First published as a special issue of Policy & Politics, this critical and practical volume challenges policy theory scholars to change the way they produce and communicate research.
Leading academics propose eight ways to synthesise and translate state of the art knowledge to equip scholars to communicate their insights with each other and a wider audience. Chapters consider topics such as narratives as tools for influencing policy change, essential habits of successful policy entrepreneurs, and applying cultural theory to navigate the policy process.
Providing theoretical clarity and accumulated knowledge, this text highlights the vital importance of translating policy research in practical and understandable ways.
The articles on which Chapters 2, 3 and 5 are based are available Open Access under CC-BY-NC licence.
We challenge policy theory scholars to change the way we produce and communicate research: translate our research to a wider audience to gauge the quality of our findings. Explain state of the art knowledge to others to aid communication among ourselves. If we succeed, we can proceed with confidence. If not, we should reconsider the state of our field. Our aim is to show leadership by subjecting ourselves to this challenge. We introduce a special issue that represents the state of knowledge in eight theories and combine their insights to produce theoretical tenets across the field of policy processes.
Traditional scholarship on political engagement has emphasised political parties, interest groups and social movements as ways to influence public policy. This paper highlights the particular role of advocacy coalitions as another conduit for political engagement. Drawing from scholarship associated with the Advocacy Coalition Framework, we offer a way to think about political contexts through coalitions, policy subsystems and political systems, and the attributes of politically engaged actors. It is one of the first attempts to draw practical lessons about the theory of coalitions and, thus, to facilitate better governance and politics as well as the advancement of scholarship.
We challenge policy theory scholars to change the way we produce and communicate research: translate our findings to a wider audience to gauge the clarity and quality of our findings. Policy theories have generated widespread knowledge of the policy process, but the field is vast and uncoordinated, and too many scholars hide behind a veil of jargon and obfuscation. Some of the most visible outcomes – such as limited relevance to practitioners, and anxiety and confusion among students or early career researchers with a limited grasp of a complex field – reflects a less visible but more worrying academic problem: we often assume, rather than demonstrate, that policy process research contains insights that add cumulative and comparable knowledge to the field.
Yet, if we do not take the time to check if we understand the state of the art, and can share a common understanding with our peers, how can we state that we are accumulating knowledge collectively rather than producing work of limited relevance beyond our own narrow individual concerns? Is there genuinely a cohesive, advancing, field of policy theories or are we each producing our own theories and assuming they are useful to others? We need to ask these searching questions more often and place them front and centre of academic debate.
Some thematic reviews already try to compare insights across many theories (Heikkila and Cairney, 2017) but they only scratch the surface and provide limited assurance about a coherent policy process research agenda. We need more work from theory-specific experts to explain their theories and empirical knowledge clearly enough to help others gauge progress and compare it to progress among other approaches.
People can influence government in a number of ways. For some, elections serve as the principal conduit, whereas for others political party affiliation serves this purpose. People might join an interest group, while others might participate in a social movement. All of these paths have been studied in the varied corpuses of academic literature and have been translated into numerous hands-on textbooks and ‘how- to’ articles that offer recommendations for people wanting to impact decisions and policies (della Porta and Diani, 2006; Cigler and Loomis, 1995). The purpose of this chapter is to focus on another way that people can influence government: ‘advocacy coalitions’; and draw lessons about why they matter and what practical advice can be gleaned from the scholarship about them.
Advocacy coalitions is a term that refers to a type of alliance involving people aligned around a shared policy goal. People associated with the same advocacy coalition have similar ideologies and worldviews and, therefore, wish to change a given policy (concerning health, environmental, or many other issues) in the same direction. The coalition that these people form is an informal network of allies that usually operate against an opposing coalition consisting of other people who advocate for different policy directions. As one coalition tries to outmanoeuvre the other coalition in influencing government, the result is an ongoing game of political one-upmanship of making and unmaking public policies that can last years to decades.
We began this edited volume by challenging policy scholars to translate their findings to a wider audience and improve communication among academics. This volume tackled this challenge through its eight chapters that sought to draw practical lessons from various theoretical approaches.
No other book or article gathers as many theoretical perspectives with the goal of extracting practical insights, although past efforts have focused on single theoretical approaches (for example, Shipan and Volden, 2012) or synthesized lessons at a high scale of abstraction and generalizability for example, Weible et al, 2012; Cairney, 2015). In doing so, we hope to shift academic focus back towards a bugbear in public policy scholarship: relevance. Relevance has long served as a key founding aim of the field (Lasswell, 1951) but has also contributed to acrimonious debates about whether relevance should be an aim and whether the field even comes close to realising it (deLeon, 1997).
The challenge today is not whether policy theories should make their work relevant but how it should be done. This edited volume provides a number of different ways to do so. We organise them into three categories for new and experienced policy process scholars interested in translating practical lessons from policy theories.
Each chapter summarises the state of the art developments of different theories. They help new students understand the field for the first time and experienced scholars seeking to learn what each theory now represents (since many have changed dramatically since their first exposition).
This Special Issue makes a statement about the study of policy and politics, where it has been, how it is done, what it is, and where it is going. When addressing the question ‘who gets to speak for our discipline?’ we respond emphatically – many people, from many places, working in many ways. It comprises scholarship that has rarely been combined to explore some cardinal challenges about our scholarship: (1) How do we conceive of policy and political studies? (2) To what extent should our science be ‘normative’ or ‘objective’ or ‘positive’? (3) Who are our audiences, and how do we engage them? (4) Whose knowledge matters, and how does it accumulate? (5) How should we advance the study of policy and politics? We conclude charging the field to consider different ways of thinking about what we can discover and construct in the world and how we can conduct our science.
This article introduces the special issue ‘Transformational change through Public Policy’. After introducing the idea of transformational societal change, it asks how public policy scholarship can contribute to fostering it; the research questions we need to do so; what actors we need to study; who our audiences are; and how we need to expand our theories and methods. In our conclusion, we draw five lessons from the special issue articles. Transformational change (1) often results from many instances of policy changes over extended periods of time; (2) involves social movements that reconceptualise problems and possibilities; and (3) requires policy changes across sectors and levels of society, from local communities to national or global communities. As a field, Public Policy will (4) never offer detailed instructions to create transformational change in all circumstances, but (5) must involve scholars taking on different roles, from engaged scholarship to theory development that each provide unique contributions.