The Overton Window

By John Hughes | September 17th, 2018

Group of musicians all playing the violin
The Overton Window

The Overton window is named Jospeh P. Overton, who was interested in the range of acceptable ideas informing political debate, and how this relates to setting public policy. He considered a range from more freedom to less freedom to sidestep the left / right labels.

More Freedom <–––––> Less Freedom

Unthinkable .... Radical .... Acceptable .... ‘Sensible’ .... Acceptable .... Radical .... Unthinkable

The Overton window includes the range of possibilities that people will accept on any given issue. This is still used in political think-tanks when considering public policy on Health, Education and other areas. Politicians are generally very good at knowing what people will accept and what they will not. Those that are not can suffer ‘Overton’s Revenge’ if they stray into or beyond the unthinkable edges: they alienate and lose their following.

When making a case for a position anywhere within the Overton Window, we can make appeals based on:

  • facts and logic – what does cool and calm common sense suggest?
  • morality – what is right and what is wrong?
  • emotion – what feels safe and what feels dangerous?

As a Radical Strategy, The Overton Window offers a mechanism for extending the debate. This might be necessary if the conversation is getting repetitive around the ‘sensible’ centre of gravity. Groupthink is usually easy to recognise but not always easy to shift. Sometimes conversations get stuck because those with ‘difficult views’ are not invited into the decision making, and at that point the Overton Window will close. Cynics and those with the courage to speak out can help us keep the windows open and create a path to better decision making.

© Radical Strategy Ltd. 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Related posts

Group of musicians all playing the violin
Portsmouth Sinfonia

Radical Strategy The Portsmouth Sinfonia was founded by Gavin Bryars, a professional musician and composer. He decided

Read full article...
Cute anthropomorphic robot with large eyes looking at the viewer
Productivity: The Moravec Paradox

Hans Moravec, a computer scientist, pointed out something that is counter-intuitive. He noted that it is...

Read full article...
A view through a number of lined up white door frames.
Frames of Reference: Travelling without Moving

Jamiroquai’s third studio album, Travelling Without Moving, included a...

Read full article...