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What is a Policy Entrepreneur?

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In any given instance of policy change, it is usually possible to locate a small team or an individual that stood out as a driving force for action. Policy entrepreneur thus describes actors who use their knowledge of the process and wide network to push for agendas to do with policy changes. Policy entrepreneurs may be leaders of interest groups, elected politicians, or just unofficial spokespersons for particular causes.

Given a variety of challenges now facing humanity, the need is great for policy entrepreneurs to step forward and initiate policy change processes. They are usually energetic persons who engage in collaborative efforts to promote policy innovations both in and around government, distinguishing themselves from others through their desire to significantly change current ways of doing things in their area of interest.

Elements of a policy entrepreneur

Policy entrepreneurs are individuals possessing credentials that allow their opinions to be heard over others by having expert knowledge on a topic or holding an important position of power in politics or a big corporation that allows them to make decisions. However, some elements are central to policy entrepreneurship. These are;

  • Displaying social acuity

Policy entrepreneurs display social acuity in two ways. Firstly, they make good use of policy networks to promote change in specific contexts. They have typically acquired relevant knowledge across jurisdictions thus increasing the likelihood that policy change will achieve success.

Secondly, policy entrepreneurs display social acuity by understanding the ideas, concerns, and motives of others in their local policy context then responding effectively. The fact that they learn to get along well with others and understand the local policy context helps them achieve more success in securing policy change than others.

  • Defining problems

Problem definition can determine what individuals and groups will pay attention to as people tend to relate specific problems to their interests. As such, the definition of policy problems is always a political act, requiring a combination of social acuity with a lot of skills in conflict management and negotiation. A policy entrepreneur can thus present evidence in ways that suggest a crisis is at hand and find ways to highlight failures of current policy settings to push for a policy change by drawing support from individuals and groups beyond the immediate scope of the problem.

  • Building teams

Policy entrepreneurs just like businessmen are team players. Their strength does not come from the force of their ideologies alone but rather through their ability to work effectively with others. 

Policy entrepreneurs conduct their team building activities in several forms. It is not uncommon to find them working within a small team of highly skilled individuals each with specific knowledge and skills in their area, who offer mutual support towards the realization of the desired change.

On the other hand, policy entrepreneurs can use their personal and professional networks to support their initiatives of policy change. They appreciate the importance of developing and working with coalitions to promote policy change even with groups that might appear unlikely allies for a cause. Such coalitions can help to deviate the arguments of opponents of change. 

  • Leading by example

Policy entrepreneurs engage with other people to demonstrate the workability of a particular policy proposal as a way of leading by example. By taking an idea and turning it into action by themselves usually signals a genuine commitment to improving social outcomes. The effect then is winning credibility with others thus building momentum for policy change. As a policy entrepreneur, taking action by leading from the front reduces the perception of risk among decision-makers. 

Attributes of a policy entrepreneur

Attributes are inherent capabilities that are essential for being an effective policy entrepreneur. These include;

  • Credibility

Policy entrepreneurs must be deemed credible in order to attract others to work with them. This can be achieved by the demonstration of high expertise in a particular field, holding a powerful position in or around the government, or having outstanding past achievements in the eyes of the majority in public.

  • Ambition

Policy entrepreneurs as defined by the willingness to invest their time, energy, skills as well as finances in the hope of future returns.

  • Sociability

Policy entrepreneurs must be able to empathize with others and understand their needs. This calls for a high level of sociability. Successful policy entrepreneurs use their sociability to expand their networks and foster meaningful coalitions that are going to catalyze their policy change.

  • Tenacity

This is the willingness to continue working towards a bigger goal, more so in situations where all seems lost. This quality is essential since policy entrepreneurs typically operate in complex contexts where chances of achieving success usually seem slim.

Final word

Policy entrepreneurship is tough work and requires a lot of courage. In most cases, policy entrepreneurs are viewed by a few people as heroic and by the majority as troublemakers. This is because change makes people feel uneasy. Policy entrepreneurs employ their creativity, strategy, persuasive argumentation as well as networking to bring new policy ideas into the limelight and promote policy change.

This article is for those who desire to make a difference. It has elaborated who a policy entrepreneur is and gives a better sense of what it takes for one to drive policy innovation and change. The concept of policy entrepreneurship is refined primarily in the United States although it is now being applied to explain policy change in several countries