Factors of Policy Reform

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The Patashnik (2008) reading, "Reforms at Risk: What Happens After Major Policy Reforms are Enacted," discusses the process of how general interest reforms can get started and how they are able to be sustained. He goes into detail on the various factors and issues with sustaining policy reforms, and how to identify them. In chapter 3, the he uses the Tax Reform Act of 1986 as a study on general interest reform and how it has changed from the time it was passed. In the study he discuss how it came to be passed, and the political actors involved. Who supported and opposed the reform when it passed, and how those players changed their views after that administration changed; even though they were from the same party. The TRA was chosen because it was considered a "stunning piece of reform legislation" (54), however, it eroded and changed considerable after passing. Chapter 9 discusses the general interest reforms limitations, cycles, how it can be can be sustained, and why it erodes. The Hacker (2010) reading uses the 2008 healthcare reform to further discuss how reforms come to be. He concludes that "fights over policy are fights over who gets to exercise government authority" (872), and this fight for authority is important to understand how democracy works. McConnell (2010) explores what is considered a successful or failed reform, and how different criteria leads to different conclusions. He also states that the reality is that reform is usually somewhere in between success and failure. He also identifies the outcome of success or failure by critiquing on three realms (process, program and political).

From the readings there are various factors that play an important role in policy reforms. The Tax Reform Act provided several examples: the media "as signalers, the media have the power to focus the public's attention" (Burns. 2013); which Bill Bradley, as an "advocate who is willing to invest resources"(Kingdon. 2011), used to his advantage; and political leaders. From our past readings which factors (media, agenda setters, policy windows, etc.) do you feel is the most important in policy reforms? How do they impact reform?

4 Comments

Policy reform seems to be a very delicate thing. Even if all the factors are going right, one of the necessary components could veer off track and the reform could be lost. While all of these factors have an important contribution, I would say the agenda setter/key people are the most critical. I decided on the agenda setter/key people largely because they are necessary throughout the entire process and can be really foundational to the media reaction and many of the other key components. Patashnik states that the continued involvement of key people is critical and these key people also set the approach of the reform, which could make or break its success. Their success often comes down to anticipating reform challenges before they occur and their response can have a determining influence on the passage of the reform.

I wonder if it would be policy windows? Kingdon's explanation of the three converging streams: problem, policies, and politics, as allowing for an idea's time to come was for me, a very convincing argument. For a successful reform, process success could perhaps be achieved in the problem stream, program success in the policy stream, and political success in the political stream. Of course all this also ties to the agenda setters Lauren describes in her above comment. However, if any of the streams described by Kingdon, encompasses deep polarization, compromises in policy details and interpretations of problem frames would result in programs achieving the lower end of the success spectrum McConnel described.

It is difficult to pinpoint the most influential factors, considering the nature of policy reforms in general. It depends, for instance, on the current national mood, whether it is a current hot topic (e.g. during a “window” of opportunity), and whether the reform requires altering existing policy or starting anew altogether. This is reminiscent of our discussion on the level of influence of media versus interest groups – though the strength of interest groups often triumphed, the general consensus was “it depends.” That being said, generally speaking, it seems agenda-setters and media sources rely more heavily on policy windows, as opposed to policy windows relying on the other factors; thus, timely and appropriate policy windows strengthen the other sources, making policy windows, in my opinion, likely the most “important” factor during a given period of policy reform. Ultimately, however, it is a combination of factors (or the merging of streams) which formulates the greatest influence for any stage in policy making.

I would agree 'policy windows' are the most important factor, but certainly not the only one. It takes a policy window to open before the other actors can make a case to finalize the vote / movement. Right now, I see policy windows as mostly reactive though, and I wonder how they can be opened intentionally for policy to be more proactive. Following on the 'conspiracy theory' week, lots of people feel policy windows are manufactured by nefarious methods, but does that mean that a policy window manufactured is always nefarious? As McConnell points out, the 'process' of implementation is important. I'd say the same applies for the process of raising awareness around an issue to create a policy window

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