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Article

Understanding policy instrument choices and the range of possibilities present in any implementation situation is key for both policy advisors and decision makers. These choices are a concern in policy formulation, which requires an understanding of what kinds of instrument options exist, which subset of tools is generally considered feasible or possible in a given context, and which among that smaller subset of all possible tools is deemed by policy experts, politicians, and the public to be the most appropriate to use at a given time. And, once plans have been adopted, questions of how they can best be implemented and how implementation can be done by governments raise another key set of instrument-related issues important to both policymaking and public administration.

Article

Allan McConnell

How can we know if policies succeed or fail, and what are the causes of such outcomes? Understanding the nature of these phenomena is riddled with complex methodological challenges, including differing political perspectives, persistent mixed results, ambiguous outcomes, and the issue of success/failure “for whom”? Ironically, the key to understanding policy success and failure lies not in downplaying or ignoring such challenges, but in accepting politicization and complexity as reflective of the messy world of public policy. Gaining insight from such messiness allows a better understanding of phenomena like “good politics but bad policy,” the persistence of some failures over time, and widely differing perspectives on who or what should claim credit for policy success and who or what should be blamed for policy failure.

Article

Disproportionate policy response is understood to be a lack of ‘fit’ or balance between the costs of a public policy and the benefits derived from this policy, and between policy ends and means. The study of this phenomenon and its two anchor concepts, namely, policy over- and underreaction, has been inspired by the insight that inefficiencies in the allocation of attention in policymaking leads policymakers to react disproportionately to information. This theory of information processing appears to be broadly accepted and has generated a large body of research on agenda setting. However, little attention has been devoted to actual policy over- and underreaction and how it affects the public. The latest developments are conceptual in nature and include a conceptualization and dimensionalization of policy over- and underreaction, as well as an early-stage development of a preference-driven approach to disproportionate policy response. These issues are fundamental to developing understanding of the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of disproportionate policy response. They are also valuable to those who want to better understand the processes through which policy over- and underreaction occur and are of considerable interest to practitioners who want to understand how to manage disproportionate policy responses more effectively. Although disproportionate policy response poses methodological challenges because it is time-bound, context-sensitive and has a problematic counterfactual (i.e., proportionate policy response), it deserves academic attention. This is because the insight of the punctuated equilibrium theory—that policy responses oscillate between periods of underreaction to the flow of information coming from the environment into the system and overreaction due to disproportionate information processing—implies that policy oscillation is the norm rather than the rarity. To probe research questions related to the topic at hand, disproportionate policy response can be measured as individuals’ perceptions of what they think about the proportionality of policy. Alternatively, scholars may employ vignette survey experiments, sophisticated cost-benefit analysis and a comparison of policy outcomes with (national or international) standards developed by experts. Scholars may also undertake experimental manipulation using risk unfolding over time, combined with varying types of warnings. The study of disproportionate policy response is a gateway to some of the most significant aspects of public policy. Global and domestic threats coupled with relatively skeptical publics about politicians and political institutions and rising negativity and populism in democratic politics imply that policy overshooting is increasingly required for the public to perceive policy action as sufficient and politicians as competent, at least in the short term. Not only has disproportionate policy response been a focal point for political actors seeking decisive and swift policy change in times of real or manufactured crisis or no change at all, but such action has time and time again also made a dramatic impact upon the direction and the character of policy and politics. Classic examples are the U.S. response to 9/11 and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. So far the literature on policy change has not responded to the emergence of the stream of research aimed at fully understanding the complex phenomenon of disproportionate policy response, but a robust research agenda awaits those answering this article’s call for action.

Article

The concept of inclusive education and the way it is considered within the educational policy frameworks of European countries have changed and are still changing. Inclusive education is increasingly being understood as a systemic approach to education for all learners of any age; the goal is to provide all learners with meaningful, high-quality educational opportunities in their local community, alongside their friends and peers. There is a need to examine the policy of inclusive education, both its recent changes and its future direction, that European countries are undertaking, highlighting implications for both practitioners and academic researchers. Such an examination should not focus on practice—that is, the actual implementation of country policy—or on academic research into policy or practice for inclusive education in countries. Rather, it should focus on recent policy developments that are shaping practice in European schools, as well as potential future developments. The key messages emerging from a consideration of the European experience are highly applicable to other global regions.

Article

Since the 1990s gender has become a prominent priority in global education policy. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, 2000–2015) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, which replaced the MDGs) influence the educational planning of most low- and middle-income countries, along with the work of the various actors in the field. The historical antecedents to this era of gender and education policy include international development research beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, the Women’s Conferences in Mexico City (1985) and Beijing (1995), and increasingly nuanced academic research on gender and international development in the early decades of the 2000s. What began as calls to include girls in schooling and women in international development programs has become a much more complex attempt to ensure gender equity in education and in life. A wide variety of key policy actors are involved in these processes and in shaping policy, including the World Bank, the UN agencies (primarily UNICEF and UNESCO), governments (both donors and recipients of international assistance), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), corporations and private entities, and consultants. Partnerships among various actors have been common in the late 20th century and early 21st century. Persistent issues in the early 21st century include (a) the tension between striving to attend to quality concerns while increasing efforts to measure progress, (b) gender-based violence (GBV), and (c) education for adolescents and adolescence. These challenges are closely linked to how key concepts are conceptualized. How “gender” is understood (distinct from or conflated with sex categories) leads to particular ways of thinking about policy and practice, from counting girls and boys in classrooms (prioritizing sex categories and numerical patterns), toward a more complex understanding of gender as a social construction (and so presents options for curricular strategies to influence gendered social norms). Men and boys are acknowledged, mostly when they are perceived to be disadvantaged, and less often to challenge hypermasculinity or male privilege. Sexuality and gender identity are just beginning to emerge in formal policy in the early 21st century. Gender relations and patriarchy remain on the periphery of official policy language. Equity (fairness) is often reduced to equality (equal treatment despite differences in needs or interests). Although empowerment is theorized in research, in policy it is used inconsistently, sometimes falling short of the theoretical framings. Two broader concepts are also important to consider in global education policy, namely, intersectionality and neoliberalism. Engaging intersectionality more robustly could make policy more relevant locally; as of 2020, this concept has not made its way into global policy discourses. Neoliberalism, on the other hand, is a strong influence in shaping policy in gender and education globally, yet it is seldom made explicit. Building policy on a stronger conceptual foundation would enrich gender and education policy.

Article

Marleen Brans and Ellen Fobé

Policy advice is a core function of modern bureaucracies. It can be distinguished from closely related concepts such as policy design, policy analysis and policy work – all of which are also conducted by the civil service. Civil servants remain critical advisory actors in the policy advisory system despite the fact that it latter has become more crowded and competitive. The bureaucracy is well placed to provide political executives with both long term and short-term policy advice. And bureaucrats often garner, even broker, input from other advisers in the advisory system. The academic community has shown concerns over an alleged decline of the capacity for policy advice because of growing advice competition and a trend towards politicization. While such worries have legitimate grounds, they are also marked by a Westminster bias. After all, advice competition and politicization are nothing new in consensus style polities with a traditional reliance on advisory input from societal actors and political advisers. This is not to say that bureaucratic advisory capacity does not have its difficulties. New Public Management reforms, cutbacks, and the focus on policy delivery instead of policy formulation have certainly had their impact. Yet recurrent meta-policies have also aimed to strengthen policy advisory capacities of bureaucrats. The evidence-based movement swept across the globe and left its mark, for instance, as have government-wide programs, such as policy skills frameworks and guidelines on standards for policy advice. The latter are particularly useful when considering that bureaucratic policy advisers are not the Sir Humphrey Abbleby’s at the apex of the bureaucracies, but include, as evidenced by research, a great number of often invisible and incidental advisers lower down in the bureaucratic hierarchy.

Article

Anthony R. Zito

New policy instruments have come onto the policy agenda since the 1970s, but there is a real question about whether the ideas behind the design of such tools are actually all that “new” when you assess the role of the policy instrument in its particular institutional and policy context. Taking Hood’s 1983 categorization of instruments as tools that manipulate society to achieve public goals via nodality (information), authority, treasure (finance), or organization, we can find instances where innovations in these areas predate the 1970s. Nevertheless, the mention of these instruments in international organizations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and national institutions and debates as the means for both improving governance and protecting economic efficiency has increased in light of a number of interacting trends, including the rise of neoliberal and new management ideologies, the increasing perception of a number of wicked problems (e.g., climate change) and nested, politically sensitive problems (e.g., health and welfare policy), and a rethinking of the role of the state. A typology is offered for differentiating changes and innovation in policy instruments. Some very notable and complex policy instruments have reshaped politics and public policy in a particular policy sector; a notable example of this is emissions trading systems, which create market conditions to reduce emissions of climate change gases and other by-products. Information and financial instruments have become more prominent as tools used to achieve policy aims by the state, but equally significant is the fact that, in some cases, the societal actors themselves are organizing and supporting the management of an instrument voluntarily. However, this obscures the fact that a much more significant evolution of policy instruments has come in the area that is associated with traditional governing, namely regulation. The reality of this “command and control” instrument is that many historical situations have witnessed a more flexible relationship between the regulator and the regulated than the term suggests. Nevertheless, many OECD political systems have seen a move toward “smart” or flexible regulation. It is increasingly important that those who promote this new understanding of regulation see regulation as being supplemented and supported by and sometimes reinforcing new policy instruments. The integration of these “newer” policy instruments into the regulatory framework represents perhaps the most significant change. Nevertheless, there is some reason to question the real impact that new policy instruments have in terms of effectiveness and democratic legitimacy.

Article

Paul Sabatier and Hank Jenkins-Smith introduced the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) in the late 1980s to refine the theoretical and methodological tools available for the study of the policy process. Since the late 1990s, the use of the framework has grown in use outside the United States and it is now applied to study a broad range of policy arenas in all continents. ACF scholars have created a core community that regularly synthetizes findings from applications of the framework, giving the ACF the form of a true research program. The ACF has three principal theoretical domains: advocacy coalitions, policy subsystems, and policy change. The ACF posits that advocacy coalitions and policy subsystems are the most efficient ways to organize actors interested in the policy process for empirical research. The policy subsystem is the main unit of analysis in the ACF, and there are four paths leading to policy change. Expectations about the interactions between and within the three theoretical domains are contained in 15 main hypotheses which have received different degrees of confirmation since the late 1980s. The aspect that has received more attention in existing applications is the effect that external events have on policy change. The development of the ACF is supported by an active community of scholars that constantly reviews venerable as well as emerging criticisms, introducing adjustments that expand the heuristic power of the ACF in a controlled way. However, some areas in need of further refinement relate to: policy-oriented learning, interactions across subsystems, the theoretical foundations to identification of belief systems, and how the interactions between beliefs and interests affect coalition behavior.

Article

An improved understanding of foreign policy learning necessitates a clarification of what foreign policy learning is, who learns, and how such learning occurs. Cognitive and social psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists situated in a variety of subfields have contributed to the understanding of foreign policy learning, a multidisciplinary area of inquiry. Learning theorists seek to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government. This cognitive dimension is important because actors may pursue a new course of action for politically expedient reasons rather than having genuinely “learned”—a distinction referred to as “complex” vs. “simple” learning. Foreign policy learning can be internal or external. The former type of learning entails what individuals, governments, or organizations learn from their prior experience. Learning theorists who focus on the individual level of analysis borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, the belief structures, and the cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking. Leaders whose cognitive structures are described as relatively open and complex—like Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose learning brought about the dramatic changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union—are more likely to alter their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts. Yet external learning occurs as well. Policy diffusion studies show that learning can result from demonstration effects. Foreign policy learning via diffusion is not instrumental, but instead occurs through osmosis. Privatization in the former communist states, China’s Foreign Direct Investment liberalization, and the diffusion of environmental norms in the European Union are examples of learning that is contagious, not chosen. A more conscious mode of learning than diffusion is policy transfer, which entails policymakers’ transferring ideas from one country and implementing them in another. Technological innovations, unlike lessons that involve political ideology, are generally easier lessons to transfer—for example, Japan’s success in applying lessons from the West to modernize its army in the second half of the 19th century. The constraints to foreign policy learning are formidable. Decision makers are not always open to reconsidering views that challenge their beliefs. Leaders tend to resort to, and misuse, analogies that prevent learning. Even a change in a decision maker’s beliefs may not lead to foreign policy change, given the myriad political pressures, bureaucratic hurdles, and economic realities that often get in the way of implementing new ideas. Indeed, foreign policy learning and foreign policy change are not synonymous. Scholars face significant obstacles in studying foreign policy learning. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Despite attempts to make sense of the confusion, scholars face the daunting challenge of improving understanding of how learning is shaped and funneled through the interaction of agents and the structures in which they are situated, as well as the relationship between learning and foreign policy change.

Article

Michael Mintrom and Joannah Luetjens

In recent years, significant effort has been applied to understanding and empirically testing the concept of policy entrepreneurship in a range of different settings. Despite these efforts, studies to date have tended to focus on policy entrepreneurs in domestic policy settings. Few have articulated the potential role that policy entrepreneurs play in understanding foreign policy decision-making. Coupled with theories and evidence from the field of foreign policy analysis, the concept of policy entrepreneurship lends itself to analyzing how actors in the foreign policy space draw attention to problems, advance workable proposals, and link outcomes to symbolic values. This article introduces and applies a framework for the analysis of policy entrepreneurs seeking to influence foreign policy decision-making. This framework is then used to underpin illustrative case studies of foreign policy entrepreneurs. The variety of recent scholarly contributions regarding policy entrepreneurs and foreign policy suggests that many more opportunities exist for such work to be conducted in the future. This is an exciting prospect. Valuable, generalizable insights are more likely to emerge from such a collective research enterprise if the various individual contributions are informed by greater conceptual coherence.

Article

As a transdisciplinary puzzle, between international relations and public policy, foreign policy analysis (FPA) owes much to the study of decision-making processes and its early pioneers (Richard Snyder, James Rosenau, Harold and Margaret Sprout . . . ). Formulated and implemented by state agents, foreign policy fully belongs to the field of public policy studies, whose approaches have proved relevant to analyze its formulation. Still, it remains singular for several reasons. In constant interdependence with extraterritorial and mostly unpredictable actors or events, it is more reactive (or at least less proactive) than most domestic policies. Vulnerable to various transnational linkages, foreign policy also leads the analyst to rethink several pillars of public policy studies, such as the role of public opinion, the nature of elites, or the feasibility of evaluation. Its implementation, in particular, depends on the leeway resulting from foreign processes initiated in remote states or societies. Because what is at stake is national identity, reputation, or status, the national interest, and war and peace, the possibility of nonrational, psychologically biased, or even passionate responses to a political problem is higher. The emergence of nonstate actors (nongovernmental organizations, companies, religious groups), substate entities (regions, federated states), and suprastate organizations in international politics is a compelling factor that urges us to rethink foreign policy as public policy. The fading boundaries between domestic and international dimensions, as well as between public and private strategies, have a deep impact on the analysis. The theorization and practice of new kinds of policy networks are likely to be at the heart of future research agendas, both in international relations and public policy studies.

Article

Jonathan Pierce and Katherine Hicks

The advocacy coalition framework (ACF) was developed to explain policy processes where contentious coalitions of actors seek to translate competing belief systems into public policy. Advocacy coalitions may include interest groups, members of the media, scientists and academics, and government officials that share beliefs about a public issue and coordinate their behavior. These advocacy coalitions engage in various strategies using resources to influence policy change or stasis. As part of this process, advocacy coalition members may learn within and/or across coalitions. This framework is one of the most prominent and widely applied approaches to explain public policy. While it has been applied hundreds of times, in over 50 different countries, the vast majority of ACF applications have sought to explain domestic policy processes. A reason for the paucity of applications to foreign policy is that some ACF assumptions may not seem congruent to foreign policy issues. For example, the ACF uses a policy subsystem as the unit of analysis that may include a territorial dimension. Yet, the purpose of the territorial dimension is to limit the scope of the study. Therefore, this dimension can be substituted for a government body that has the authority or potential authority to make and implement foreign policy. In addition, the ACF assumes a central role for technical and scientific information in the policy process. Such information makes learning across coalitions more conducive, but the ACF can and should also be applied to normative issues, such as those more common among foreign policy research. This article introduces the ACF; provides an overview of the framework, including assumptions, key concepts and theories, and transferability of the ACF to foreign policy analysis; and discusses four exemplary applications. In addition, it proposes future research that scholars should explore as part of the nexus of the ACF and foreign policy analysis. In the final analysis, the authors suggest the ACF can and should be applied to foreign policy analysis to better understand the development of advocacy coalitions and how they influence changes and stasis in foreign policy.

Article

Myriam Feldfeber

Argentina is a federal country that has 24 jurisdictions with relative autonomy to define their own policies and manage schools inside their territories; it is the responsibility of the federal government to establish national policies and coordinate and monitor their implementation in the national territory. Since the beginning of the 21st century, there have been national policies promoted by governments of different political natures: On the one side, the Kirchnerist governments from 2003 to 2015, within the framework of the so-called post-neoliberalism in Latin America. On the other side, the government of the Alianza Cambiemos 2015–2019 was an exponent of the conservative restorations in the area. The education policies implemented by these governments are rooted in divergent conceptions about the meaning of education, about rights, and about the responsibility of the nation to create the conditions within which rights can be actualized. Policies based on a conception of education as a social right are confronted with those old and new trends towards privatization and mercantilization of education, whose goal is to have education satisfy market demands.

Article

For most of the 20th century, telecommunications was a matter of national governance and thus of peripheral interest to the European Union. Then from the mid- to late-1980s, the EU began to develop an intensified policy package for the telecommunications sector. Telecommunications has now grown to become one of the most prominent and extensive policy areas addressed by the EU. But what accounts for such a remarkable Europeanization of telecommunications governance? In polar contrast to its origins, telecommunications has become a key focus in neoliberal economics and policy in effecting sectoral change. This development went hand in hand with arguments around propounding the benefits of economic globalization, which sustained a move to internationalize the organization of telecommunications to the European level along neoliberal lines. However, notwithstanding the remarkable growth of the EU governance framework for telecommunications, there are nuances in the analysis of the constant resistance to the wholesale Europeanization of telecommunications policy that provide evidence of a residual tension between national- and EU-level interests. This tension has been evident in policy proposals, decision-making, and implementation at key junctures for more since the late 1980s The policy has played key roles at different times, in particular, on the national level, involving governmental, regulatory, and commercial actors. Telecommunications thus provides a classic illustration of the balance that needs to be struck in the development of communications policies in the EU between supranational and intergovernmental interests. Now part of a converging electronic communications sector, this feature of telecommunications governance is as prominent today as it was in the very early days of EU telecommunications policy development in the mid- to late-1980s.

Article

The development of a simple framework with optimizing agents and nominal rigidities is the point of departure for the analysis of three questions about fiscal and monetary policies in an open economy. The first question concerns the optimal monetary policy targets in a world with trade and financial links. In the baseline model, the optimal cooperative monetary policy is fully inward-looking and seeks to stabilize a combination of domestic inflation and output gap. The equivalence with the closed economy case, however, ends if countries do not cooperate, if firms price goods in the currency of the market of destination, and if international financial markets are incomplete. In these cases, external variables that capture international misalignments relative to the first best become relevant policy targets. The second question is about the empirical evidence on the international transmission of government spending shocks. In response to a positive innovation, the real exchange rate depreciates and the trade balance deteriorates. Standard open economy models struggle to match this evidence. Non-standard consumption preferences and a detailed fiscal adjustment process constitute two ways to address the puzzle. The third question deals with the trade-offs associated with an active use of fiscal policy for stabilization purposes in a currency union. The optimal policy assignment mandates the monetary authority to stabilize union-wide aggregates and the national fiscal authorities to respond to country-specific shocks. Permanent changes of government debt allow to smooth the distortionary effects of volatile taxes. Clear and credible fiscal rules may be able to strike the appropriate balance between stabilization objectives and moral hazard issues.

Article

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) play an important role in forming transnational education policy. Based on the results of the PISA measurements and other evaluations, the OECD can claim that its policy proposals are evidence based and in accordance with international standards. There is growing interest from the national governments to adapt their national policy strategies to these international standards. However, the translation from the transnational to national policy is a complex process, whereby the national receivers of the policy are selective regarding the policy elements they borrow from those who create and influence transnational policy. Thus, discursive power regarding transnational policy can be understood as power through ideas, making national reforms similar but not identical, and promoting incremental or imperceptible reforms.

Article

Stuti Bhatnagar

The role of think tanks as policy actors has developed over time and created significant global scholarship. Widely understood as non-state policy actors, think tanks established either with or without the support of government have evolved in various political contexts with varied characteristics. They are avenues for the discussion of new policy ideas as well as used for the consolidation of existing understandings of global and national political issues. As ideational actors think tanks interact with policy frameworks at different levels, either in the framing stage or at the stage of consensus building towards certain policies. Intellectual elites at think tanks allow for the introduction of think tank ideas into the policy frames as well as the creation of public opinion towards foreign policy decisions. Think tank deliberations involve an interaction with policymakers, academic experts, business and social actors, as well as the media to disseminate ideas. Institutionally, think tanks in a wide variety of political contexts play a critical role in the making of foreign policy and bring closer attention to processes of state–society interactions in different political environments.

Article

Sharma Shubham, Lei Shi, and Xun Wu

Bureaucracy is one of the oldest institutions of a government system. Its role and importance have grown immensely in modern government systems. Bureaucrats or public administrators are indispensable in the policy decision making process in the 21st century. From the early conception as a branch of government responsible for the implementation of policy decisions and everyday functioning, bureaucracy has assumed a more active role in the policymaking process. It has gone through many reforms; however, these reforms have been largely incremental and static. While the external environment or the problems faced by bureaucracy is continuously evolving, the change in bureaucracy has not been in the same proportion. In the 21st century, many issues confronting bureaucracy are not only wicked but also global in nature. Moreover, challenges posed by technological disruptions and long-term processes such as climate change put bureaucracy at all levels of a government in a far trickier position than their earlier envisaged basic functions. In dealing with such challenges, the policy capacity of bureaucracy cannot be taken for granted. There are often significant gaps in capacity to anticipate a policy problem, to ensure coordination and preserve legitimacy, to translate global issues at local levels, and to learn from the past. It is crucial to strengthen analytical capacity at the individual and organizational level, operational capacity at the organizational level, and political capacity at the systems level to address these gaps. Tackling capacity gaps systematically would enable bureaucracy to design and implement policy and administrative reforms with a long-term vision of adaptation and evolution instead of merely in reactive mode. The policy capacity framework presented in this article is useful in identifying the capacity gaps that inhibit bureaucracy from evolving and the remedies to address these gaps.

Article

Sunny Harris Rome and Sabrina Gillan Kiser

Lobbying is the process of influencing public policy. It involves developing and implementing strategies to persuade those in power. Consistent with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics and the Global Social Statement of Ethical Principles, many social workers participate in lobbying campaigns to advance the well-being of their clients and to promote social justice. Some social workers become professional lobbyists, focusing their careers on government relations work. Successful lobbying involves forming and nurturing relationships with decision-makers and generating and sharing information. Key elements of a lobbying campaign include agenda setting, meeting with policymakers, coalition building, field organizing, testifying, and the strategic use of media. Social work education provides opportunities to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for engaging in lobbying efforts. Lobbying activity is regulated by government entities; although social workers and their employers should understand and comply with these rules, social workers are encouraged to remain as active as possible within these parameters. Future challenges include the demand for evidence to support policy recommendations and the inadequate numbers of social workers pursuing lobbying careers. While social workers can apply these concepts to international practice, this entry predominantly focuses on lobbying within the United States.

Article

Jeb Barnes

How do courts affect social policy? Answering this question is deceptively complex. Part of the challenge stems from the sheer scope of contemporary judicial policymaking, particularly in the United States, where litigation reaches into nearly every nook and cranny of the American welfare state and casts a shadow on policy issues ranging from marriage equality to healthcare reform. Another obstacle is that scholars remain deeply divided on fundamental questions about the nature of judicial decisions and how their policy effects should be studied. These disagreements, in turn, have engendered three very different approaches to studying the role of courts in social policy that often talk past each other. The dominant approach views judicial decisions as prescriptive rules—legal commands from the bench—and asks: To what extent do judicial decisions change policy? This view implies that judicial decisions are “treatments” whose efficacy should be tested by measuring shifts in policy outcomes from the pre- to post-treatment period or across treatment and control groups. An alternative tradition envisages judicial decisions as a potential resource, which can be used by activists as leverage in building movements and pursuing agendas in multiple forums. Here, the core question is not whether court decisions produce abrupt policy shifts, but how activists use these decisions to challenge the status quo, mobilize interests, and generate pressure for policy change. A third approach sees legal precedent as a constitutive framework that shapes and constrains policymaking and its politics over time. The test for whether law matters under this approach centers on the degree to which judicial decisions influence the developmental trajectories of policy and politics, which includes consideration of paths not taken in the policymaking process. That is not to say that the literature is wholly discordant. Despite their significant conceptual differences, these approaches tend to converge on the general idea that judicial policymaking shares many attributes with other policymaking processes: the implementation of judicial decisions, like statues and regulations, is contested and subject to capture by sophisticated interests; litigation, like lobbying, is a form of mobilization that seeks to translate policy grievances into effective political demands; judicial precedents, like other policies, generate policy feedback. Identifying similarities between judicial policymaking and its counterparts is a signature achievement in the study of courts and social policy, which has largely dispelled the “myth of rights” and simplistic notions that the law is somehow removed from politics. Yet it arguably has had an unintended effect. Normalizing judicial policymaking—making it seem like other types of policymaking—threatens to render it less interesting as a distinct topic for research. This article suggests the time has come for all of the various research traditions in the field to return to foundational questions about what makes judicial policymaking distinctive, and systematically study how these particular tilts and tendencies influence the continuing colloquy that drives the policymaking process.