A few weeks ago, the co-occurrence of a ‘twitter discussion’ (initiated by @LukeCraven) and some reading I was doing on policy analysis tools prompted me to start thinking about what Hill (2013) refers to as process advocacy. Process advocacy is concerned with improving the nature of policy making. It is different to policy advocacy in that it concerns advocating generally for ‘better’ policy process rather than the substance or content of a particular policy.
It’s funny how it is so easy to take a phrase – in this case ‘policy analysis’ – for granted and assume you get what it means, but then the minute you start reading about it you doubt yourself. I’m getting tied in knots about how to parse the phrase (a bit like second hand japanese car salesman. Is it about second hand japanese cars? or a japanese salesman?).
Okay so this is my meandering about policy analysis and phrases that build on it. Continue reading
I’ve finally got round to reading a book I have had for a while – the second edition of Beryl Ralin’s book ‘Beyond Machiavelli’. The first 2000 edition is subtitled ‘Policy analysis comes of age’ and the second 2013 edition is subtitled ‘Policy analysis reaches midlife’. It is entirely US based and traces the evolution of the policy analyst profession from its inception in 1960s american policy project to the present day. There’s lots in there that I am mulling over, but I couldn’t move on without noting linkages with ‘systems analysts’ – another US profession that kicked off in the 1960s. As Ralin says:
The imperatives of war had stimulated new analytic techniques – among them systems analysis and operational research – whose users sought to apply principles of rationality to strategic decision making (p.14) Continue reading
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.
I’ve reached that stage in my PhD programme where I have to start ‘formalising’ my research proposal. I need to iterate a few drafts over the next few weeks with a view to submitting it for formal assessment towards the end of July. In the same time period, I do my first proper draft of an ethics application. That isn’t the ‘end point’, it can be refined or even changed after that – but it is a goal to be reached and a goal to make the most of.
But there lies a problem. As I read – both the ‘content’ literature and the methodological literature – I can easily talk to myself about what I want to do and why, but when I get faced with the structure (template) for a research proposal, it just won’t come out, I can’t construct all those ideas into a coherent sounding explanation. So I wondered whether writing it in my own words first of all would help – hence this blog. Some researchers refer to this sort of thing as first person memos – so given it has a name, it must be an appropriate way of moving forward! I have no idea as I start whether it is going to be one long blog or the first of a series focussing on different parts of a research proposal but here we go anyway….
This is one of those blogs I have to get out of my head….that means it isn’t going to be full of references that back up my thoughts, I just need to round them up so that I can be more structured in taking them forward.
It’s prompted by the idea of the ‘ideal’ type – a normative standard against which we compare things. Often ‘ideal’ types get understood as prescriptions…and also sometimes we start thinking that things actually do happen according to those ‘ideal’ types (which is dangerous!).
So as I’ve been looking into policy making, I’ve started to realise that we have a number of ‘ideals’ as to what it ought to be like. I’m going to brain-dump them here…
I feel the need to start this post with an acknowledgement of the gap since my last post. Whilst I don’t pretend to think there are people out there missing my blogs – I’m more worried about the number of streams of thoughts I have had which have come and gone and are unrecorded. It’s all because I’ve been busy keeping up with the reading and discussion forum for my PhD modules – and the assignments. I’ve also worked with two others to plan, design and facilitate the first ever Open University Systems Thinking in Practice alumni and friends get together – which was great. The formal taught work for my PhD finished today, I’ve got one more assignment to do – and then hopefully can use the summer to consolidate some of the material I have covered through blogs. It’s been a great journey, just haven’t had time to stop and take stock of it on the way.
Anyway, back to the real reason that I started blogging today. It was prompted by a seminar I participated in last Monday. Newcastle University, Sheffield University and NEF have got some funding to run a series of seminars on the ‘Politics of wellbeing‘. It is essentially people from the discipline of political science coming together to consider what the discipline offers to the ‘shift’ towards wellbeing in policy and politics – both in a critical and a constructive way. This seminar was the second in the series and I was asked to speak.
Preparing the talk led me to articulate and make explicit something that had been going on in the back of my mind for a long time. Continue reading
My last post – on the topic of evidence-based public health policy – made me start thinking about ‘policy’ and people’s conceptions of it. Getting theoretical about policy-making is important stuff – if you understand a situation, understand what is going on, it is more likely that you can take purposeful action to influence it in a way you perceive as productive. It is particularly important when advocating for ‘healthy public policy’ and for ‘participative policy making’. The way you understand policy will affect what you understand to be the purpose of, and reason for, tools like health impact assessment; principles such as citizen engagement; and, policy positions such as the espoused view to have evidence-based policy.
Just recently, the concept of ‘evidence-based public health’ or ‘evidence-based policy’ (and therefore, evidence-based public health policy) has started to worry me. It’s so part of our discourse that you don’t often stop to think what does it really mean? and is it ‘really’ happening? and is it really possible? But then when you do, you kind of realise that even the notion of ‘evidence’ is contested – what does it really mean to the people who advocate for ‘evidence-based xxxx’?
After christmas, the module on my PhD is called ‘Knowledge, evidence and theory’ so I suspect/hope I’ll have the opportunity to think of this more then, but in the meantime I’m pondering what does it mean to say that a public health initiative (policy, programme, project, service) is or isn’t underpinned by a sound evidence base? I’ve jumped around a few books and internet searches in order to gain some initial impressions which I hope will form a basis for further inquiry into this area.