Daily Archives: February 3, 2015

What is a policy entrepreneur?

See also: Three habits of successful policy entrepreneurs

From pages 271-2 of Understanding Public Policy

For example, ‘policy entrepreneur’ is used by Kingdon (1984: 21; 104) to describe actors who use their knowledge of the process to further their own policy ends. They ‘lie in wait in and around government with their solutions at hand, waiting for problems to float by to which they can attach their solutions, waiting for a development in the political stream they can use to their advantage’ (Kingdon, 1984: 165–6). Entrepreneurs may be elected politicians, leaders of interest groups or merely unofficial spokespeople for particular causes. They are people with the knowledge, power, tenacity and luck to be able to exploit windows of opportunity and heightened levels of attention to policy problems to promote their ‘pet solutions’ to policymakers (see also Jones, 1994: 196 on their ability to reframe issues).

John’s (1999) treatment of entrepreneurs is similar, but he perhaps replaces the image of a surefooted calculating individual with someone that follows a trial and error strategy; entrepreneurs try out combinations of ideas, ‘to find the one that replicates’ (1999: 45).

In policy transfer, entrepreneurs can be consultants, NGOs or think tanks which promote best practice internationally. International entrepreneurs often have added credentials, either from the exporting country or from a supranational institution such as the World Bank that ties its cooperation to the use of a particular expert (Dolowitz and Marsh, 2000: 10). The classic case is the Harvard professor who travelled the world selling new public management, backed notionally by the US government (Common, 1998: 441). In this case the entrepreneur is perhaps guaranteed some level of success and is always on the road and looking for business rather than waiting for the right opportunity to act.

‘Entrepreneur’ is used in rational choice to explain why some individuals seek to provide public services or form political parties or interest groups when we assume that most free ride (McLean, 1987: 29). In business, entrepreneurs are innovative actors who provide a good or service that otherwise may not be provided; in return for their services they take a profit. The amount of profit depends partly on the level of competition by different entrepreneurs (1987: 28). In politics, it may be more difficult to sell goods, particularly when they are non-excludable (Chapter 7). Political entrepreneurs may profit through other means: when people make voluntary donations; when organizations pay politicians to try to secure contracts or other favours; and, through taxation. Again, the amount of profit depends in part on the level of competition: a high taxing, corrupt politician might be replaced by a cleaner and cheaper opponent (1987: 29). In other cases, politicians pursue measures simply because they believe that there will be an electoral payoff (Mclean, 2002: 541). In the case of organizations, there are people who value a good or service so much that they pay for it regardless of the ability of others to free ride. Or, there are entrepreneurs, driven partly by ideology, who provide a cheap solution to a problem shared by many in exchange for a donation to pursue further initiatives (McLean, 1987: 32).

Mintrom and Vergari (1996: 431; see also Mintrom and Norman, 2009) use ‘entrepreneur’ in a similar way to Kingdon (someone selling ideas) and to rational choice (someone solving a collective action problem) to explain change within the ACF. For example, coalitions are born when entrepreneurs frame issues to encourage members with common beliefs to coalesce around an issue.

Overall, while ‘entrepreneur’ may be a key concept used to explain the timing and degree of policy innovations, we need to be clear about how we use the term. Who are the entrepreneurs? What is their role? What skills do they posses? Do entrepreneurs sell ideas or services? Do they benefit from policy outcomes that favour their beliefs, or material outcomes? Is an entrepreneur a domestic actor joining streams from within, or an external actor applying pressure (or both)?

Posted for comparison with ‘knowledge broker’ – EBPM and ‘knowledge brokers’

Some of these theories about entrepreneurs are discussed in the 1000 Words and 500 Words series on policy theories.

See also: Practical Lessons from Policy Theories

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EBPM and ‘knowledge brokers’

This is another endnote in a chapter (3) that I am writing for The Science of Policymaking. I suggest that the identification of a ‘knowledge broker’ in practitioner studies is as problematic as the widely used but little understood term ‘policy entrepreneur’ in policy studies. So, an ostensibly simple recommendation (‘use a knowledge broker’) may, on its own, have little practical value.

Systematic reviews (such as by Oliver et al, in which you can chase up the other references) identify the word ‘broker’ but the individual studies to which they refer do not add up to a coherent account of who they are or what their role is:

  • Dobbins et al’s (2009: 2) focus is on employing someone specifically to disseminate evidence. Their base description is someone working ‘one-on-one with decision makers to facilitate evidence-informed decision making’, as opposed to the provision of databases and computer-generated messages – then they try to test, with an RCT, an anecdotal expectation that they act ‘as a catalyst for systems change, establishing and nurturing connections between researchers and end users’, ‘improve the quality and usefulness of evidence that is employed in decision making’, and ‘a decision-making culture that values the use of evidence (2009: 3). Their evidence, based largely on brokerage provided by one person, is that they may be less important than computer generated tailored messages.
  • Ritter (2009: 72) suggests that policymakers draw on ‘experts’, but expertise relates to broad knowledge of the field and a track record of engagement in government (so, there is not necessarily a direct link to scientists trying to supply new evidence).
  • El-Jahardi et al (2012: 9) report that 45% of surveyed practitioners responded that they need brokers (‘people who bring researchers and their target audiences together and build relationships among them to make knowledge transfer and exchange more effective’) but that little evidence exists on their role or impact.
  • Jack et al (2010) describe something different: ‘cultural brokers’, sharing information between an ‘aboriginal community’ and a community of researchers and policymakers.
  • Jönsson et al (2007: 8) speculate that members of policy networks can be brokers.
  • In some cases, articles which do not use the word ‘brokerage’ might still demonstrate a clearer role for specific professionals to address demand for evidence, such as to help commissioners gather and understand limited evidence on specialist services (Chambers et al, 2012: 144), or to facilitate a compromise between political and scientific beliefs (van Egmond et al, 2011: 34).

In short, I look forward to Oliver et al’s specific review of brokers, to see if there is more out there.

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Filed under Evidence Based Policymaking (EBPM), public policy