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The Structure of Policy Change

When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the Red Scare seized the American public. While President Eisenhower cautioned restraint, his hand was forced, and NASA’s budget had increased five thousand percent over its pre-Sputnik levels by the time President Kennedy proposed landing a man on the moon. Spending on the space race is in no way unique; Almost every policy area has its own Sputnik-type story, where waves of popular support for an idea (or disillusionment with a previous one) created new political priorities, resulting in dramatic changes to the budget or compelling agencies to respond quickly with little knowledge or preparation. Is this instability an inherent feature of the policy process, or is it possible for an agency to deal with problems in a way that insulates it from swings in public opinion and thus imposes some stability on the decision making process?
Derek A. Epp argues that some agencies can indeed do that and that instability is at least partially a function of poor institutional design. While it is inherently more challenging to maintain stability around complex problems like immigration or climate change, the deliberative process itself can affect the degree of stability around an issue. Epp looks at whether agencies follow a deliberative model for decision making, in which policies are developed by means of debate among a small group of policymakers, or a collective model, in which the opinions of many people are aggregated, as with the stock market. He argues that, in many instances, the collective model produces more informed and stable policy outcomes that can be adapted more readily to new information and changing public priorities.

208 pages | 36 line drawings, 10 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Public Policy


“Scholars of public administration and public policy grapple with an enduring question: under which conditions is public governance efficient and responsive? In this wonderful book, Epp argues that issues matter. Some issues are inherently more complex than others and therefore will be processed differently by decision-making bodies.”

Christian Breunig, University of Konstanz

"Epp makes a valuable contribution to policy theory, making the compelling case that stability is in and of itself an important goal within the broader desire of policy theorists to understand basic questions of policy change. His discussion also extends to explore the implications for institutional design.”

Chris Koski, Reed College

"Derek Epp provides a fresh set of answers to the. . . enduring and important questions of what accounts for changes in policy outcomes. . . . The argument and analysis are clear, compelling, and accessible for undergraduates and graduate students of public policy."

Perspectives on Politics

Table of Contents

Part I : Punctuations in Public Policies
ONE The Rise and Fall of NASA’s Budget and Other Instabilities
TWO A Macroscopic View of the Policy Process
THREE Complexity, Capacity, and Collective Decisions
FOUR Distributional Assessments of Institutional Response

Part II : Issue Complexity and Institutional Capacity
FIVE Instabilities in Federal Policy Making
SIX Institutional Capacity in the American States

Part III : Politics and Collective Intelligence
SEVEN Decision-Making Pathologies
EIGHT Revisiting the Efficiency of the Private Sector
NINE Designing Responsive Institutions


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