Instructions: This activity aims to produce a written applying the concepts studied in this module. Delve into the topics discussed in the module by answering the following question(s):
- Make a comparative analysis of the two paradigms that help us to understand the origin, vision, interests, and obstacles in the conception or reform and implementation of a social policy; classical pluralism and neo-institutionalism.
- Which of these paradigms do you identify with and why?
- Contribute a minimum of 3-5 pages. It should include at least three academic sources, formatted and cited in APA.
Module 3: Theories and Models of Social Policy Analysis / Social Work and Social Policy
Theories and Models of Social Policy Analysis / Social Work and Social Policy
Theories and Models of Social Policy Analysis
How can social policies implemented in a democracy be accounted for? What pacts and consensus lead to the approval of social policies? Who are the individual and collective actors sanction or promote a particular social policy? What ideas, conceptual frameworks, strategies, practices, and factors underlie a social policy’s legitimacy and approval? These are some of the questions that need to be answered to understand and analyze social policies and to be able to exercise, as social workers, a leading role in the formulation and implementation of social policies aimed at strengthening and expanding the rights and benefits of the most vulnerable.
Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco (2013) mention several models of social policy that allow us to critically analyze the state’s actions and the social and political actors of interest in implementing concrete actions and interventions of social policy. Both propose two specific strategies: first, to examine the origin, nature, permanence, modification, reform, or extinction of a given social policy, and second, to examine the value of a social policy as an instrument for the achievement or viability of that social policy (financial and human resources and their implementation). Both strategies can be used in a complementary manner or emphasize the use of one of these strategies. In recent years there has been an inclination to use the second strategy, evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of social policy in terms of working or eradicating some social phenomena, such as poverty, unemployment, among others (Maldonado Valera & Palma Roco, 2013).
Theories and Models
Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco (2013) propose two paradigms that help us understand the origin, vision, interests at stake, promotion, and hindrance in the formulation or reform and implementation of a social policy, namely; classical pluralism and neo-institutionalism (Table 1). It should be noted that some privilege some elements over others, for example, interests, social and political actors, and historical inertia, among other elements.
Source: Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco (2013).
In the classical pluralism paradigm, we find the theory of interest groups (voters, professional organizations, trade unions, and social organizations, among others). This approach originates in the assumptions of modern democracy. It focuses on the motivation, organization, and influence of social and political actors in advancing their interests in implementing social policies that favor them. This is achieved through coalitions, lobbying, pressure, and social and electoral mobilization. According to Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco (2013):
A distinctive feature of this approach is that the state or government is seen as a passive actor, even a ‘black box,’ which processes demands and pressures and responds by producing policies, programs, or laws. It is a mere instrument of contending social actors. Since its actions are reactive to demands successfully channeled by groups with sufficient influence to impose their interests, it is recognized as having little or no autonomy from them in causal terms (p. 13).
The forces exerted by the stakeholders and the government enter a game of struggle and power structure in which cross-cutting relationships change in intensity, power, and hierarchy. This web of pressures from all sides on the government and negotiations between all the actors aimed at policy change or reform will occur due to alterations in forces where one exerts more influence and establishes its interests over other actors or the state. This will occur due to alterations in the forces where one exerts more influence and can establish its interests over other actors or the state. It can also occur when, through an electoral coalition, they manage to establish a government favorable to their interests. When analyzing social policies from the pluralism approach, examining how the strength and presence of interest groups or electoral coalitions guarantee the permanence of certain policies or programs in which they impose themselves over the rest of the population is necessary.
On the other hand, the neo-institutional paradigm includes rational selection theory and historical, organizational sociological, and cognitive approaches. Neo-institutionalism starts from the institutional context and its autonomous actions on interest groups (their behavior, perceptions, and action). This approach attempts to explain and analyze the relationships between social and political actors, their motivations, their interests, and the context in which these relationships occur. In addition, they start from the belief that political institutions influence “government action and how political power is organized and structured is central to understanding why countries develop different policies in the same sector or the face of the same social problem” (Maldonado Valera & Palma Roco, 2013, p. 15). Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco, 2013 argue that the institutional framework determines which actors can influence decision-making and the design and implementation of social policies.
The theory of rational action under the neo-institutionalism paradigm assumes that self-interested actors whose selfish motivations seek to maximize profits and minimize costs. Their actions do not rest on and are not subject to values and ideologies but are strategically crafted and implemented. They act according to rational instrumentality by evaluating and anticipating the behavior of others. Therefore, coalitions are unlikely because of their time-consuming and costly organization, consensus, effort, resources, and actions contrary to this theory.
It should be noted that, although coalitions or collectivity, even if they have common interests, are unlikely to occur if there are incentives and if the actors assume, voluntarily, the costs of collective coordination to obtain their benefits in which others are excluded, privileging some groups/actors over others. Therefore, the institutions (Executive, Legislative Assembly, Senate Chamber, Judicial Branch, among others) are instruments with a framework of rules, strategies, options, and interactions between actors to achieve actions or reforms of the status quo. Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco, 2013 indicate that this theory assumes “that the relevant actors are given in the institutional context, that they possess unequal resources and are in an unequal position, and that they are in a situation of negotiation and permanent strategic confrontation” (p. 16).
Historical neo-institutionalism emphasizes the historicity of the political and institutional processes that give rise to social policies. It starts from the historical context in which actors attribute meanings to their interests and actions and act based on cultural and ideological values established at a given historical moment. The state is therefore conceived as being immersed in a context with strong inertia. According to Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco, 2013, inertias are “procedures, practices, political decisions, conflicts and pre-existing agreements that constrain public action” (p. 20). Therefore, processes are influenced by actions and decisions taken in previous policies. This prevents abrupt changes or radical transformations. However, given the institutions’ contradictions and inconsistencies, reconfigurations arise to solve them. We could say small changes gradually or subtly. Historical neo-institutionalism seeks to analyze the causes of changes or the erosion of the institutions, as well as the social forces exogenous to the state and the internal dynamics at stake. The interest aroused by historical neo-institutionalism lies in the processes of construction, maintenance, and adaptation of institutions and, with them, of the public policies associated with them” (Maldonado Valera & Palma Roco, 2013, p. 21).
Finally, the actors seek to maintain a balance, even if demands or problems confront them if they perceive that they are obtaining benefits, which can generate a time bomb. Once the actors perceive that there is an exhaustion of their benefits and there is an increase in claims or demands, they will be more open to suggestions from academia and national reform organizations and undertake routes of change and transformation to deal with a social/public problem (Maldonado Valera & Palma Roco, 2013).
Therefore, such reforms can change the government agenda and public debate, focusing attention on other problems/needs/situations and altering state priorities. This allows the emergence of other actors who gain influence, power, and prestige.
Sociological/organizational neo-institutionalism alludes to the fact that preferences or actions are socially constructed. Although this approach does not deny the self-interest of actors, it argues that due to cognitive and cultural limitations, actors take pre-established actions (Maldonado Valera & Palma Roco, 2013). In other words, they try to establish priorities, solve problems, and maintain a minimum order in the face of society’s demands. Actors adopt the option that is most appropriate for them, “defining their preferences progressively and casuistically, and are adopting pre-existing ‘solutions’ (i.e., measures, models or public action programs) whose creators or promoters (political actors, experts, and social and international organizations, among others) are in turn looking for an opportunity to disseminate their proposed solution” (Maldonado Valera & Palma Roco, 2013, pp. 24-25).
Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco (2013) present the model developed by J. Kingdon for the analysis of the emergence of pastures and consensus in the development of social policy. They developed a diagram that shows the flow in the political actions and adoption of a social policy (Diagram 1).
Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco (2013) argue that this flow first defines the problem as a priority. It is necessary to add that a problem can become a priority problem when it was previously considered unnecessary public action. On the other hand, a sudden or fortuitous event can become a priority problem. For example, COVID-19 became a priority problem in 2020 in an expedited manner and required the establishment of actions, policies, and programs in an expedited manner. The possible solutions are established, and finally, there is the generation of consensus on political alternatives.
Actors tend to use pre-existing models of public action. Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco (2013) establish that when the three streams converge in a window of opportunity, political actors will take a decision or public action through social policies. These authors refer that “most of the time, a window of opportunity opens in the political stream (for example, upon the arrival of a new government) or of problems (for example, when an event puts a problem on the governmental agenda)” (Maldonado Valera & Palma Roco, 2013, p. 26).
Source: Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco (2013).
Cognitive/constructivist neo-institutionalism gives importance to the social construction of actors’ preferences; however, they assume a variety of possible motivations and values in the formulation and implementation of social policies in a strategic way (Maldonado Valera & Palma Roco, 2013). Maldonado Valera and Palma Roco (2013) argue that the cognitive approach is that institutions are seen as shared ways of thinking and acting from the public policy perspective: institutions set rules, routines, and procedures for the implementation of public policy and modes of operation for political activity and public management, constituting a factor of order. As codified systems of ideas and practices (which are based on these ideas), they constrain the strategies and objectives of the actors (p. 28).
All these approaches assume that the actors with more resources (economic, social, political, informational, organizational, etc.) are the ones who have more possibilities to actively participate in the conception, elaboration, and implementation of reforms, new ideas, programs, and social policies.
Social Work and Social Policy
According to the Code of Social Work Ethics of the National Association of Social Work (NASW), social workers should be involved in social and political actions that seek to ensure that people have equitable access to the resources, jobs, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop to their full potential. Social workers should be aware of the impact of policy issues on practice and advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions to meet basic human needs and promote social justice (NASW, 2021, Code of Ethics).
Like the NASW Code of Ethics, Tropman (2021) argues that the social worker must assume positions as managers of social policy, implementers of social policy, and creators of social policy. He further suggests that all roles that are open to social workers should be assumed if “we decide to grasp the nettle” (Tropman, 2021, p. 24). Blackburn (2021) states “that the social work profession must realign itself with political practice as a means of making the structural changes that must occur to help create a socially just and racially neutral society, enhancing the potential of all” (p. 27).
Jones (2021) argues that without skilled people, without the responsiveness to change at every step of social policy-making, any program aimed at education, poverty eradication, social welfare, health programs, and others would be doomed to failure. This is the necessary space where the social work profession must insert itself in the conception, formulation, elaboration, and implementation of social policies directed, in particular, to the most vulnerable. It is to be able to fight poverty, social injustice, oppression, and inequality in all areas by realizing economic and social rights.
Seda (2009) calls on the transforming social worker to assume processes in social policy, in its elaboration, achieving a “liberating education that promotes critical awareness, organization, and mobilization of the sectors with whom we work,” achieving structural transformation and facilitating the full development of all with whom we work and facilitating that they become actors and actresses of their change (p.4).
Blackburn, J. A. (2021). The Role of Policy Practice in Social Work Education from a Leadership Perspective.
The White House as field placement: Reflections on the Past, and a Future for Policy and Political Practice, pp. 26–28.
Jones, P. (2021). Policies that fail; implementation is crucial: It takes a village.
The White House as field placement: Reflections on the Past, and a Future for Policy and Political Practice, p. 22.
Maldonado V. y Palma, A.F. (2013). La construcción de pactos y consensos en materia de política social: apuntes para un marco de análisis. CEPAL,
Serie Políticas Sociales, 179.
Código de Ética. https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethics-Spanish
Seda, R. (2009, octubre).
Retos al Trabajo Social en el Puerto Rico del siglo XXI. Ponencia presentada en la Universidad Interamericana de Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
http://www.arecibo.inter.edu/reserva/tsocial/retos.pdfLinks to an external site.
Tropman, J. (2021). Policy Manager, Policy Staffer, Policy Maker.
The White House as field placement: Reflections on the Past, and a Future for Policy and Political Practice, pp. 23–25.
Theoretical Models of Public and Social Policies
It is extremely important to study public and social policy; its process, implementation into practice, understanding the ability to push the operational mechanism manifested in activities, impacting individuals or groups of people, both in the public or private sectors, examine resource usage, efforts to stimulate work organizational performance by doing concrete actions through plans, projects, and activities to achieve the objectives of public and social policy.
Due to changes in the United States, numerous programs emanate from Federal Government and state capitals, where multiples governments and nongovernment’s organizations interact and produce a complex activity in managing and implementing public and social policies. The responsibilities and activities are complex and constantly changing, evolving, devolving, and overlapping on all levels, national and subnational levels (Agranoff & McGuire, 2001). This deserves the attention of us all. To examine the management of these public and social policies, Agranoff & McGuire (2001) talk about four theoretical models: two venerable models (Top-Down Model and Donor-Recipient Model) and two emergent models (Jurisdiction-based and network).
In a top-down model,” the implementer assumes that these features are present or that any problems suggested by these assumptions can be overcome” (Birkland, 2020, p. 347). It focuses on “creating the proper structures and controls to encourage or compel compliance with the goals set at the top “(Birkland, 2020, p. 347). The top-down model is predicated on the growth of national programming and tipping the balance toward executive control. In other words, the federal government relies on state and local governments for compliance/oversight of public and social policy. They count on state and local governments to oversee and “monitor intergovernmental programs, ensuring that federal money is spent properly, and see that rules, regulations, and standards are followed (Agranoff & McGuire, 2001, p. 672).
This model represents the bureaucratic resolution to the establishment of goals and objectives of the national government and is implemented by the state and local governments, which are “legally independent.” It is very important that all objectives or goals are very clear and agreed upon. If not, it will be hard to benchmark program success and failure. When intergovernmental lack clear goals, objectives, and strategies, causing overlapping programs, duplicate efforts, confusion, and uncertain responsibilities at the state and local level, the national government kicks in enforcing joint boards, inter-agency linkage, and imposing regulations seeking local compliance.
The state governments heavily supervise local governments, and the federal (national) government heavily supervises state governments. Even though this is not the only way to manage federalism, it is expected to continue (Agranoff & McGuire, 2001).
Birkland (2020) mentions that one of the problems or downside of top-down models is the assumption that a single national government can successfully structure policy implementation and provide for direct service delivery. But most policies made by the federal government require considerable state and, in many cases, local governmental cooperation. The 50 state governments have constitutionally protected rights and responsibilities, so they are often reluctant to surrender their power and prerogatives to distant agencies headquartered in Washington (p. 348).
Birkland (2020) states that if state and local government levels don’t have a say in any given policy, the federal government will face resistance at the other levels. How do local and state governments resist or refuse to the imposition of the implementation of a public and social policy from the national level? They can delay or refuse any implementation of these policies, affecting especially the most vulnerable.
It is necessary to mention that the top-down approach assumes that policy is contained in one single statute. Still, on the contrary, policies in the United States are fragmented and sometimes contradictory to one another.
Agranoff & McGuire (2001) argue that the major limitation of the top-down model is “its false presupposition that some actor possesses the necessary information, the expertise, and the political skill to singularly steer courses of action and to deliver policy outputs that are consistent with the multicity of societal interests” (p. 673). An alternative model is based on multiple actors dependent on one another, actors in the intergovernmental system. This is due to governing problems at the national level and the worldwide tendency for decentralization.
This model is also known as the bottom-top model, which recognizes that policy is not hierarchically executed and validates the involvement of the actors on the other side (actors at the bottom). Policies can be successful in this model when they “leave room for local decision making and provide local actors with sufficient policy discretion, resources, and autonomy to carry out national goals while fulfilling local needs” (Agranoff & McGuire, 2001, p. 674). The bottom-up approach recognizes that goals are ambiguous and may conflict not only with other goals in the same policy area but also with the norms and motivations of the street-level bureaucrats (Birkland, 2020). Torenvlied (1996), cited by Birkland (2020), notes, “The compliance problem arises when there is a conflict of interest between implementation agencies and politicians (p. 349).
It is important to point out that while top-down models are concerned with compliance, bottom-up values understand how conflict can be alleviated by bargaining and sometimes compromise to maximize the likelihood of achieving the policy goals. Also, the bottom-up model does not rely on a policy defined by one statute or law but believes in a set of laws, rules, practices, and norms. This model views a network of actors that work together to implement policies, regulations, laws, etc., rather than a set of rigid rules imposed from the “top.” This model believes that groups are active participants in implementing public and social policies.
According to Agranoff & McGuire (2001), the jurisdiction-based model is the most apparent in a highly complex administrative context. It is the extent to which local officials seek actors, normative adjustment, and resources that can serve the jurisdiction adequately, efficiently, and effectively. For example, the management of a local government has a development plan for the city, but to develop it, several actors must get involved (government and nongovernment). They will discuss the different adjustments that must be made, and agreements and negotiations must take place to implement the development plan. This may require government involvement at different levels.
This model enables local government to pursue funds and resources from political actors, especially those closer to home. As a result, local governments rely less on federal funding and programs and more on resources that are available to all organizations. Far from complying with federal regulations and demands or adapting needs to fit federal requirements, local governments can design and carry out plans based on their jurisdiction’s needs and goals. As a result, “jurisdiction-based managers may recognize numerous federal programs, actors, and agencies […] but they may contact only those agencies that can provide targeted, place-oriented resources for the manager’s jurisdiction” (Agranoff & McGuire, 2001, p. 675).
Implementing the policy using the bottom-up model does not run linear or mechanistic. Still, it opens the probability of transactions through negotiation or bargaining to produce a compromise against the policy target group dimensional (Nur, M.Si, 2013). Nur (2013) states that in Indonesia, the bottom-up model has not appeared to empower empowerment, nor has transformation taken place. Although there has been some progress in many aspects, it has not revealed significant changes in the quantity or the quality of public services organized by the local government. I may say that this will require further research. On the other hand, Agranoff & McGuire (2001) sustain that this model is likely de become a common practice as jurisdiction-based management seek to displace top-based models, and they wish to deal with their matters and are willing to bypass existing relationship to establish new relations with resources seeking to fulfill the local goals.
The network model is based on interdependency, network relations with different actors, and intersectoral relationships where leadership is collaborative. Interdependencies imply that all actors benefit in some way, have joint interests, and depend on each other to achieve their goals. In other words, a particular problem can not be solved unless all the actors work together strategically in a collaborative manner. These problems cannot be resolved in an individual form or by single organizations but by various organizations.
Networks are seen as clusters of organizations with a whole purpose. It requires that the organizations be in constant communication, forcing that the decision is made jointly, agreeing upon the course of action (Agranoff & McGuire, 2001). “Network-based consist in public and private actors, each with their own goals and policy strategies” (Agranoff & McGuire, 2001, p. 676). This includes no central actor, no ruler, no pre-established goals of a single actor, and no administrative guidelines or control. This model comes with its challenges. The policy process can be unpredictable, and actors’ preferences can change during the course of interaction. The “age of network” has arrived despite its challenges.