Windows of Opportunity
In his theory of how and why topics rise to be on the national policy agenda, John Kingdon (1984) talks about windows of opportunity. People, and particularly policy leaders, are bombarded with information about various problems that need policy solutions; however, only a few issues rise to the level of attention and action. When policy ideas, public opinion, and political leadership are joined together (Kingdon says: “a problem is recognized, a solution is available, and the political climate happens to be right, all at the same moment”), then a window of opportunity for substantial policy change opens.
This spring NH-ME LEND trainees studied the Kingdon theory and learned about its application to child health policy and child disability policy. With the COVID-19 pandemic in full bloom, they had occasion to witness a unique window of opportunity for policy change.
Trainees began in January to study child health and disability policy and to prepare an issue brief and presentation regarding Medicaid for Congressional visits during the annual Disability Policy Seminar. Shortly before the scheduled trip to Washington, COVID-19 led to the cancellation of travel and dramatic policy changes. LEND trainees were forced to change plans. With the support of AUCD and NH-ME LEND faculty, trainees arranged to do “virtual” Congressional visits with offices of Members of Congress from New Hampshire and Maine.
More important, in a matter of days, they learned about the Medicaid policy changes in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and other relevant federal policy changes. With support from NH-ME LEND faculty member and MCH Policy expert, Kay Johnson, trainees revised their policy brief and their presentations. Quickly “relearning” the policy content led to highly relevant and successful Congressional “visits” by telephone. They educated Congressional offices about the importance of Medicaid for children with special health care needs and disabilities, in general and in these times of COVID-19 crisis. During this experience, NH-ME LEND trainees were engaging as policy entrepreneurs, using their expertise, acting with persistence, and being ready to act when a window of opportunity opened.