Kingdon's Theory of Policy Streams

Kingdon's Theory of Agenda Setting

Kingdon places his focus on how issues get the attention of the government in the first place as opposed to how certain political decisions are made or how programs are put into place. He addresses the issue as to why some policies become agendas of the government while others do not. To address this, he uses a theory that employs loosely coupled and separate streams, that is, political, policy and problem streams. Since political issues are dependent on the party in power, the national mood as well as other political events, it is important to note that policies can only get into the decision agenda with the streams working together.

The Problem Stream

The problem stream refers to the areas in which individuals identify problems. This happens through indicators showing the occurrence of a change, for instance, a rise in the rate of infant mortality or social security costs would be considered a problem that needs to be addressed. One of the most significant indicators for change is the budget as any budgetary issues make it necessary not only to review issues but also consider possible alternatives to problems. It is also possible to identify problems by focusing on events, symbols or crises for instance in the case there is a plane crash, there will be need to review FAA safety regulations. Normal feedback procedures are also useful in problem identification for instance through reviews, reports and other systems used for monitoring the health of government policies. Publicizing problems involves policy entrepreneurs who frame problems and get people to see problems in specific ways. The more a problem is publicized, and the more people see an issue as a problem the more it is likely to get to decision agendas (Chapter 5).

The Policy Stream

The primary players in this stream are academics, researchers, and bureaucrats who focus on the development of specific alternatives. These players are responsible for developing new ideas upon which they discuss with others and later combine to change the existing ideas. Debate and discussion are the major methods of building consensus through which players prove the worthiness of specific ideas. However, it is important to note that the ability of players to agree and develop ideas is dependent on cohesiveness. For such ideas to survive, they have to meet technical feasibility, value acceptability, and anticipated future constraints criteria (Chapter 6).

The Political Stream

The Congress, president and heads of major agencies are the primary players of the political stream. They mainly develop agenda items as opposed to coming up with alternatives. Issues get placed on the agendas by making concessions and bargaining aimed at building a coalition. In most cases, political considerations are dependent on national mood including budget consciousness or favor for spending as well as other interest groups. Key sources of political opportunity are more likely to arise as a result of key personnel turnover for instance in the case of a new administration of a different party coming into power. A change in key political appointees can similarly have the same impact. Players in the political stream have greater power and are therefore able to pass more policies into decision agendas (Chapter 7).

Particular issues in problem and policy streams are more likely to receive preferential treatment due to the importance of actors in these streams. For instance, the president is an important actor when it comes to setting agendas and any time he focuses on a particular issue it is more likely to be on top of the list of decision agendas. Political appointees similarly have a high ranking and thus play a significant role in agenda setting. Other players for instance bureaucrats have a low ranking in agenda setting. In my opinion, the problem stream accurately reflects how and why policies come about. It is because most of the policies are meant to solve particular problems facing the nation or due to changes for instance in budgetary issues thus making it the most effective.


Kingdon, J. W. (2010). Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, Update Edition, with an Epilogue on Health Care (2nd ed.). Pearson.

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