A comparison of three emerging theories of the policy process

Edella Schlager, William Blomquist

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


In an earlier review of political theories of the policy process, Sabatier (1991) challenged political scientists and policy scholars to improve theoretical understanding of policy processes. This essay responds by comparing and building upon three emerging theoretical frameworks: Sabatier's advocacy coalitions framework (ACF), institutional rational choice (IRC), and Moe's political theory of bureaucracy, which he calls the politics of structural choice (SC). The frameworks are compared using six criteria: (1) the boundaries of inquiry; (2) the model of the individual; (3) the roles of information and beliefs in decision making and strategy; (4) the nature and role of groups; (5) the concept of levels of action; and (6) the ability to explain action at various stages of the policy process. Comparison reveals that each framework has promising components, but each remains short of providing a full explanation of the processes of policy formation and change. Directions for future theory development and empirical examination are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)651-672
Number of pages22
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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