Panel 6: Understanding policy dynamics

A critical confrontation of theories of the policy process

Chaired by: dr. Peter Scholten (EUR) & dr. Arco Timmermans (Leiden University) &

Understanding policy change and stability over relatively long periods of time has been at the heart of the policy sciences. Different perspectives have emerged that emphasize the role of institutions, power, discourses and other factors in accounting for policy dynamics. Notable examples include the Punctuated Equilibrium Framework, the Discourse Coalition Framework and the Advocacy Coalition Framework, as well as more generic policy perspectives like Policy Frame Analysis and Institutional Analysis.

Studies of policy dynamics over relatively long periods of time often select one of these perspectives in accounting for policy dynamics in a specific sector. In this context, the aim of our panel is to promote a critical confrontation of different theories of the policy process. We invite theoretical as well as empirical contributions that apply one or more policy theories to one or more policy sectors in one or several countries. Subsequently, we aim to develop a synthesis on the strengths and weaknesses of the different perspectives. We expect that, rather than one of the perspectives being superior to the others, the leverage in terms of understanding or explaining policy dynamics differs according to specific conditions and in specific settings.

Besides discussing the individual papers submitted to this panel, we will actively engage in a critical confrontation of the different perspectives along the following axes:


Understanding policy change as well as policy stability


Policy dynamics in different problem settings, ranging from well-­‐structured problems to wicked policy problems.


Policy dynamics in a multi-­‐level perspective, accounting for change and stability on the European, national, regional and local level, and accounting for the interaction between these levels.


Policy dynamics in a comparative perspective, involving comparisons between polities (national, regional, local) as well as between policy sectors.

This panel is part of a broader plan for a new NIG Colloquium on Theories of Policy Dynamics. Submitted articles will be considered for this colloquium as well. Furthermore, papers will also be considered for a potential publication project. Hence, we not only evaluate the submitted articles based on individual quality, but also on how they get together in a coherent and representative manner.

Linkage with NIG program

This panel links up with the broader NIG research programme on two specific parts. First, our panel relates to the part on ‘multi-­‐actor governance in complexity.’ In fact, our panel precisely aims to discover how policy processes may enroll differently in different types of problem settings. Furthermore, as framed in the objectives of this panel, we do not believe one of the theories of the policy process is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the others, but rather that different perspectives apply under different conditions, in different settings and in response to different questions.

Secondly, its attention to policy processes in multi-­‐level settings, and most of all its effort to theorize the relation between policy processes at different levels, is closely related to the programme on ‘Multi-­‐level governance and Europe.’ Especially as the development of multi-­‐level governance literature has thus far stood largely apart from more generic policy theories, we strongly feel this is an area where we can contribute.