. Such consequences include negative effects on student mental health like fear, low self-esteem, or seclusion. Physical injuries may result in bruising, bone fractures, or bleeding to name a few. These mental and physical impacts on students often lead to low attendance rates in school, low academic performance, or in the worst cases, death or suicide. Impacts of bullying go beyond the victims, affecting parents, peers, staff, school officials, and the overall school climate as well.

The issue of bullying in schools has already entered the problem stream as recent events highlighted in the media have shown. Consider, for example, the recent and nationally recognized cases of school violence in the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota. This district faced eight student deaths in just two years resulting from suicide, after which reports showed they had been viciously bullied. Focusing events, combined with media attention and alarming statistics, create a currently opportune window for policymakers, policy entrepreneurs, interest groups, and the like to push items of interest regarding school violence solutions to the governmental agenda.

One major policy issue that I would like to see be enacted is the complete ban of body gripping traps on Minnesota public land. Since last November's trapping season opened, there have been roughly 20 domestic dogs killed on public land as the result of body gripping traps (mostly Conibear style). As somebody who enjoys Minnesota's wealth of beautiful public natural resources, this trend is quite alarming. There has been state legislation passed in the past year to account for the desires of all natural resource advocates/dog owners/trapping organizations, but it has only lead to more undesirable results for every stakeholder, and clearly has not protected hunter/dog owner rights given the amount of animals that have been killed this trapping season.

The issue of passing effective public trapping legislation legislation is likely resulting from competing causes that clutter natural resource debates, namely the controversial Minnesota wolf hunt that has drawn the largest amount of natural resource discussion in the legislature. Kingdon references this cluttering of policy problems as a potential hinderance of policy windows opening up. The solution then is to either address the wolf hunt situation and reach a final conclusion, or allow for a policy entrepreneur to differentiate the problem of public trapping from the popular discussion of wolf hunting.

One policy I would like to see enacted is a national Clean Energy Standard (CES, though it goes by many other names). We have a similar standard in Minnesota called a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which states that 25% of all power must be generated by renewable sources by the year 2025 (the standard is 30% by 2020 for Xcel Energy). Implementing this on a national scale would increase our energy reliability and independence, reduce our greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions, and spur growth in the green job industry.

A policy window will be tough to create for this because of the state of affairs with regard to environmental and energy issues in Washington. Oil spills, decades of science, rising oil and gas prices, none of these events or even their combination has opened a policy window substantial enough to produce a positive outcome. Rather, what I believe is most likely to open a policy window for this issue is compromise on other issues-- perhaps the budget-- with, for example, the President succumbing to greater spending cuts to the DOE or EPA in exchange for the passage of a national CES. This means that in the meantime policy entrepreneurs must have a policy package and draft bill language ready for if/when the White House or Congress were ready to move on the issue, as well as continuing to draw up support and model the potential benefits to the US to assuage public fear of increased regulation. Furthermore, policy entrepreneurs must be able to act immediately once a deal is near, advocating for their cause and ready to mobilize the proper support to capitalize on this complex reason for a (likely short) policy window opening.

A policy I would like to see enacted into federal law is the decriminalization of low-level marijuana and treating it like alcohol. Forty years of an all out war on drugs has cost over $1 trillion dollars, and resulted in over 45 million arrests destroying the lives of countless individuals and families – particularly destructive to already impoverished communities of color. There is now increasing awareness of this failed Nixon War on Drugs – Not only our we experiencing budget constraints and questioning the billions of federal dollars spent annually to enforce the prohibition, but the social injustices experienced by communities of color is becoming more recognized. Although blacks and whites use drugs at around the same rate, blacks are over 10 times more likely to be sent to prison for the non-violent drug offenses. The argument for federally decriminalizing marijuana is strong and there is plenty of evidence to support it, however I think the reason why it has not made it on to the decision agenda is because we’ve lived with the problems associated with the War on Drugs for so long now, it doesn’t seem to appear urgent or pressing enough. Also, I think reforming the War on Drugs had to undergo and is still undergoing a long period of “softening up.”

Meanwhile, I’m not so certain a policy window is currently open. It may be just cracked. I think what is largely missing is receptiveness in the political stream. However, the recent legalization in Washington and Colorado may create some spillovers. Perhaps once politicians start to see how much revenues can be generated and how much spending can be saved, they may become more receptive. Additionally, the same members of Congress from these legalized marijuana states could perhaps form a coalition. Since they may now care about issue, they rationally would be more receptive.

Until the policy window is wide open, I think what is necessary is to continue the ‘softening up” process. Researchers and advocates should continue to provide evidence of the failures in the War on Drugs. Advocates or policy entrepreneurs should also continue to push and provide evidence of the economic impact of decriminalizing marijuana. I think a policy window will open in the very near future. As such, policy entrepreneurs must be ready.
Tomorrow, Monday, a film about the failed War on Drugs will be airing at 9pm on Independent Lens (PBS).

Here is a link to the film’s website:




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