Discussion Questions

There are seven discussion questions for this assignment. Please refer to Sabatier (195, Lindbloom (1959),  and Easton (1957) to answer the questions.

Sabatier, P. (1991). Political Science and Public Policy      5 points

  1. What stimuli does Sabatier assert give rise to the study of public policy as a subfield of political science?
  2. Briefly summarize each of Sabatier’s four policy research area classifications, making reference to the utility (usefulness for problem solving) for each area. For example, how is substantive area research helpful to understanding specific policy problems?

In comparing and contrasting policy scholars and political scientists and the “strains” between these fields, Sabatier presents a dichotomous views on the utility of government or citizenship and political participation, respectively. He wrote:

“The second strain also involves a difference in normative assumptions which need not impede close relations. Most policy scholars have an activist bent, i.e. at some point they wish to influence policy in the area(s) in which they are specialists. Conversely, political scientists probably tend to be preoccupied with better understanding the way the world operates within their areas of specialization, with a smaller percentage seeking to use their expertise to influence political behavior” (145).

  1. Which “side” do you come down on. In taking this class, or in your career ambitions, are you decidedly in one camp or the other? Is it possible to be both a policy scholar and a political scientist?


Lindbloom, C. (1959) The Science of Muddling Through   10 points

This is another of the ‘classics’ readings in public policy.  From it, the discipline has gleaned the idea of incrementalism in policy development – i.e. policy changes and advancements occur gradually over time and stem from policy actors acquiring more information and inputs over that time.  Lindbloom calls this “muddling through” and says it is a more realistic and beneficial way to interpret the public policy process, because dramatically different policy emergence is rare. Instead, Lindbloom’s “successive limited comparison” ideas are thought, by some, to better explain how policy actors make decisions by looking at nearby “branches” The public perceives this as bureaucratic inefficiency and decries the slow pace of policy change.


  1. How does Lindbloom characterize the rational-comprehensive method or “root method” and the successive limited comparisons, or, branch method, to address complex policy problems? Discuss both approaches, why he uses the root-branch metaphor to explain these approaches. (5 points)
  2. Why is Lindbloom particularly critical of the rational-comprehensive method?
  3. How does the successive limited comparisons systems approach— “muddling through”— represent a more realistic approach to explaining the public policy process?


Easton, David. (1957)  An approach to the analysis of political systems. 5 points

The third classic article is known a seminal publication (Links to an external site.) in the subfield of policy analysis. Sabatier (among many, many scholars then and now) made reference to Easton’s “systems theory” of politics.  His work has helped us to understand major attributes of the political system. Yet, Easton’s systems model was initially criticized as overly Gestalt-ish and esoteric, and as you skim his article in Canvas, perhaps you will understand why. It is not easy to understand.

Yet, Easton’s model became and remains a fundamental starting point for understanding how policy outputs emerge via the decisions and actions undertaken by actors in the political system, in specific contexts (the environment), and by the impetus of inputs (demands and supports) from various sources.   If you can understand Easton’s chart, then you can understand and apply the systems model. This three minute read (Links to an external site.) in Medium may make it more palatable.

eastons model.png

  1. After reviewing it, explain Easton’s systems theory model in your own words. You can and should refer to the diagram above for your explanation. (5 pts)

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