Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Approach
Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Approach(MSA) is a political science theory that attempts to explain how public policy is created.
The theory posits three streams of activity in the policy process: the problem stream, the policy stream, and the political stream. These streams come together in a “window of opportunity” to create policy change.
The problem stream consists of the issues that the public is concerned about. The policy stream consists of the proposed ideas and solutions to address the problems. The politics stream consists of the power struggles and horse-trading that take place to get the policy enacted. The three streams come together in a “window of opportunity” when the problem is high on the public’s agenda, the policy solution is politically feasible, and there is a favourable political environment. When all three of these factors align, policy change is possible.
The MSA for policy analysis is one of the most useful theories for researching and understanding various issues related to the topic of politics. Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Approach is useful to understand why some problems never seem to be addressed and why some solutions are never enacted. By understanding the three activity streams, we can better see how policy change happens (or doesn’t happen) in our society.
Since the release of his book Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies in 1984, the Multiple Streams Approach of John Kingdon has been frequently utilised. Intriguingly, this agenda-setting approach is so popular in comparative policy analysis, given that the book focuses primarily on the United States.
Kingdon’s multiple streams arose from the desire to understand the often murky, messy policymaking process that is often fraught with conflicting interests and perceptions among various actors, which was not achieved by traditional models that depicted this process as being linear, coherent, and systematic, usually by rational and consensual power groups.
This model allows us to view the policymaking process in its conflicting internal environment, examine its problematised problems, and consider the interests and actions of different players, the context in which policymaking occurs, and actions are dictated.
Policymaking is divided into three major streams—where streams are viewed as differentiated and clustered with similarly minded groups of actors and interests. These streams include the problem, policy, and political streams.
The Problem Stream
The problem stream is where the problems that need policy addressed are framed to make them palatable for policy action. The policy stream denotes how issues are brought to the attention of policymakers in and around the government. Many actors often contested the process’s definition, scope, and perspective. Only a minuscule fraction of problems reach the attention of policymakers. Attention is a huge accomplishment that requires prompt action, should it be diverted away.
There are also multiple ways in which these issues are highlighted – including through surveys, research, processing of indicator data, and formal and informal feedback, among others.
Interpretation of data is often a central tenet in the policy stream, and problems often need strong actors to push them to the priority of policymakers through various deliberate actions that compel policymakers to give attention.
The Policy Stream
The second stream, known as the policy stream, is billed by Kingdon as the policy ‘primeval soup’, and it’s in this stream where policies are generated, developed in detail, rejected and selected. The rejection and selection of ideas in this stream depend on how well the policies are developed, their fit with dominant values, the political support they garner in the current environment, cost feasibility, technical feasibility, and how well they are anticipated to work.
Kingdon proposes that persons often support policies with familiar tenets than entirely new ones – and oftentimes, the ideas generated are founded on existing practice or a combination of other tried and tested policies to form new ones.
In the policy stream, a shortlist of alternatives is generally created based on the criteria already reviewed in the preceding paragraph, and ideas with well-worked available options often have higher odds of being adopted. Policies and ideas fit well with the dominant values; those with acceptable budgetary constraints, more increased familiarity and sufficient detail often rise to the top of the shortlist. While many alternatives are commonly available, their feasibility dictates those actually available for consideration and action.
The Political Stream
The political stream is dictated by factors such as the ideological perspective of the administration of the day, election results, campaigns by lobby groups and the prevailing political climate. Often, questions of jurisdiction arise on different policies, with different levels of governments unable to agree on whose docket a given policy falls fully.
This kind of jostling may see policy streams trampled or pushed up the priority lists – as governments seek to avoid costly endeavours or be seen to take charge.
Inherent to this framework is the proposition that the three streams operate independently except in specific circumstances known as ‘policy windows’ where the participants in each stream dump their hardliner positions for a common goal of working towards a unified solution. Such ‘coupling’ is typically facilitated by special operatives known as “policy entrepreneurs”.
What is Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Framework?
Kingdon developed the Multiple Streams Framework (MSF), which illustrates how the policy process may be classified into three distinct streams: issues, strategy, and politics. Political capitalists are indeed active in the standard source, developing answers to possible issues and putting them forth for consideration during the agenda-making process. The Multiple Streams Framework is a highly effective tool for comprehending policy formulation and agenda planning. It was first intended to evaluate and comprehend the United States’ agenda-establishing process.
Policy entrepreneurs are the primary players in the Multiple Streams Framework since they generate policy alternatives and connect them to issues to provide policymakers answers at the appropriate moment. He defines them as “advocates who are prepared to commit their resources – time, energy, reputation, and money – to advance a cause in exchange for expected future gain in material, purposeful, or solidary rewards.”
Policy entrepreneurs use unconventional thinking and techniques to influence society, generate opportunities, and advance desired policy objectives. Typically, policy entrepreneurship occurs in three stages. It begins with a need for some innovation involving a public benefit in the political scene. Second, a novel policy tool is suggested to meet that desire.
Finally, tactics like team building, issue definition, and leading by example are employed to ensure that the innovation is prioritised. Unlike a public intellect, which seeks to establish oneself on various issues and is publicly loud, a policy entrepreneur will concentrate on a few key issues and collaborate with state and political elites.
Kingdon extended similar logic to the American political system. Because politicians lack the time necessary to develop comprehensive policies, they delegate responsibility to civil officials who confer with think tanks and interest groups to develop policy solutions. Significant policy change is difficult to forecast since it requires persistent attention, an acceptable answer, and some political system compromise. Nikolaos Zahariadis, building on Kingdon’s work, describes it as a tool for explaining how government policies are generated in ambiguous situations.
Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Approach is a policy development model that suggests various ways to address an issue. The approach advocates using multiple methods to develop and implement policy, including problem identification, agenda setting, policy formulation, policy adoption, and policy implementation. Kingdon’s model is useful in that it allows for various voices to be heard during the policymaking process and can help policymakers consider all potential solutions to a problem.