Kingdon’s Policy Theory: Strengths and Weaknesses

Public Administration: Kingdon’s theory

Various models have described policy and its development, some linear and others are more complex. Lasswell developed the linear model of policy development. It contained four main elements, with one preceding the other. According to Lasswell, policy development begins with a prediction concerning the issues, followed by choices. The third step entails implementation. The last includes the outcome of the policy developed. Policymakers play a critical role as they influence the available choices from the issues identified (Wheat & Bardach, 2017). Dynamism was reflected in the complex policy development model developed by Thomas and Grindle, who suggested three phases: agenda, decision, and implementation (reference?). At each stage, a decision for or against the policy can be enforced. Kingdon (2014) suggested a third policy model based on policy streams. According to Kingdon, problems, policies, or rather the solution, and political will must be connected for effective policy development (Kingdon, 2014). Kingdon’s policy theory is highly relevant and has been used to explain and analyze various policies, including the Foley for Oakland. Nevertheless, the theory advanced by Kingdon has some strengths and weaknesses that either limit or necessitate its application.

Essential elements of Kingdon’s theory

Kingdon proposed three key elements that guide his policy theory. The first element is the problem or social issue, which he defined as the challenge affecting many people in society (Kingdon, 2014). Essentially, problem identification has to be the first step since it defines what needs to be worked on and for what reason. Without a problem, there would be no need for policies. The problem could be inequality, discrimination of any kind, or even dictatorial leadership. This is the starting point of policy development, where a well-analyzed problem leads to successful policy implementation. There can be multiple social issues at a time, which calls for prioritization. At times, due to the complex nature of social challenges, there can be problems ruling out which ones are worth solving.

The second element is the solution to the social problem identified. This defines the policy stream that entails the identification of the available options for solving social issues. The policy stream is where much of the work is done by policy entrepreneurs. According to Kingdon (2014), these are the people responsible for analyzing problems and developing solutions to present to the agenda-setting table. These people are willing to use their time and other resources to see viable solutions to social problems are found. Policies are formulated for both predictable issues from which past data can be obtained and unforeseen circumstances such as natural disasters, which are known to have a huge impact on a country’s social-economic progress. A policy window is described as that opportunity where a policy entrepreneur has identified challenges that have viable policy solutions, and that can be addressed for agenda setting and presented at the time (Kingdon, 2014). This window presents the opportunity for experts to demonstrate their proposed solutions.

The third crucial element in Kingdon’s policy model is the political stream. According to Kingdon, there must be political will to solve social problems. If there is a problem and a potential solution but no political will, then no policy can be developed. Essentially, policies are developed by politicians in consultation with experts and policy entrepreneurs who gather and analyze information. A solvable problem must attract political attention prompting leaders to use the proposed solutions to solve it. The interconnection of these three factors forms the basis and application of Kingdon’s policy model.

Pressman and Wildavsky’s analysis of the economic development administration (EDA) for Oakland implementation shows the reality of policy development streams discussed by Kingdon’s model. Lessons from the EDA project show that one of the elements that led to the project’s failure was the presence of many decision paths and goals, which also brought about delays and disagreements (Wheat & Bardach, 2017). In reference to Kingdon’s three-stream model, the failure can be attributed to the policy stream. This is where Kingdon would explain that policy entrepreneurs failed to consolidate their efforts and align them with the goal. According to Kingdon, the policy window requires that policy entrepreneurs present their viable solutions to the policymakers that happen to be in the politics stream (citation?). In the EDA project, the existence of multiple decision paths made it difficult to develop clear solutions (Wheat & Bardach, 2017). The delay of implementation can also be noted as part of the political stream failure. The establishment of a separate task force for the EDA Oakland project introduced new parties whose politics and bureaucracy delayed the implementation of the project.

In regard to the matching of problem to policy, the EDA Oakland project was successfully matched to the pressing need of the time. The project, which was established in 1965, was aimed at alleviating the economic crisis in Oakland by creating employment opportunities. It was estimated that the project would result in the employment of at least 23,000 persons, thus lowering the unemployment rate (Wheat & Bardach, 2017). At the time of project initiation, unemployment was the biggest challenge to economic progress. The project entailed an industrial part, an airport hanger, an access road to a coliseum, and a marine terminal. These were the much-needed infrastructural developments at the time. If they had been implemented successfully, they would have transformed Oakland’s economy. Looking at it from Kingdon’s three-stream view, the problem stream was well executed as it matched the needs and the planning. Although the beginning was smooth and well planned, the technical part of the implementation delayed the project leading to its failure (Wheat & Bardach, 2017). Therefore, since the aim was economic progress through employment creation, EDA’s decision to choose Oakland was in order.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Kingdon’s Theory

Kingdon’s theory has remained relevant many years after its development due to several strengths. First, it is described as a universal theory because it represents elements that can be applied to every policy formulation process (Kingdon, 2014). Some of the universal elements described in theory include ambiguity, limited time, non-linear and non-rational decision-making processes, and competing problems. Second, Kingdon’s model elaborates on a large and essential part of the policy process (Kingdon, 2014). Reading through and analyzing it, one can understand what goes on from one stage to the other in policy and agenda-setting. Third, it can be used in the development of other policy frameworks since it contributes to the larger policy theory, which is universal.

Although the policy has been applied in many projects, some scholars have found it missing some critical elements. Critics argue that the three streams suggested by Kingdon are insufficient in explaining the policy model (Kingdon, 2014). For instance, it is argued that although Kingdon suggests that the policy stream is purely incremental, in the real world, alternative specification is expected to portray both incremental and non-incremental attributes. The second limitation lies in Kingdon’s explanation of the policy entrepreneur, which is incomplete. Scholars argue that entrepreneurs differ by type and level, a factor that Kingdon did not consider in his model (Kingdon, 2014). These limitations have necessitated the development of other theories and policy models to bridge the gap and introduce more applicable solutions to policy formulation and implementation.

In conclusion, policy-making processes have been explained by different scholars, with some focusing on a linear process, others leaning on a more complex undertaking, and Kingdon formulating a three-stream model. According to Kingdon, the three streams, problem, policy, and politics, must interact for effective policy formulation. The failure of the EDA project can be attributed to incoherence in the three streams where the policy and political streams were affected by delays and multiple pathways, causing division and finally resulting in project failure. The Kingdon model is advantageous in that it explains the policy process in a comprehensive manner. Its universal nature makes it applicable to many projects and policies, a factor that has largely contributed to its relevance. However, its view of the policy entrepreneur and the incremental character of the three streams has been criticized. Although minimal, these limitations require careful analysis when applying the model to ensure that the true picture is represented. There is a need to develop and incorporate other models too that can bridge the gap bringing forth a more satisfactory solution.


Kingdon, J. (2014). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies. Pearson.

Wheat, I., & Bardach, E. (2017). Disappointing outcomes: can implementation modeling help?. System Dynamics For Performance Management, 179-200. Web.

Dunn, W. N. (2018). Harold Lasswell and the study of public policy. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Web.

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DemoEssays. "Kingdon’s Policy Theory: Strengths and Weaknesses." October 26, 2022.