I’ve written and delivered a two-hour session on Interpretive Policy Analysis (IPA) to both undergrad and postgrad students at University of Nottingham this semester. The first hour introduces the topic, looking at three aspects:
- What difference does IPA make?
- Why do we do IPA?
- What are the problems of using IPA?
The lecture is based around the work of Yanow (1996; 2000) and Bevir and Rhodes (2006). The synopsis should be treated as lecture notes; they are not suitable for citation in essays.
While being highly recommended, if the books by Yanow and Bevir and Rhodes prove difficult to obtain, there are plenty of other excellent journal articles and conference papers, available online, in the bibliography below. Yanow (1992) is particularly good on the importance of metaphors in policy analysis.
Below the fold you can find the lecture synopsis, workshop materials and the bibliography.
The nineteenth and early twentieth century saw the application of scientific method to social science. When conducting research, this means collecting and analysing data in a manner which is repeatable in different circumstances, allowing the researcher to remain neutral and provide an objective view of a policy issue. This method enables research results to be comparable across cases and general principles or laws to be derived and applied to other cases.
The implication is that we can know the human world in the same way as we know the physical world, that we can understand the relationship between atomic particles in the same way as the relationship between actors in the policy process. In the physical world, if an apple falls from a tree, it does so in the same way in Nottingham or Nairobi. Can we predict how policy actors will behave in Nottingham and Nairobi, as determined by generalised principles or models in the policy literature?
Interpretative analysis recognises the differences between the physical and human (social) world as subjects of knowledge.
1) What difference does IPA make?
(adapted from Yanow, 2000, p.6)
Knowledge provides our own lens through which we see the world. We all have a different lens through which we make sense of the world around us; no one person’s set of circumstances is the same as another’s. The camera set-up in the ‘Making of Matrix’ video is a useful metaphor for this (the relevant passage is from 7m42s onwards):
Rather than the researcher looking through one ‘objective’ lens, they put themselves in the shoes of different communities within society to discover how they interpret a policy issue. The recognition of multiple voices may imply a more collaborative research approach and be less prescriptive about which views are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
Climatologists see climate change as a scientific issue, we know the world is very likely to warm up dangerously due to increased greenhous gas emissions from human activity. Republican candidates in the current US presidential election attach very different meanings to the issue. For them, scientists are fabricating results in order to gain research funding, and extreme green/socialist groups are using climate change as a Trojan horse for the introduction of higher taxes and greater state interviention into US public policy. We can come to conclusions about which views are the most legtimate, but we should not overlook that such different meanings and interpretations exist.
2) Why should we do IPA?a) Epistemology Actors interpret their situation through their own personal lens. Categorising people (e.g. by class, ethnic background, physical location) and then attempting to ‘read off’ their beliefs and behaviour from those categories is not a very fruitful way to analyse policy. It neglects the importance of local knowledge which can only be gained through much more in-depth research into people’s beliefs in order to find what meaning they place in a particular issue. This meaning may not be easily explained through ‘rational’ analysis. Yanow’s study of new Israeli community centres found that those living near the centres though they had been a great success, despite the policy having failed when measured against the initial aims of the policy. Yanow found that the community centres were an expression of cultural identity rather than…. b) Practise Humans communicate meaning through story-telling, not through the abstract models and principles often found in the policy literature. The psychology literature demonstrates that humans have an innate dispensation to communicate through stories as we know it’s the most effective means of transferring information. Essentially, story structure allows us to mentally simulate situations in a way that abstract explanations do not. This has implications for both the methods we use to conduct research and the way results are presented. 3) What are the problems of using IPA? a) Description, not explanation? By moving away from producing generalised findings is public policy left only with (rich) descriptions of individual policy issues which leave the scholar saying “so what?!” There are no comprehensive accounts of governance in the interpretive approach. Instead, researchers can look for Wittgenstein’s ‘family resemblances’ between policy issues or actors (Bevir and Rhodes, 2006, pp.167-8). Similarities can be identified between members of a family (e.g. eyes, nose, height) without using those similarities to explain behaviour. For example, a shift in governance from hierarchy to market to networks has been observed across public policy in recent years but does not manifest itself in a homogenous way across different policy areas. The interpretive policy literature refers to traditions and dilemmas as broad categories within which we can analyse policy (Bevir and Rhodes, 2006; Bevir and Richards, 2009a). Actors draw on traditions of behaviour, manifested in their own store of knowledge, to make decisions when confronted by dilemmas. b) The practise/advice paradox. Although we know the reasons policy-makers communicate through stories in their everyday practise, using stories as the basis for policy analysis may prove unpalatable for practitioners. Roe (1994) collects stories from various stakeholders in a pollution problem and uses his own interpretation to come up with a ‘meta-narrative’ which serves to provide advice to policy makers about what to do. Roe’s funding to continue this means of analysis was unexpectedly stopped shortly after the first report was delivered. without being sure of the reasons for this, Roe reflects that the language of narratives and meta-narratives that he used in his analysis may have been offputting for policy analysts used to more traditional models and toolkits. Ironically, Roe’s advice was ultimately heeded and was successful in tackling the problem. So a proven method of approaching policy analysis may be difficult to carry out on the ground due to cultural resistance. Roe suggests getting round this by writing up results in different ways for different audiences.
In the second hour, students discuss the different meanings that stakeholder groups might put on the extension of Nottingham’s tram system – something that has this year impacted directly on any students driving to campus through the Workplace Parking Levy.
There is an excellent BBC webpage which looks at people’s tram stories from around the city and beyond, as well as experiences of people living in Perth, Australia which introduced a parking levy in 1999. These were used as a springboard for assessing the very different criteria by which stakeholders would assess the tram extension policy.
There are more resources and press stories about the Nottingham tram extension at https://pinboard.in/u:warrenpearce/t:interpretiveresources/
BIBLIOGRAPHYBevir, M. & Rhodes, R.A.W. (2006a). Interpretive approaches to British government and politics. British Politics, 29(1), 84-112.
Bevir, M. & Rhodes, R.A.W. (2003). Interpreting British Governance. London: Routledge.
Bevir, M. & Rhodes, R.A.W. (2006). Governance Stories. Abingdon: Routledge.
Bevir, M. & Rhodes, R.A.W. (2008). The differentiated polity as narrative. British Journal of Politics & International Relations, 10(4), 729-734.
Bevir, M. & Richards, D. (2009a). Decentring policy networks: a theoretical agenda. Public Administration, 87(1), 3-14.
Bevir, M. & Richards, D. (2009b). Decentring policy networks: lessons and prospects. Public Administration, 87(1), 132-141.
Davies, J.S. (2009). The limits of joined-up government: towards a political analysis. Public Administration, 87(1), 80-96.
Dodge, J., Ospina, S.M. & Foldy, E.G. (2005). Integrating rigor and relevance in public administration scholarship: the contribution of narrative inquiry. Public Administration Review, 65(3), 286-300.
Durose, C. (2007). Beyond ‘street-level’ bureaucrats: re-interpreting the role of front line public sector workers. Critical Policy Analysis, 1(2), 217-234.
Durose, C. (2009). Front-line workers and ‘local knowledge’: neighbourhood stories in contemporary local governance. Public Administration, 87(1), 35-49.
Finlayson, A., Dowding, K. Hay, C. Bevir, M. & Rhodes, R.A.W. (2004) The interpretive approach in political science: a symposium. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 6(1), 129-164.
Gains, F. (2009). Narratives and dilemmas of local bureaucratic elites: Whitehall at the coal face? Public Administration, 87(1), 50-64.
Gains, F. & Clarke, K. (2007). Constructing delivery: implementation as an interpreted process. Critical Policy Analysis, 1(2),133–8.
Gordon, R., Kornberger, M. & Clegg, S.R. (2009). Power, rationality and legitimacy in public organiszations. Public Administration, 87(1), 15-34.
Hodgett, S. & Deneulin, S. (2009). On the use of narratives for assessing development policy. Public Administration, 87(1), 65-79.
Marsh, D. (2008). Understanding British government: analysing competing models. British Journal of Politics & International Relations, 10(2), 251-268.
Morgan, G. (1993). Imaginization. London: Sage.
Needham, C. (2009). Policing with a smile: narratives of consumerism in New Labour’s criminal justice policy. Public Administration, 87(1), 97-116.
Ospina, S.M. & Dodge, J. (2005). It’s about time: catching method up to meaning—the usefulness of narrative inquiry in public administration research. Public Administration Review, 65(2), 143-157.
Ospina, S.M. & Dodge, J. (2005). Narrative inquiry and the search for connectedness: practitioners and academics developing public administration scholarship. Public Administration Review, 65(4), 409-423.
Rein, M. (1976). Social Science and Public Policy. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Roe, E.M. (1994). Narrative Policy Analysis: Theory and Practice. Durham, NC : Duke University Press
Stivers, C. (2008). Governance’s new spectacles. Public Administration Review, 68(5), 941-3.
Vickers, G. (1995). The Art of Judgement, Centenary Edition. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Yanow, D. (1992). Supermarkets and culture clash: the epistemological role of metaphors in administrative practice. The American Review of Public Administration, 22(2), 89-109. (download link)
Yanow, D. (1993). The communication of policy meanings: implementation as interpretation and text. Policy Sciences, 26(1), 41-61.
Yanow, D. (1996). How Does A Policy Mean? Interpreting Policy and Organizational Actions. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press
Yanow, D. (2000). Conducting Interpretive Policy Analysis. Thousand Oaks, California: Sag