Willingness to Use Political Resources

Willingness to use political resources

The third aspect of influence is the extent to which one is willing to use one’s political resources. Scientists often have advantages as problem brokers as they hold high credibility and can use the cognitive authority of science to make an audience accept a frame. However, many scientists seem unwilling to act as problem brokers. One reason could be that they need to include value and emotional elements in the frame besides knowledge, which goes against the idea of the neutral scientist. Interest organisations, on the other hand, often have fewer resources than scientists for getting attention focused on their frames. Yet that is to some extent outweighed by the time they can spend on it and their willingness to do so.

Different actors hold different resources and skills in using them. They are also willing to use them to different degrees. The influence of particular problem brokers depends not only on these factors, but also on the competition from other problem brokers at a par- ticular moment. According to Souders and Dillard (2014), the existence of competing frames makes success more difficult. Without competition from stronger problem brokers, even those with fewer resources might succeed in gaining acceptance for their frames.

Empirical illustration

To illustrate the arguments made above, three examples are presented from a case study on the evolution of Swedish and international climate change policy making from 1975 to 2007 (Knaggård 2009, 2014). The first example, the creation of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in 1988, illustrates the empirical value of including the problem broker in the MSF. The first chairman of the IPCC, Bert Bolin, strongly believed that the role of scientists was to inform policy makers, but to refrain from any policy suggestions


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(e.g., Bolin 1994a; cf. Agrawala 1999). According to him, ‘[s]cientists as well as politicians need to recognize their different roles. . . . Scientists need to inform politicians in a simple manner that can be readily understood, but the message must always be scientifically exact’ (Bolin 1994b: 27). This position was instrumental in the creation of the structure and objectives of the IPCC. The panel should make assessments of scientific knowledge and communicate them to policy makers. This structure enables problem brokering, but stays clear of policy entrepreneurship. It has had a major impact, for example, on the unwilling- ness of the IPCC to suggest global warming objectives (Knaggård 2014).

The second example is about the influence of Bert Bolin, Professor of Meteorology at Stockholm University, on the acceptance by Swedish policy makers of the frame of climate change as a public problem. It illustrates some of the resources and skills that successful problem brokers need. Bolin was acting as problem broker already in 1975, although this attempt to get political attention had limited success (Knaggård 2014). He worked persistently to establish climate change as a public problem all through the 1980s (Agrawala 1999). In 1986 he became affiliated with the Swedish Executive Office under the Social Democratic government as an expert – a position he retained until 1991 (Knaggård 2009). This position strengthened his access to policy makers and his knowl- edge about the system. Later, he took part in a Swedish expert committee on climate change and several parliamentary commissions (Knaggård 2009). In many other coun- tries, Bolin’s and the IPCC’s problem frame – seeing climate change as caused by human emissions with possibly serious effects and therefore a public problem – was challenged by problem brokers who, for example, emphasised natural causes of the problem and therefore downplayed the need for action (see Grundmann 2007; Skolnikoff 1997). This frame was also presented in the Swedish context, but received little attention (Knaggård 2009). The main reason for this was the presence of Bolin as problem broker. He was persistent in his attempts to frame the issue as a public problem and he had access to policy makers in government in the years 1986–1991 and later in the parliament through the parliamentary commissions. He also possessed high credibility as a scientist, being one of the leading international meteorologists and the chairman of the IPCC. Through his access to the scientific and policy spheres he had knowledge about who to talk to, how and when. Finally, he was also willing to act as a problem broker. The problem brokers who tried to establish alternative frames lacked access and, compared to Bolin, credibil- ity. Even if they were persistent and willing to act as problem brokers, this was not enough (Knaggård 2009).

The last example is intended to illustrate how knowledge, values and emotions interplay in framings. In most problem frames during the 1980s that defined climate change as caused by human emissions, focus was on knowledge and the scientific description of the problem (e.g., WMO 1986). However, these frames also played on emotions. For example, the so-called ‘Brundtland Report’ from 1987 frames climate change as a public problem and sets a tone of urgency by evoking emotions of fear for future climate change (WCED 1987: 177). The Brundtland Report does not explicitly mention certain values that should be protected, but the frame implicitly emphasises values like survival, food security and economic security. In the same way and at the same time, other problem brokers empha- sised urgency.This example illustrates how even knowledge-based frames include elements of values and emotions.


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By including the role of the problem broker into the MSF, two objectives can be reached. The first pertains to the analytical separation of streams within the MSF. Through the inclusion of agency in the problem stream and an account of how conditions become public problems, the difference between problem and policy streams can be analytically strength- ened. This is important as problem definitions and the work of problem brokers have an impact on policy entrepreneurs, and, by extension, on the forming of the agenda and decision making. The second objective is to enable a more elaborate analysis of actors who are framing conditions as public problems without making policy suggestions. Cases where policy entrepreneurs also frame problems can already be studied within the MSF, but without the problem broker we will miss what these other actors do. To study actors who only frame problems will be important, primarily in the early phases of problem definition and particularly in scientifically dominated issues like climate change. What this concept enables is a focus on what actors are actually doing rather than on who they are.This builds on the idea of roles, which are present in the MSF through the policy entrepreneur.

The article has further argued for the importance of studying elements of knowledge, values and emotions in frames. All frames must contain some reference to these three in order to get attention. By focusing only on knowledge, we will have difficulty in explaining why some problem frames get attention whereas others do not. As discussed, values and emotions are often more important for creating a successful frame. In order to be success- ful, problem brokers need to be persistent, have access to policy makers and be seen as credible.They also need to know who to talk to, how and when in order to make an impact. Finally, problem brokers need to be willing to frame conditions as public problems. This article has argued that these factors, to some extent, can explain why certain frames take hold. It is important, however, to also study the context. The audience matters, as does the national mood. Coincidence, in the sense of who happens to be at a certain place at a certain time, seems to be crucial, making it difficult to formulate a more general theory of successful problem framing. However, we can increase our understanding of factors necessary for successful problem brokering. This article has only been able to point at important factors, but lacks the empirical base that is needed for such theoretical development.


The author would like to thank the participants at the workshop on ‘Decision-making under Ambiguity and Time Constraints: Assessing the Multiple Streams Framework’ at the ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops in 2013 as well as three anonymous reviewers for their helpful and inspiring comments.


1. Compare also with ‘policy monopolies’, defined by Baumgartner and Jones (1993: 7) as a situation where a problem is controlled by one institution with the aid of a ‘powerful supporting idea’.


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2. Jasanoff and Martello (2004) argue that all knowledge – even scientific knowledge – is situated. 3. As with frames, emotions are always grounded in individual cognition, meaning that it is individuals who

feel emotions. When studying agenda-setting and policy making, it is the aggregated effects of emotions that are in focus.

4. By ‘national mood’, Kingdon (2003: 146) means ‘that a rather large number of people out in the country are thinking along common lines’.


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Address for correspondence: Åsa Knaggård, Department of Political Science, Lund University, Box 52, S-221 00 Lund, Sweden. E-mail: [email protected]


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