The policy work practitioner – that’s what’s invisible. I don’t know what makes a profession a profession but there are people out there (me included) who do policy work. We’re a bit eclectic, there isn’t a specific body of training or degree we’ve all had. But we are ‘professional’ level workers. Do our job well and we help society, do our job badly then there can be missed opportunities or unintended consequences.
I was in a library today linked to a university health and social care faculty. There were rows and rows of books on ‘nursing practice’ and a whole other set on ‘teaching practice’. Nurses and teachers are advised on how to be reflective practitioners, to be ‘evidence-based’, to close the theory-practice gap and there are books on ‘practice development’ (a deliberate individual and collective orientation to improving how work is done – as compared to professional development which is more about an individual gaining knowledge and skills). There are even books written – in fact flourishing sets of literature – about how to use (emancipatory) action research in education and health care settings. This stretches to social work too. And that’s just the books – there is an even greater wealth of journal articles, even entire journal titles, dedicated to practice development in these areas.
Now I have searched and searched and searched online and I have only found ONE book (written in 2005) that specifically talks about the work of policy – and that isn’t available in any of the three university library catalogues that I have access to. [If you look for books ON policy or theories of the policy process you have more luck, but these are grand theories, not about the day to day doing of policy work]. The editor of the book Colebatch wrote a journal article around about the same time which gives some insight into what is covered in the book. It highlights the type of work that policy work practitioners do and how different conceptualisations of what policy and the policy process is can result in different orientations to what the role is. Colebatch has written a number of other articles that are helpful too, but on the whole this is a very, very small research base on what can be quite an influential role. Whilst there is one article (Adams et al 2015) I have found focussing on professional development needs of policy work practitioners, I haven’t identified anything taking the broader practice development focus afforded to nurses and teachers.
So if I ‘creatively swipe’ the practice development ideas that are so well developed and accepted in nursing, what can happen? Can we adapt and change policy work practice in a local authority? That’s one way of looking at my research – that’s one ‘gap’ in the literature I’d be looking to put a small offer into.
Adams, D., Colebatch, H.K. and Walker, C.K. (2015), Learning about Learning: Discovering the Work of Policy. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 74(2), pp.101–111.
Colebatch, H.K. ed. (2005), The work of policy: an international survey, Lexington Books.
Colebatch, H.K. (2006), What work makes policy? Policy Sciences, 39, pp.309–321.