Over the past decades, a considerable amount of literature has been published on the role of policy entrepreneurs as key actors in the policy process. Since the work of scholars such as Dahl, Kingdon, and Baumgartner and Jones, policy entrepreneurs have been identified as successful actors advocating policy proposals and pushing their favourite solution to solve policy problems. This paper departs from existing studies and calls for a more integrated approach between a specific ‘problem definition’ and its corresponding ‘policy solution’. Specifically, it challenges the traditional notion of policy entrepreneurs dealing with solutions to given – and perhaps taken for granted – problems, and proposes the notion of the ‘problem entrepreneur’ as active ideational agent in constructing and (re) framing an existing problem definition. By combining two strands of literature on agenda setting and social construction of problems, the paper derives theoretical expectations tested against a case study on the key role of the then Commissioner Peter Sutherland as ‘problem entrepreneur’ in the contested adoption from Member States of an European exchange mobility programme of industry-university cooperation in 1985. The paper concludes by highlighting the implications of this concept within the agenda-setting literature, and its contribution to a better understanding of the interdependence of strategic and ideational factors in analysing actors’ agency within policy change.
Dr Marina Cino Pagliarello is an ESRC Post-Doctoral Fellow in the European Institute. Her research focuses on the role of political and economic actors in shaping public policies and the mechanisms through which ideas play a role in the emergence of new problem definitions and in restructuring actors’ interests.