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Punctuated-Equilibrium Theory. Punctuated-Equilibrium (P-E) Theory. Political processes are usually driven by a logic of stability and incrementalism. Political processes are also largely relying on departures from the past.

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punctuated equilibrium p e theory
Punctuated-Equilibrium (P-E) Theory
  • Political processes are usually driven by a logic of stability and incrementalism.
  • Political processes are also largely relying on departures from the past.
  • Most policy areas are characterized by stability vs. crisis. However, crises often occur.
  • Punctuated-equilibrium theory is designed to explain both the stability and the change.
  • Two related elements of the policy process are emphasized by P-E theory: issue definition, and agenda setting.
punctuated equilibrium p e theory cont
Punctuated-Equilibrium (P-E) Theory (cont.)
  • As issues are defined in different ways, and as issues rise and fall in the public agenda, existing policies can either be reinforced or questioned.
  • Reinforcement creates great obstacles to anything but modest change, but the questioning of policies creates opportunities for dramatic reversal in policy outcomes.
  • Institutional structures provide an important basis for the P-E idea, and the agenda-setting process provides another.
  • Discussions of political issues are usually disaggregated into a number of issue-oriented policy subsystems.
punctuated equilibrium p e theory cont1
Punctuated-Equilibrium (P-E) Theory (cont.)
  • These subsystems can be dominated by a single interest (policy monopoly), can undergo competition among several interests, can be disintegrating over time, or maybe building up their independence from other.
  • P-E theory includes periods of equilibrium, when the issue is captured by a subsystem, and periods of disequilibrium, when an issue is forced onto the marcopolitical agenda.
  • When issue area is macropolitical agenda, small changes in the objective circumstances can cause large changes in policy, and system is undergoing a positive feedback process.
setting the public agenda

Setting the Public Agenda:

The Case of Child Abuse

child abuse as a public policy issue
Child abuse as a public policy issue
  • In 1957 U.S. Children Bureau issued a report entitled “Proposals … for Legislation on Public Child Welfare and Youth Services” suggesting that each state’s Child Welfare Department investigate neglect, abuse, and abandonment; offer social services; or bring the situation to the attention of a law enforcement agency.
  • This recommendation was the first major public sector recognition of child abuse as an issue of public policy as opposed to a problem of social workers.
  • In the 20 years since the “Proposals … for Legislation”, the problem of child abuse and neglect has achieved a secure niche on the agendas of the federal bureaucracy, all 50 state legislatures, and Congress.
agenda setting and the problem of child abuse and neglect
Agenda-setting and the problem of child abuse and neglect
  • View on a child abuse from the perspective of issue creation and agenda setting.
  • How were the political, economic, and moral burdens for response to child abuse shifted away from private charity and on to government?
  • The child abuse case will be reviewed in three sections:
    • Conceptualization of the agenda-setting process;
    • History of how the issue of child abuse and neglect was added to the agendas of the state legislatures, Congress and the federal bureaucracy; What was the media’s role in setting the governmental agendas?
    • Direction for agenda-setting research
conceptualizing agenda setting
Conceptualizing agenda setting
  • The process by which conflicts and concerns come to receive governmental attention and thus the potential for action by the public sector are called “agenda-building” or “agenda-setting”.
  • Agenda is defined as all issues that are commonly perceived by members of the political community as meriting public attention and involving matters within the legitimate jurisdiction of existing governmental authority.
  • Three approaches to explain the shifts in the content of governmental agendas:
    • Economic growth;
    • Issue careers and issue cycles;
    • Organizational behavior;
  • The approaches are not mutually exclusive
agenda setting economic growth
Agenda setting: Economic Growth
  • Economic growth had a direct impact on agenda setting.
  • Recession tends to affect monetary allocations for change.
  • Economic growth tends to promote agenda setting as more public expenditure is readily available.
agenda setting issue careers or issue cycles
Agenda setting: Issue Careers or Issue Cycles
  • Issue careers are defined as issue initiation, specification, expansion, and entrance.
  • Media’s span of attention to issues is also an important factor. Additional coverage of an issue might cause overexposure and the loss of audience interest.
  • The issues approach has roots in interest group research, roots which tend to stress the conflictual nature of agenda setting.
agenda setting organizational behavior
Agenda setting: Organizational behavior
  • Organizations that are small, young, competitive, and pressed by rapid technological changes accept new ideas more rapidly.
  • Four stages of agenda-setting from an organizational perspective:
    • Issue recognition, where issue is noticed and felt to be a potential topic for action;
    • Issue adoption, focuses on the decision to respond or not to respond to an issue;
    • Issue prioritizing, the existing agenda is reordered to include the new issue;
    • Issue maintenance; if interest in the newer issue is not maintained, the issue will never reach the point of substantive decision making.
governmental recognition of child abuse and neglect
Governmental Recognition of Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Governmental recognition of the problem of child abuse was based in part on cultural and institutional readiness (also known as structural conduciveness for change).
  • With cultural readiness, child abuse achieves the agenda of the Children’s Bureau in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), the 50 state legislatures, and Congress.
  • The discussions of achieving these agendas follow the agenda-setting stages: issue recognition, issue adoption, issue prioritizing, and issue maintenance.
setting the agenda in the children s bureau
Setting the Agenda in the Children’s Bureau
  • Child abuse first received mass media attention in 1874, when a young foster child named Mary Ellen was discovered to be severely treated by her caretakers.
  • Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society of Cruelty to Animals, brought suit to have her removed from her foster parents on a petition for a writ to transfer custody.
  • The public outcry towards the issue brought about the formulation of a number of charitable prevention societies for children.
setting the agenda in the children s bureau cont
Setting the Agenda in the Children’s Bureau (cont.)
  • Although their activities were recognized in state legislatures shortly thereafter, these societies lost a great deal of their power through the first half of the twentieth century as a result of a slowing economy, and severe lack of funding.
  • In 1954, the issue of child neglect resurfaced when the American Humane Association’s (AHA) Children's Division began the first nationwide study on child abuse, neglect and exploitation.
  • The results of the study were then used by the Children’s Bureau to propose policy options for addressing the problem, all of which were put together in the 1957 “Proposals … for Legislation” report.
setting the agenda in the children s bureau cont1
Setting the Agenda in the Children’s Bureau (cont.)
  • Over the next five years, the Children’s Bureau supported research by Dr. Robert Kempe that was key in helping diagnose the issue of child abuse.
  • While the Bureau used this research to formulate a model child abuse statute that was disseminated to all 50 states, it was fighting its own battle for survival as an institution, ultimately finding a home under a newly-created Office of Child Development.
the media and government recognition of child abuse
The Media and Government Recognition of Child Abuse
  • The child abuse agenda provides a key example of how the media can play an important role in the setting of governmental agendas.
  • Dr. Kempe’s article in 1962, “Battered Child Syndrome”, received widespread media attention in some of the most circulated newspapers, magazines and most watched TV programs:
    • Numerous publications featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Time magazine and professional journals directed the attention of elected officials to the importance of the issue
    • The research conducted over this time period provided key supporting documentation for legislative action
    • The sustained media interest in child abuse provided a source of “professional pressure” on elected officials to address the concerns of the general public
setting the agendas of the state legislatures
Setting the Agendas of the State Legislatures
  • The model child abuse statute created by the Children’s Bureau in 1963 was not disseminated directly to state legislatures; rather it was sent out to Child Welfare Departments and interested private groups.
  • In spite of this, 17 states introduced legislation in 1963, with thirteen states passing laws, and all 50 states had passed legislation on this issue in the coming four years (five times faster than other innovations between 1933-1966).
  • Of the initial thirteen state laws, only ten were reporting laws.
setting the agendas of the state legislatures cont
Setting the Agendas of the State Legislatures (cont.)
  • Major limitations of these laws included:
    • Only one state appropriated funds for their implementation.
    • Mandatory reporting was opposed by the American Medical Association; and the Children’s Bureau, AHA, American Academy of Pediatrics and Council of State Governments all encouraging reporting to different entities (i.e., child welfare agencies, social service agencies and the police, respectively).
  • The numerous interest groups that were offering their advice on the child abuse/neglect issue intensified the pressure that was put on the states to take action.
setting the agendas of the state legislatures cont1
Setting the Agendas of the State Legislatures (cont.)
  • This pressure was also key in shaping the evolution, and subsequent changes, that took place in the writing of these laws.
  • Moreover, the legislative mandate of the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) required states to enact reporting laws conforming to a list of stringent standards so as to receive federal discretionary funds.
setting the agenda of the congress
Setting the Agenda of the Congress
  • The time lapse between the initial recognition of child abuse as an agenda issue within Congress and the time it takes to pass federal legislation was considerably longer than that elapsed for the formulation of state legislature.
  • Numerous “miscalculations” with regard to the introduction of the legislation (including poor committee assignment), and a general lack of awareness amongst elected officials was responsible for the four year delay (1969-1973).
  • The media attention devoted to the issue of child abuse played a key role in bringing the attention of members of Congress to the issue.
setting the agenda of the congress cont
Setting the Agenda of the Congress (cont.)
  • The Senate proceeded by establishing legislation that addressed the legal rights of children; stemming from which a new subcommittee headed by Walter Mondale, took on the issue of child abuse.
  • Voting in both the House and Senate yielded overwhelming margins in support of enacting legislation.
  • An attempt to reform the CAPTA legislation to include child pornography and subsidized adoptions failed to win endorsements.
setting the agenda of the congress cont1
Setting the Agenda of the Congress (cont.)
  • The reform was seen by many as an attempt to use a topic that had gained a great deal of support to push more controversial agendas, by tying them to each other.
  • This is especially of interest when we consider that at the time, the Administration and Congress were at odds since the Administration opposed the legislation.
  • Despite the political challenges, CAPTA was reauthorized in 1978.
conclusion slack resources and organizational resources
Conclusion: Slack Resources and Organizational Resources
  • Each agenda set in the child abuse case demonstrates that slack resources encourage the adoption of new issues.
  • Yet, organizational resources (not surplus funds) were largely responsible for providing the slack (e.g. it took Walter Mondale, a potential Presidential candidate, and a highly resourceful staff to bring the issue to the top of the agenda).
  • On the state side, it was largely a result of the absence of a political or economic cost associated with taking on the issue.
  • Surplus funds were the least important slack resource in each instant e.g. the agendas of the Children’s Bureau and Congress were both set during recessions.
  • Although Congressional action did induce the allocation of spending resources, these expenditures were the product of organizational willingness.
conclusion labeling
Conclusion: Labeling
  • The careful of labeling and promotion of the issue is also key to achieving a professional and governmental agenda, for example:
    • Kempe’s article, and subsequent media coverage was integral to gaining support amongst the general public.
    • It’s title, however, “Battered Child Syndrome”, was substituted for Child Abuse to draw greater attention to the brutal nature of the issue so as to depict an image that would garner greater support amongst policy makers.
      • The label also has an implicit message that can have an impact on those not directly familiar with the topic, as well as those who have a direct interest, and generate the highest level of consensus.