Policy Models

A number of models have been developed to describe policy. Some are linear, while others capture the more complex and circuitous route of policy development. The linear model of policy was developed by Lasswell (1951) and modified by Meier (1991) to include four steps taken in policymaking (Figure 1). Policy practitioners make predictions/prescriptions about issues that need to be addressed through policy, policymakers make a policy choice, the policy is then implemented and has an outcome. This simple framework has no feedback loop or opportunities for the process to move backward as well as forward.

To capture the dynamic nature of policymaking, Grindle and Thomas (1991) suggest a more complex framework to describe policy development that includes an agenda phase, a decision phase, and an implementation phase (Figure 2). At each stage, the framework suggests that a decision can be made for or against the policy. For example, an issue can either be put on the policy agenda or not put on the agenda. At the decision phase, the decision can be for or against policy reform. At any of the three stages, a policy either continues to move toward successful implementation, or else it is derailed.

Figure 1: Linear Model, Source: Meier, 1991

A third type of policy model is described in terms of policy streams. Kingdon (1984) suggests that policy change comes about when three streams—problems, politics, and policies—connect. Kingdon’s model shows that while the three streams may be operating independently of one another, all three need to come together in order for a policy to emerge. Each of the streams described by Kingdon has its own forces acting upon it and ultimately influencing it. The policy streams model focuses on the importance of the timing and flow of policy actions. The streams do not just meet up by chance but rather from consistent and sustained action by advocates.

Each of these models has common components—that policies emerge from perceived problems and acknowledgment of the role of policymakers and other stakeholders in proposing policies and acting on policy options. Two of the models build in the dynamic and complex nature of policymaking and the recognition that the process can get derailed or reversed at any time.

However, none captures all of the components of policy that need to be considered in policymaking.

Figure 2: Stages Model of Policymaking, Source: Grindle and Thomas, 1991

Figure 3: Kingdon Streams Model