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Historical Development of the National Policy Domains Studies & Comparing Policy Networks Methods David Knoke University of Minnesota COMPON Conference January 25-28, 2007 Collective Action Systems

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Historical Development of the

National Policy Domains Studies


Comparing Policy Networks Methods David Knoke

University of Minnesota

COMPON Conference

January 25-28, 2007


Collective Action Systems

Collective action systems – such as legislatures, courts, regulatory agencies – make public policy decisions about numerous proposed laws and regulations.

Organized interest groups hold varying pro- and con- preferences across multiple policy decisions. Coalitions lobby public officials to choose outcomes favorable to coalitional interests. Decision makers may also hold policy preferences, and may change their votes on some events to gain support for preferred decisions.

Models of socially embedded policymaking explore how network ties shape collective decisions through information exchanges, political resource, persuasion, vote-trading (log-rolling), and other dynamic processes.

“Je weniger die Leute davon wissen, wie Würste und Gesetze gemacht werden, desto besser schlafen sie.” Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-98)

[The less people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they'll sleep.]


Community Power Structure Beginnings

Edward O. Laumann & Franz Urban Pappi’s “New Directions in the Study of Community Elites” (1973, 1976) demonstrated how multiple networks connecting the elites of a small German city facilitated and constrained their collective capacity to affect community policies.

Replications in two middle-size Illinois cities revealed that organizations occupying central network positions were more influential in community affairs, more likely to mobilize for action in political controversies, and better able to achieve their preferred outcomes in public policy disputes (Laumann, Marsden and Galaskiewicz 1977; Galaskiewicz 1979).

► Laumann and Marsden (1979) simplified large networks into collective actors, structural positions that are jointly occupied by several organizations with close communication ties and holding identical preferences for a policy event outcome.

► Marsden and Laumann (1977) showed that James Coleman’s mathematical model of collective action could explain the outcomes of five policy controversies in the “Towertown” data. Others (Stokman, Koenig) have extended this model.

► See Knoke (1998) for a brief history of U.S. policy network research.


National Policy Domains & Networks

Policy network analysts seek to explain the formation of state-interest organization networks, their persistence and change over time, and the consequences of network structures for public policy-making outcomes.

Developers included British (Rhodes, Marsh), German (Pappi, Schneider, Mayntz), and American (Laumann, Knoke) political scientists & sociologists

“A policy network is described by its actors, their linkages and its boundary. It includes a relatively stable set of mainly public and private corporate actors. The linkages between the actors serve as channels for communication and for the exchange of information, expertise, trust and other policy resources. The boundary of a given policy network is not in the first place determined by formal institutions but results from a process of mutual recognition dependent on functional relevance and structural embeddedness.”(Kenis and Schneider 1991)

POLICY DOMAIN:“A set of interest group organizations, legislative institutions, and governmental executive agencies that engage in setting agendas, formulating policies, gaining access, advocating positions, organizing collective influence actions, and selecting among proposals to solve delimited substantive policy problems, such as national defense, education, agriculture, or welfare.”

(Laumann and Knoke. 1987. The Organizational State)


The Organizational State

The Organizational State (1987) conceptualized a national policy domain’s power structures as multiplex networks among formal organizations, not elite persons. These connections enable opposing coalitions to mobilize political resources in collective fights for influence over specific public policy decisions.

Power structureis revealed in patterns of multiplex networks of information, resource, reputational, and political support among organizations with partially overlapping and opposing policy interests.

Action setis a subset of policy domain orgs that share common policy preferences, pool political resources, and pressure governmental decisionmakers to choose a policy outcome favorable to their interests. After a policy decision, the opposing action sets typically break apart as new events give rise to other constellations of interest orgs.

lobbying coalitions
Lobbying Coalitions

When its interests are at stake in a Congressional bill or regulatory ruling, a political org can lobby alone or in coalition

  • Most political orgs work in coalitions; a division of labor
  • Coalitions are short-lived affairs for specific narrow goals
  • EX: impose or lift restrictions on Persian rug imports
  • Partners in next coalition change with the specific issues
  • “Politics makes strange bedfellows” EX: Patriot Act
  • Orgs that lobby together succeed more often than soloists
  • Broad cleavages emerge within some policy domains
  • EX: Business vs Unions in labor policy domain
who wins policy fights
Who Wins Policy Fights?
  • We know much less about the systematic influence of political action on the outcomes of public policy fights
  • No single political organization or enduring coalition prevails on every issue & event of importance to it; incrementalism prevails
    • What implications for Ruling Class, Elite, & Pluralist models?
  • Biggest PAC contributors & campaign workers may enjoy greater access, easier victories on uncontested policy & pork proposals
    • But why Big Tobacco’s setbacks? Union failure to block NAFTA?
  • Roll-call analyses of Congressional votes find small lobbying effects relative to other factors
  • Lobbying impacts greatest in particular policy events, depending on strength of opposition’s resources & political arguments
  • Elected officials also pay attention to unorganized voter opinions
  • Shockingly, some even hold ideological principles & hobby-horses!

Dialectical Influences

Marsh & Smith’s dialectical model depicts policy outcomes as feeding back to change actors and network structures

Policy outcomes may affect networks by:

1. Changing network membership or the balance of resources within it

2. Altering social contexts to weaken particular interests in relation to a given network

3. Causing agents, who learn by experience, to pursue alternative policy influence strategies & actions


Comparing Policy Networks Methods

The theoretical principles and the empirical data collection and analysis methods developed in The Organizational State were adapted and applied in a study of national labor policy domains in the U.S., Germany, and Japan, Comparing Policy Networks (Knoke, Pappi, Broadbent & Tsujinaka 1996).

They could be used by the COMPON project:

  • Identify organization population from public-source activities
  • Compile sets of issues & dated events from public records
  • Construct identical national questionnaires by cross-translation
  • Interview key informant from each org: attribute & network data

Complete networks require 90%+ response rates

  • Network methods to analyze, compare national policy domains
communication distances in the core
Communication Distances in the Core
























-1.5 0.0 +1.5

SOURCE: Knoke. 2001. Changing Organizations. Westview.


Political Cleavages on Policy Events

Memberships in action sets for 3 U.S. labor policy domain events revealed overlapping patterns of organizational interests in influencing these policy decisions.

The labor and business coalitions comprise a core set of advocates (AFL vs. Chamber of Commerce) plus event-specific interest organizations, particularly nonlabor allies of unions.

SOURCE: p. 354 in Knoke. 2001. Changing Organizations.


Implications for Future NPD Studies

  • “The results from the three national labor policy domain analyses may be boldly, perhaps imprudently, extrapolated to modern organizational states in general:
  • Concepts of core policy actors, policy interests, political exchange relations, and collective actions are essential to analyzing national policy domain social structures and processes.
  • Common patterns of domain social organization occur among advanced capitalist, industrial democracies; for example, the centrality of action sets and exchange processes in collective decision making.
  • Historical, cultural, and institutional factors generate important variations in structures across national policy domains.
  • Combining both informal institutions (power structures) and formal governmental institutions (constitutions) is necessary to explain variations across the national policy domains in forms of the modern organizational state.”

(Knoke. 1998:158-159)



Galaskiewicz, Joseph 1979. Exchange Networks and Community Politics. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Kenis, Patrick and Volker Schneider. 1991. “Policy Networks and Policy Analysis: Scrutinizing a New Analytical Toolbox.” Pp. 25-62 in Policy Networks: Empirical Evidence and Theoretical Considerations, edited by Bernd Marin and Renate Mayntz. Boulder/Frankfurt: Campus/Westview Press.

Knoke, David. 1998. “The Organizational State: Origins and Prospects.” Research in Political Sociology 8:147-163.

Knoke, David. 2001. Changing Organizations: Business Networks in the New Political Economy. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Knoke, David, Franz Urban Pappi, Jeffrey Broadbent and Yutaka Tsujinaka. 1996. Comparing Policy Networks: Labor Politics in the U.S., Germany, and Japan. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Laumann, Edward O. and David Knoke. 1987. The Organizational State: Social Choice in National Policy Domains. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Laumann, Edward O., Peter V. Marsden, and Joseph Galaskiewicz. 1977. “Community Influence Structures: Replication and Extension of a Network Approach.” American Journal of Sociology 31:169‑78.

Laumann, Edward O. and Franz Urban Pappi. 1976. Networks of Collective Action: A Perspective on Community Influence Systems. New York: Academic Press.

Marsh, David and M. Smith. 2000. “Understanding Policy Networks: Towards a Dialectical Approach.” Political Studies 48(4):4-21.