In light of her soon to be published book chapter ‘Policy Entrepreneurs and Foreign Policy Decision-Making’ (with Professor Michael Mintrom), ANZSOG researcher Jo Luetjens has written a summary of who and what a policy entrepreneur is, as well as the strategies they use to create change. Jo is soon to move to the Netherlands to undertake her PhD on successful public governance at Utrecht University with Professor Paul 't Hart. We wish her well!
Policy entrepreneurs are energetic people who work with others in and around policymaking venues to promote significant policy change. The concept was introduced by John W. Kingdon in 1984, who said policy entrepreneurs "…could be in or out of government, in elected or appointed positions, in interest groups or research organisations. But their defining characteristic, much as in the case of a business entrepreneur, is their willingness to invest their resources – time, energy, reputation, and sometimes money – in the hope of a future return" (p. 122). Policy entrepreneurs distinguish themselves by being prepared to promote policy approaches that are new within specific contexts. They often promote policy innovations by telling new stories, creating new frames, or making arguments that break down traditional alignments of interests.
The policymaking space, according to Kingdon, is made up by three more or less independent activities: the problem stream, the politics stream, and the policy stream. He argued that moments arise when perceptions of problems, political circumstances, and ideas for possible solutions all come into alignment. These moments are called ‘windows of opportunity’ or ‘policy windows’, and offer a real chance to enact policy change. Change is difficult, and this can frustrate people who want to make a positive difference in their area of work, so policy windows offer an opportunity for policy entrepreneurs to strike. They ‘lie in wait’, then take advantage of windows as they emerge. While Kingdon was looking directly at domestic policy change in the United States Congress, many scholars have followed his lead and have found policy entrepreneurs to be agents of policy change across a broad range of policy areas.
The broader policymaking context will always be critical for determining the likelihood of policy entrepreneurs emerging, and the success they have in promoting policy change. However, there are specific strategies that policy entrepreneurs pursue that can increase their chances of influencing change. These include:
While anyone can and may pursue these strategies in pursuit of policy change, there are particular personal attributes associated with highly effective policy entrepreneurs. These include:
Professor Mintrom is leading an upcoming workshop on Policy and Program Skills, 28-30 March 2017, Melbourne
If you want to learn more about policy entrepreneurship across specific policy areas, we recommend:
Huitema, D., and Meijerink, S. (2010). Realising water transitions: The role of policy entrepreneurs in water policy change. Ecology and Society 15(2): 26.
Kingdon, J.W. (2011). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies. (2nd ed.). Boston: Longman.
Mintrom, M. (1997). Policy entrepreneurs and the diffusion of innovation. American Journal of Political Science 41(3): 738-770.
Mintrom, M., and Vergari, S. (1996). Advocacy coalitions, policy entrepreneurs, and policy change. Policy Studies Journal 24(3): 420-434.
Mintrom, M., and Norman, P. (2009). Policy entrepreneurship and policy change. Policy Studies Journal 37(4): 649-667.
Mintrom, M., Salisbury, C., and Luetjens, J. (2014). Policy entrepreneurs and promotion of Australian state knowledge economies. Australian Journal of Political Science 49(3): 423-438.