Journal of Public Policy


Paradigm Shifts and Policy Networks: Cumulative Change in Agriculture*

William D. Colemana1, Grace D. Skogstada2 and Michael M. Atkinsona3

a1 Department of Political Science, McMaster University 1280 Main St. W Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4M4, Canada Fax: 1-905-527-3071 E-Mail:

a2 Department of Political Science, University of Toronto

a3 Department of Political Science, McMaster University


This article presents an alternative trajectory to policy paradigm change to that outlined by Peter A. Hall's social learning model, in which unsuccessful efforts by state officials to respond to policy failures and anomalies in the existing paradigm eventually trigger a broader, societal, political partisan debate about policy principles. From this society-wide contestation over policy goals, problems, and solutions, a new policy paradigm emerges. Drawing on the conceptual tools of policy feedback and policy networks, this article describes an alternative route to paradigm shift in which change is negotiated between state actors and group representatives. Discussions of change are largely confined to sectoral policy networks and the result is a more managed series of policy changes that culminate in a paradigm shift. This argument for a second, cumulative trajectory to paradigm shift is developed by examining agricultural policy change in three countries: the United States, Canada, and Australia.


* An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, September 1995. The authors would like to thank fellow panellists at this meeting and Peter A. Hall for comments on the paper. Research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Research Grant, 410–92-0260.