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How Change Happens—Or Doesn’t: The Politics of U.S. Public Policy, Elaine C. Kamarck

Reviewed by Rob A. Deleo



From streams theory to the punctuated equilibrium model to the advocacy coalition framework, “policy change” is one of the most heavily theorized topics in the subfield of public policy. Elaine Kamarck’s How Change Happens—Or Doesn’t: The Politics of US Public Policy provides an insider’s view of policy change, forgoing rigid empiricism in lieu of a more applied investigation. How Change Happens is essentially a “how to” guide for policy entrepreneurs, identifying the various political levers, players, norms, and processes that drive or stunt large-scale reform. Kamarck argues that policy change is an inherently complex and unpredictable process—often resulting from sheer luck—that cannot be explained via a single unifying academic model.

Kamarck contends that successful entrepreneurs must have the capacity to survey and interpret the “policy battlefield,” a concept that “refers to the various factors that determine the outcome of policy ideas” (p. 9). The policy battlefield encompasses six distinct but interrelated sectors: the problem, the solution, inside players, outside players, political strategy and the scope of conflict, and the role of elections.

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