The Missing Link: The Policy Entrepreneur

The Missing Link: The Policy Entrepreneur

When you think of the key actors in making laws, most people will mention:

Ministers, Civil Servants, elected Politicians, Political Advisers, Political Staffers, Academics, Consultants, Firms, Lobbyists, Lawyers, the Media, Public Opinion, NGOs, Trade Unions, Think Tanks and Trade Associations.


The Policy Entrepreneur

John W. Kingdom, in his classic “Agenda, Alternatives and Public Policies”, mentions a special class “the policy entrepreneur”.
The policy entrepreneur is hardly discussed in academic literature . It is like they don’t exist.  These are the people who really make things happen. “These are the people who make sure that problems, policies and politics join together at the right time. Only if these three specifics are in alignment can the item be placed on the decision agenda (see p.179)”.

This “confluence of streams”, “things coming together at the same time” does not usually happen by accident. It happens because of policy entrepreneurs. They are “advocates who are willing to invest their resources – time, energy, reputation, money – to return for anticipated future gain.”

They ‘policy entrepreneur’ is unlikely to have that title.  They can be a lawyer, lobbyist, career civil servant, minister.

In Kingdom’s study, he assessed that in 15 out of 23 case studies their role was important to very important.


Who is the policy entrepreneur

I have worked with them.  I learned a lot from them. You’ll know them when you meet them.  Without them, your cause is doomed. You’ll miss the real opportunity to advance your interest, and be blind to what is really happening. In fact, as so very few people know this pivotal position exists, they will be content by not know what is really happening.

Every piece of legislation I have worked on over 21 years has had this individual. They were usually in the background. They did not have a name badge announcing who they were. The people who counted just gravitated to them for advice.  All of them were real experts. They also had the rare gift to communicate to all the players. They were not geniuses, but they all had an uncanny ability to bring the right people together at the right time to secure the right solution.

Kingdom identifies some of the qualities the policy entrepreneur has. This will help you know who they are:

  • ‘They will be listened to by the people who count either because:
    • (1) their expertise,
    • (2) an ability to speak for others, or
    • (3) an authoritative decision-making position’.
    • Some have all 3.
  • They are ‘known for their political connections or negotiating skills’.
  • Their vital ingredient is their ‘persistence’. ‘These are the people who spend a great deal of time giving talks, writing position papers, drafting bills, testifying, having lunch.’ Persistence is the vital ingredient.
  • They lie in wait for a window of opportunity to open.
  • Hook solutions to problems, proposals to political momentum, and political events to the political stream.

Put simply, without the political entrepreneur, the linking of the streams may not take place.  They push the door open at just the right moment.  ‘Policy enterprises try to make linkages far before windows open so they can bring a prepacked combination of solution, problem, and political momentum to the window when it does open.’


How often does the window open up?

My gut tells me every 10 years. Sometimes, I have seen it open up more often. This is based on my own experience.

It is not hard to plan when there is a big sign telling you when things are going to start. First, a lot of European legislation has review clauses. I have found that going in early, framing the debate and solutions a few years out from a mid-term review, can set things up. Second,   the Commission’s Annual Work Programme is an obvious opportunity. This will be firmed up by the end of the summer, outlined on 13 September during the State of the Union, and published on 24 October. Third, after that, work will start for the Work Programme of the next Commission, set to come into office on 1 November, 2019.  The key opportunities are often staring people in the face.

Bringing the streams together

I think the opportunities to change laws should not be taken lightly. This is what should be done if you want to win:

  • You would the tee thinking up, have the reports written, draft bill in hands, and get a flow of think tanks discussion your issue, and put it higher up the policy agenda.
  • You would target the few people in Europe who are taking the key decision on your issue and those who are influencing that. You are not the person to leave that to chance.
  • Too many people think this all happens by chance. If telepathy worked you would use it. Instead, you would go and speak to many of them, ask them how they see things, and give them constructive solutions. Every time I have done this, I find the same ideas repeated back to you in the proposal.


What does this all cost?

Can this all be engineered. It can.  There are no guarantees it will work. Anyone who tells you there is sure thing should return to the snake-oil salesman academy.

It will take a commitment of 10 years. If you, and your funders, are not prepared for the long term, it is better not to start.

I conservatively estimate that a serious effort costs around €150k to €500K a year.  €150K for staff costs and the rest for studies/events, you may need. Again, it is best to be funded up front for the duration.

Some people will think this is a lot of money. I disagree. If you really want to win, these are the basic commitments.

These figures are realistic. I have cross checked this with cases I have directly worked on and examples I know about.

Whilst that may seem a lot, it’s a lot less than many organisations will pay in the passage of legislation. This is despite once the proposal is out the door of the Commission, most organisations are only going to have at best marginal, if any, influence.

I am also reminded that a few € million is a lot less than the bitter taste of defeat.

Further Reading

John W. Kingdom in his classic “Agenda, Alternatives and Public Policies”.