Skip to main content

Whither the Funnel of Causality?

  • Matt Wilder (a1)

If Richard Simeon's “Studying Public Policy” sought to inspire a theory of policy making, however tentative or crude, its conceptual cornerstone was no doubt the “funnel of causality.” Yet references to the funnel of causality have all but disappeared from the policy literature. This article traces the evolution of the thinking that underlies the funnel of causality with the aim of demonstrating its lasting relevance to policy studies. Being a method for understanding how inputs from various levels of abstraction impact policy outcomes, the interaction and feedback effects implicit in the funnel metaphor have been maintained in subsequent neo-institutionalist work that takes seriously the institutional and sociological environment in which policy making takes place, particularly that which is interested in the origins and operation of policy subsystems, policy communities or networks, and policy regimes.

Si l’étude “Studying Public Policy” de Richard Simeon visait à inspirer une théorie de l’élaboration des politiques, quoique provisoire ou grossière, l'entonnoir de causalité (« the funnel of causality model ») était sans doute son fondement conceptuel. Pourtant toutes les références à l'entonnoir de causalité ont disparu de la littérature politique. Cet article retrace l’évolution de la pensée sous-jacente au modèle de l'entonnoir de causalité dans le but de démontrer sa pertinence constante pour les études sur les politiques. Constituant une méthode permettant de comprendre comment les commentaires à plusieurs niveaux d'abstraction ont une incidence sur l'issue des politiques, l'interaction et les effets de rétroaction implicites dans la métaphore de l'entonnoir se sont maintenus dans les travaux néo-institutionnalistes subséquents qui accordent à l'environnement institutionnel et sociologique dans lequel s'inscrit l’élaboration des politiques sa pleine valeur, notamment celle qui s'intéresse aux origines et à l'exploitation des sous-systèmes politiques, des collectivités/réseaux et des régimes de politiques.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Whither the Funnel of Causality?
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Whither the Funnel of Causality?
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Whither the Funnel of Causality?
      Available formats
Hide All
Albo, Gregory and Jenson, Jane. 1989. “A Contested Concept: The Relative Autonomy of the State.” In The New Canadian Political Economy, ed. Clement, Wallace and Williams, Glen. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Atkinson, Michael M. 1993. “Public Policy and the New Institutionalism.” In Governing Canada: Institutions and Public Policy, ed. Atkinson, M.. Toronto: Harcourt.
Atkinson, Michael M. and Coleman, William D.. 1989. The State, Business, and Industrial Change in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Baumgartner, Frank R. and Jones, Bryan D.. 1993. Agendas and Instability in American Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Baumgartner, Frank R. and Jones, Bryan D.. 2015. The Politics of Information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Blomquist, William. 2007. “The Policy Process and Large-N Comparative Studies.” In Theories of the Policy Process, ed. Sabatier, Paul. 2nd ed. Boulder: Westview.
Cairney, Paul and Heikkila, Tanya. 2014. “A Comparison of Theories of the Policy Process.” In Theories of the Policy Process, ed. Sabatier, Paul A. and Weible, Christopher. 3rd ed., Boulder: Westview.
Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E. and Stokes, Donald E.. 1960. The American Voter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Campbell, John L. and Pedersen, Ove K.. 2011. “Knowledge Regimes and Comparative Political Economy.” In Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research, ed. Béland, Daniel and Cox, Robert H.. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Coleman, William D. and Skogstad, Grace. 1990. “Policy Communities and Policy Networks: A Structural Approach.” In Policy Communities and Public Policy in Canada, ed. Coleman, W. and Skogstad, G.. Mississauga ON: Copp Clark Pitman.
Denzau, Arthur T. and North, Douglass C.. 1994. “Shared Mental Models: Ideologies and Institutions.” Kyklos 47 (1): 331.
Dowding, Keith. 1995. “Model or Metaphor? A Critical Review of the Policy Network Approach.” Political Studies 43 (1): 137–58.
Dowding, Keith. 2001. “There Must Be End to Confusion: Policy Networks, Intellectual Fatigue, and the Need for Political Science Methods Courses in British Universities.” Political Studies 49 (1): 89105.
Dowding, Keith, Dunleavy, Patrick, King, Desmond and Margetts, Helen. 1995. “Rational Choice and Community Power Structures.” Political Studies 43 (2): 265–77.
Drekker, Henk. 2014. “Voting and Not Voting: The Principal Explanations.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Global Political Psychology, ed. Nesbitt-Larking, Paul, Kinnvall, Catarina and Capelos, Tereza. London: Palgrave.
Easton, David. 1953. A Systems Analysis of Political Life. New York: Alfred Knopf Co.
Eger, Robert J. and Marlowe, Justin. 2006. “Hofferbert in Transit: A Dynamic Stages Model of the Urban Policy Process.” Review of Policy Research 23 (2): 413–32.
Eisner, Marc A. 1993. Regulatory Politics in Transition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Eissler, Rebecca, Russell, Annelise and Jones, Bryan D.. 2016. “The Transformation of Ideas: The Origin and Evolution of Punctuated Equilibrium Theory.” In Contemporary Approaches to Public Policy, ed. Guy Peters, B. and Zittoun, Philippe. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Elkin, Stephen L. 1987. City and Regime in the American Republic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Esping-Andersen, Gøsta. 1990. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity.
Evans, Mark. 2001. “Understanding Dialectics in Policy Network Analysis.” Political Studies 49 (3): 542–50.
Finlayson, Alan, Bevir, Mark, Rhodes, R. A. W., Dowding, Keith and Hay, Colin. 2004. “The Interpretive Approach in Political Science.” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 6 (2): 129–64.
Freeman, John L. 1955. The Political Process. Garden City NY: Doubleday.
Giddens, Anthony. 1984. The Constitution of Society. Cambridge: Polity.
Granovetter, Mark. 1985. “Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness.” American Journal of Sociology 91 (3): 481510.
Gunther, Richard, Beck, Paul A., Magalhães, Pedro C. and Moreno, Alejandro, eds. 2016. Voting in Old and New Democracies. New York: Routledge.
Haas, Ernst. 1975. “On Systems and International Regimes.” World Politics 27 (2): 147–74.
Haas, Peter. 1989. “Do Regimes Matter? Epistemic Communities and Mediterranean Pollution Control.” International Organization 43 (3): 377403.
Hall, Peter A., and Taylor, Rosemary. 1996. “Political Science and the Three New Institutionalisms.” Political Studies 44 (5): 936–57.
Hay, Colin. 1998. “The Tangled Webs We Weave: The Discourse, Strategy and Practice of Networking.” In Comparing Policy Networks, ed, Marsh, D.. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Hay, Colin. 2011. “Interpreting Interpretivism Interpreting Interpretations: The New Hermeneutics of Public Administration.” Public Administration 89 (1): 167–82.
Hay, Colin and Wincott, Daniel. 1998. “Structure, Agency and Historical Institutionalism.” Political Studies 46 (5): 951–57.
Heclo, Hugh. 1978. “Issue Networks and the Executive Establishment.” In The New Political System, ed. King, Anthony. Washington: The American Enterprise Institute.
Hofferbert, Richard. 1974. The Study of Public Policy. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.
Hofferbert, Richard. 1990. The Reach and Grasp of Policy Analysis. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Hofferbert, Richard and Urice, John K.. 1985. “Small-Scale Policy: The Federal Stimulus versus Competing Explanations for State Funding of the Arts.” American Journal of Political Science 29 (2): 308–29.
Howlett, Michael and Ramesh, Mishra. 1998. “Policy Subsystem Configurations and Policy Change.” Policy Studies Journal 26 (3): 466–81.
Immergut, Ellen. 1998. “The Theoretical Core of the New Institutionalism.” Politics and Society 26 (1): 534.
Jenkins-Smith, Hank, Silva, Carol L., Gupta, Kuhika and Ripberger, Joseph T.. 2014. “Belief System Continuity and Change in Policy Advocacy Coalitions: Using Cultural Theory to Specify Belief Systems, Coalitions, and Sources of Change.” Policy Studies Journal 42 (4): 484508.
Jochim, Ashley E. and May, Peter J.. 2010. “Beyond Subsystems: Policy Regimes and Governance.” Policy Studies Journal 38 (2): 303–27.
Jones, Bryan D. 1994. Reconceiving Decision-Making in Democratic Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Jones, Bryan D. and Baumgartner, Frank R.. 2005. The Politics of Attention. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Jones, Bryan D. and Bachelor, Lynn. 1993. The Sustaining Hand. 2nd ed. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
Jones, Michael D. and Radaelli, Claudio M.. 2015. “The Narrative Policy Framework: Child or Monster?Critical Policy Studies 9 (3): 339–55.
Jones, Michael D., McBeth, Mark K. and Shanahan, Elizabeth A.. 2014. “Introducing the Narrative Policy Framework.” In The Science of Stories, ed. Michael, Jones D., Shanahan, Elizabeth A. and McBeth, Mark K.. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Knoke, David., Urban Pappi, Franz, Broadbent, Jeffrey and Tsujinaka, Yutaka. 1996. Comparing Policy Networks. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Leifeld, Philip. 2013. “Reconceptualizing Major Policy Change in the Advocacy Coalition Framework: A Discourse Network Analysis of German Pension Politics.” Policy Studies Journal 41 (1): 169–98.
Lindblom, Charles Edward. 1968. The Policy-Making Process. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.
MacKuen, Michael B., Erikson, Robert S. and Stimson, James A.. 1989. “Macropartisanship.” American Political Science Review 83 (4): 1125–42.
Mahoney, James. 2008. “Toward a Unified Theory of Causality.” Comparative Political Studies 41 (4–5): 412–36.
Mahoney, James and Snyder, Richard. 1999. “Rethinking Agency and Structure in the Study of Regime Change.” Studies in Comparative International Development 34 (2): 332.
March, James G., and Olsen, Johan P.. 1989. Rediscovering Institutions. New York: Free Press.
Marsh, David. 1998. “The Utility and Future of Policy Network Analysis.” In Comparing Policy Networks, ed. Marsh, D.. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Marsh, David and Smith, Martin. 2000. “Understanding Policy Networks: Towards a Dialectical Approach.” Political Studies 48 (1): 421.
Marsh, David, and Rhodes, R. A. W., eds. 1992. Policy Networks in British Government. Clarendon: Oxford University Press.
Mazmanian, Daniel A. and Sabatier, Paul A.. 1980. “A Multivariate Model of Public Policy-Making.” American Journal of Political Science 24 (3): 439–68.
Miller, Warren E. and Merrill Shanks, J.. 1996. The New American Voter. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Mises, Ludwig. 1966. Human Action. Chicago: H. Regnery.
Nowlin, Matthew. 2011. “Theories of the Policy Process: State of the Research and Emerging Trends.” Policy Studies Journal 39 (1): 4160.
Olson, Mancur. 1971. The Logic of Collective Action. 2nd ed. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
Orr, Shannon K. 2006. “Policy Subsystems and Regimes: Organized Interests and Climate Change Policy.” Policy Studies Journal 34 (2): 147–69.
Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pal, Leslie A. 1989. “Political Economy as a Hegemonic Project.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 22 (4): 827–40.
Peters, B. Guy. 2016. “Institutionalism and Public Policy.” In Contemporary Approaches to Public Policy, ed. Guy Peters, B. and Zittoun, Philippe. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Pierson, Paul. 1993. “When Effect Becomes Cause: Policy Feedback and Political Change.” World Politics 45 (4): 595628.
Pontusson, Jonas. 1995. “From Comparative Public Policy to Political Economy: Putting Political Institutions in Their Place and Taking Interests Seriously.” Comparative Political Studies 28 (1): 117–47.
Pross, Paul. 1986. Group Politics and Public Policy. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Riker, William H. 1996. The Strategy of Rhetoric. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Sabatier, Paul A. 2007. “Introduction: The Need for Better Theories.” In Theories of the Policy Process, ed. Sabatier, P.. 2nd ed. Boulder: Westview.
Sabatier, Paul A. and Jenkins-Smith, Hank, eds. 1993. Policy Change and Learning: An Advocacy Coalition Approach. Theoretical Lenses on Public Policy. Boulder: Westview.
Scharpf, Fritz. 1997. Games Real Actors Play. Boulder: Westview.
Schmidt, Manfred G. 1996. “When Parties Matter: A Review of the Possibilities and Limits of Partisan Influence on Public Policy.” European Journal of Political Research 30 (2): 155–83.
Schmidt, Vivien A. 2008. “Discursive Institutionalism: The Explanatory Power of Ideas and Discourse.” Annual Review of Political Science 11 (1): 303–26.
Schmidt, Vivien A. 2010. “Taking Ideas and Discourse Seriously: Explaining Change through Discursive Institutionalism as the Fourth ‘New Institutionalism'European Political Science Review 2 (1): 125.
Schneider, Mark, Teske, Paul and Mintrom, Michael. 1995. Public Entrepreneurs: Agents for Change in American Government. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Schlager, Edella. 2007. “A Comparison of Frameworks, Theories, and Models of Policy Processes.” In Theories of the Policy Process, ed. Sabatier, P.. 2nd ed. Boulder: Westview.
Schlager, Edella, and Weible, Chris. 2013. “New Theories of the Policy Process.” Policy Studies Journal 41 (3): 389–96.
Shepsle, Kenneth A. 1979. “Institutional Arrangements and Equilibrium in Multidimensional Voting Models.” American Journal of Political Science 23 (1): 2759.
Simeon, Richard. 1976. “Studying Public Policy.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 9 (4): 548–80.
Simeon, Richard. 1996. “Afterword: ‘New’ Directions in Canadian Policy Studies.” In Policy Studies in Canada: The State of the Art, ed. Dobuzinskis, L., Howlett, M. and Laycock, D.. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Simeon, Richard, and Robinson, Ian. 1990. State, Society, and the Development of Canadian Federalism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press Toronto.
Skogstad, Grace. 2005. “The Dynamics of Institutional Transformation: The Case of the Canadian Wheat Board.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 38 (3): 529–48.
Skogstad, Grace. 2008. “Policy Networks and Policy Communities: Conceptualizing State-Societal Relationships in the Policy Process.” In The Comparative Turn in Canadian Political Science, ed. White, L., Simeon, R., Vipond, R. and Wallner, J.. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Snyder, Richard and Mahoney, James. 1999. “The Missing Variable: Institutions and the Study of Regime Change.” Comparative Politics 32 (1): 103–22.
Steinmo, Sven, Thelen, Kathleen and Longstreth, Frank, eds. 1992. Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Stone, Clarence N. 1989. Regime Politics: Governing Atlanta, 1946–1988. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
Stone, Clarence N. 1993. “Urban Regimes and the Capacity to Govern: A Political Economy Approach.” Journal of Urban Affairs 15 (1): 128.
Streeck, Wölfgang and Thelen, Kathleen. 2005. “Introduction: Institutional Change in Advanced Political Economies.” In Beyond Continuity, ed. Streeck, W. and Thelen, K.. New York: Oxford University Press.
Taylor, Rosemary and Hall, Peter A.. 1998. “The Potential of Historical Institutionalism: A Response to Hay and Wincott.” Political Studies 46 (5): 958–62.
Warren, Scott. 1984. The Emergence of Dialectical Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Weible, Christopher. 2014. “Advancing Policy Process Research.” In Theories of the Policy Process, ed. Sabatier, Paul and Weible, Christopher M.. 3rd ed. Boulder: Westview.
Worsham, Jeff. 2013. “Tilting at Windmills: Constructing Policy Regimes.” Paper presented at the International Conference on Public Policy, Grenoble, France.
Young, Oran R. 1980. “International Regimes: Problems of Concept Formation.” World Politics 32 (3): 331–56.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-political-science-revue-canadienne-de-science-politique
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed