Evolutionary approaches to the concept of drift in policy studies

Adrian Kay*, Darrin Baines

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article is a contribution to the emerging line of scholarly inquiry into the concept of drift in the study of public policy. It investigates a persistent problem in the literature on policy drift: how to explain variation in responses to drift, separately from the process of drift itself and in order to do so how to incorporate a model of agency into the concept of drift. We argue that the broader project of evolutionary thinking in policy studies can help reveal the analytical value of an evolutionary metaphor to our understanding of policy drift. The argument is developed through a three-stage generic framework of drift in which an evolutionary metaphor helps first by assisting with accounts of the role of selection pressures in drift and, second, by supporting different accounts of agency in recognizing and responding to drift. The utility of this novel policy drift framework is illustrated through a case study of UK pharmaceutical services policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-189
Number of pages16
JournalCritical Policy Studies
Issue number2
Early online date13 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2019


  • drift
  • evolutionary theory
  • metaphor
  • new institutionalism
  • Policy change


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