Ambiguity and Choice in Public Policy: Political Decision Making in Modern Democracies

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Georgetown University Press, Jul 29, 2003 - Political Science - 208 pages
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Zahariadis offers a theory that explains policymaking when "ambiguity" is present—a state in which there are many ways, often irreconcilable, of thinking about an issue. Expanding and extending John Kingdon's influential "multiple streams" model that explains agenda setting, Zahariadis argues that manipulation, the bending of ideas, process, and beliefs to get what you want out of the policy process, is the key to understanding the dynamics of policymaking in conditions of ambiguity. He takes one of the major theories of public policy to the next step in three different ways: he extends it to a different form of government (parliamentary democracies, where Kingdon looked only at what he called the United States's presidential "organized anarchy" form of government); he examines the entire policy formation process, not just agenda setting; and he applies it to foreign as well as domestic policy.

This book combines theory with cases to illuminate policymaking in a variety of modern democracies. The cases cover economic policymaking in Britain, France, and Germany, foreign policymaking in Greece, all compared to the U.S. (where the model was first developed), and an innovative computer simulation of the policy process.


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Multiple Streams and Public Policy
Privatization in Britain and France
Ideas and Policy Change in Britain and Germany
Windows of Opportunity and the Choice to Sell British Rail
Symbols Framing and Manipulation in Greek Foreign Policy
Structure and Performance in a Multiple Streams Computer Simulation
Ambiguity and Policy Choice

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Page 3 - To say that policymakers almost never make their objectives crystal clear is hardly novel, but it is true that quite often time constraints force politicians to make decisions without having formulated precise preferences.
Page 6 - ... are not completely independent of one another, they can be viewed as each having a life of its own. Participants drift in and out of decisions, making some choices more likely than others. Problems rise and fall on the government's agenda regardless of whether they are solvable or have been solved. Similarly, people generate solutions, not necessarily because they have identified a particular problem, but because the solution happens to answer a problem that fits their values, beliefs, or material...
Page 177 - The dynamics of policy change: What happened to the English-speaking nations in the 1980s.
Page 9 - an opportunity for advocates of proposals to push their pet solutions, or to push attention to their special problems
Page 177 - Dery, D. 1984. Problem Definition in Policy Analysis. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. Douglas, CC 1990. "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Recession?
Page 4 - Olsen ( 1972, p. 1) aptly put it, organized anarchies "can be described better as a collection of ideas than as a coherent structure." Third, technology — that is, an organization's processes that turn inputs into products — is unclear. Members of an organized anarchy may be aware of their individual responsibilities, but they exhibit only rudimentary knowledge concerning the way their job fits into the overall mission of the organization. Jurisdictional boundaries are unclear, and turf battles...
Page 2 - a state of having many ways of thinking about the same circumstances or phenomena" (Feldman 1989, p. 5). These ways may not be reconcilable, creating vagueness, confusion, and stress. It is different from uncertainty, a related concept, in that the latter refers to the inability to accurately predict an event. Ambiguity may be thought of as ambivalence, whereas uncertainty may be referred...

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About the author (2003)

Nikolaos Zahariadis is professor and director of the political science program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a Ron B. Casey Fellow, and former President of the International Studies Association-South. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Perspectives in International Economy.

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