Birkland’s research is in what we call the "public policy process." This research tries to explain why people pay attention to some problems more than others, and why policies change or don't change when it seems they should. In particular, he studies "focusing events" in the public policy process. These are sudden, shocking events like natural disasters, accidents, or acts of terrorism, that make people pay more attention to the problems revealed by the event. The fundamental questions Birkland asks are (1) do people learn from sudden, shocking events, and (2) if they do learn, under what conditions do they do so? This research is important because we assume that government tries to do a better job as it gains experience, but the number of barriers to learning and improving performance are many, and are often surprising.