My research interests are contained in the “policy process” tradition of the policy subfield in Political Science. The way I think about the policy process is, in broad terms, reflected in my textbook An Introduction to the Policy Process (second edition, M.E. Sharpe, 2005). In writing this book I was particularly interested in writing a book that would be useful to undergraduates and graduate students in interdisciplinary programs. One of my goals in writing the book was to explain to students how the study of social phenomena can be scientific, even if the way we pursue knowledge differs in important ways from the natural and physical sciences. This textbook ecompasses both a basic curriculum in policy process studies and my personal philosophy about the research enterprise.
My theoretical contributions have primarily come in the area of agenda setting theory within the policy process tradition, although I have begun to transition from agenda setting to a broader range of interests, tying together policy failure, agenda setting, potential policy learning, and policy redesign. Many of my ideas are in a very early stage, and I look forward to the continuing dialogue with colleagues on this fascinating area of research.
In advancing policy theory, the substantive research has focused on role of disasters and crises in national and state policy making. I study disasters because they are inherently interesting, of course. But my interest is not journalistic; rather, I study disasters because they provide excellent examples of agenda setting, rapid change, and policy learning. While these events are atypical in the broader policy process, their rapid onset allows us to study phenomena that, in other policy fields, often play out over decades, rather than a few years.
I greatly enjoy this research field because it is inherently interdisciplinary. The disaster studies field encompasses sociology, political science, public administration, geography, engineering (across many disciplines), architecture, urban planning, and many other disciplines.
My first book, After Disaster, examines the agenda-setting power of disasters and accidents, called (after John Kingdon) focusing events. My most recent book, Lessons of Disaster, is a follow-up to After Disaster, and relates focusing events, learning, and policy change. Research articles between the two books explore these and related themes.
As a result of these projects, I have become a very active member of the community of social scientists that studies natural hazards in the United States. I have also developed an interest in the politics of crisis management in the public and private sectors, and, because of my work in natural hazards, I have been drawn into some research on homeland security, and some of my writing has been very critical of the way in which natural hazard response has been conflated with homeland security, with significant consequences for all aspects of the disaster cycle: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.
My near term goal for now is to finish the third edition of my textbook, and to help finish a report on Hurricane Katrina, in a project led by colleagues at the University of New Orleans. My next goal is to develop a research program for investigating post disaster policy change and learning, starting with Lessons of Disaster and creating more complete depictions of policy change, learning, and non-learning by drawing on literature on the policy process, but also from cognitive psychology, organizational theory, and related disciplines.
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