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Tom Birkland’s “After Disaster” Recognized for its Enduring Contributions

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When Tom Birkland wrote After Disaster: Agenda Setting, Public Policy, and Focusing Events in 1997, he couldn’t have imagined its remarkable and ongoing relevance — including during a global pandemic. But relevant it remains, as recognized by the American Political Science Association’s public policy section and the Policy Studies Organization.

This week, the APSA presented the NC State professor of public administration with the Aaron Wildavsky Enduring Contribution Award “for the best book or article published in the general area of public policy during the past 20-30 years, generating a major impact on the field.” 

headshot of Tom Birkland
Tom Birkland

Due to the pandemic, the APSA made the presentation virtually during its online annual meeting. The citation read, in part:

The award committee identified Thomas Birkland’s book, After Disaster: Agenda Setting, Public Policy, and Focusing Events (Georgetown University Press, 1997) as a widely cited landmark in public policy theory, and a prescient book that carries particular relevance in these extraordinary times. In addition, the book provides an important bridge between the literatures on disaster and public policy theory. While “timeliness” might seem to be an odd criterion for an award recognizing an enduring contribution, these are extraordinary times. If there ever was a “focusing event,” the COVID-19 pandemic is it. Birkland has provided both the language and an analytical framework to understand and confront the policy implications of this crisis and its aftermath.  

Disasters seem always to be with us. It is therefore not surprising that After Disaster has had remarkable staying power in the public policy conversation: As of August 2020, Google Scholar identified over 1,600 citations of the book. The breadth of use is equally impressive, with citations in articles ranging from broad policy theory to applications in environmental, health, social justice and energy policy. Birkland’s book also has been used across the globe, with citations in recent (2020) published works that address policy issues in the US, EU, Africa and elsewhere. In short, After Disaster has clearly endured, and continues to make a diverse contribution to the field of public policy. 

The Award Committee congratulates Professor Birkland for his enduring contribution to the field of public policy. 

In addition to his teaching and scholarship, Birkland serves as associate dean for NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Office of Research and Engagement.