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  • Author or Editor: Chris Koski x
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Political organisations and policymakers contend with an ever-deepening sea of information regarding policy problems, constituent demands and solutions. Moreover, the problems confronted by modern governments are complex, multi-dimensional and boundary-spanning. This article leverages studies of national and subnational information processing and policy change to identify potential bottlenecks of information and patterns of policy feedback. We identify five lessons from this literature: two cautions and three suggestions. We caution that (1) centralisation does not solve problems of information search, instead, centralisation creates bottlenecks and (2) multiple venues offer more representation and opportunities for citizen influence, but suffer from attention limitations. Given these cautions, we suggest that (3) institutions be explicitly designed to be information-seeking, (4) issue bundling (grouping similar, interdependent issues together for the purpose of capturing attention) can prompt more holistic information searches, and (5) governments consider the correlation of information from subgovernments as policy information.

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Promoting informed decision-making is a recurring theme in improving the efficacy and responsiveness of government. Consistent with this theme is the assumption that decision-makers face an information deficit – that if decision-makers simply had access to the right knowledge that they would make better decisions. There exists an overarching normative consensus that more information in the policy process is generally good, but there are limits to how much decision-makers can process. Scholars of public policy, and particularly agenda setting, have tended to find that the central problem of policymaking is not a deficit of information, but instead, an oversupply of information. Very often, then, the central problem confronting decision-making is prioritising among this information. Information-processing, specifically attention, is seen as the driver of policy change in theories of agenda-setting such as multiple streams (see Cairney, this issue) and particularly so in punctuated equilibrium theory (PET). PET scholars have long understood that policy and institutional design are critical to information-processing (Baumgartner and Jones, 1993). This chapter represents a guide for scholars wishing to bridge the divide between PET theory and the practice of institutional design.

The engine of information processing in policy systems are subgovernments. Subgovernments are defined collections of policy actors in government, and around government, who develop and make policy within substantively specific issues. Usually, these subgovernments will contain an authoritative body (for example, a city council or congressional committee), an administrative unit for implementing policy (for example, the ministry of transportation or the police department), and supportive constellations of those interested in the policy issue (for example, Greenpeace or the Chamber of Commerce).

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