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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Clear Enough to be Proven Wrong? The Theoretical Foundation of the Multiple Streams-Framework

Johanna Kuhlmann
Universität Bremen
Johanna Kuhlmann
Universität Bremen

The paper focuses on the theoretical foundation of the multiple streams-framework and reveals that, in its basic assumptions, it is theoretically misconceived: Among policy analysis scholars, there is a widespread belief that the multiple streams-framework is deeply rooted within Herbert Simon’s concept of bounded rationality. However, a comparison of the concept of bounded rationality with the multiple streams-framework shows that the actual influence of the former on the latter is rather poor: According to Simon, the individual’s bounded rationality is an independent variable that explains processes and structures within the organization. The multiple streams-framework also acts on the assumption of bounded rational individuals, but enhances time over rationality and can therefore only make a statement about the determining factors and not about the actual basis of the individual’s decisions. Besides, the individual is not the initial point of analysis as the multiple streams-framework theorizes from the macro-level. Moreover, the connection between the individual and the organization is different: In the concept of bounded rationality, the organization compensates individual deficits, while the organization within the multiple streams-framework increases them. This is also caused by different ontological premises complicating falsifiability and causality in the multiple streams-framework. Regarding further theoretical development, the analysis reveals that the micro-theoretical assumptions of the approach need to be revised.
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