The analysis of policy change has produced a number of contrasting theoretical approaches, each offering a lens through which to view policy phenomena. This article suggests that the existing menu of approaches for understanding change can be usefully complemented by an understanding of the role played by value conflict. Using institutionalist analysis, I argue that the need to make value-choices in a nondisruptive way shapes large areas of government activity, particularly in Westminster systems, and explains many observed patterns of stability and change.
Building on work by Thacher and Rein, I describe and characterize six types of response to value conflict, giving examples of the role and implications of each. It is not claimed that all policy change can be understood in this way—simply that some types of change reflect the value-based nature of public policy itself, and the fact that political and bureaucratic systems must evolve mechanisms for dealing simultaneously with thousands of competing and conflicting policy values.