Introduction to Spotlighting interpretive approaches to public policy scholarship

Stephanie PatersonProfessor Stephanie Paterson

Professor Stephanie Paterson, one of the curators of our blog series spotlighting interpretive approaches to the study of policy and politics, explains our motivations behind the series and expands on the study of intersectionality from within critical policy studies…

Critical policy studies envelopes diverse approaches to the study of public policy, spanning institutionalist, materialist, and discursive approaches. A common feature, however, is their attention to power and commitment to social change.

Within this broad family of scholarship is intersectionality, a research paradigm originating within Black feminism that aims to expose and interrogate the intersectional or interlocking systems of oppression that shape lived experiences. Intersectionality has a long history that is rooted in Black feminist experience and thought (Bilge 2014; Hancock 2016). The paradigm began to take shape in the Combahee River Collective Statement (1977), which identified an “integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives.” From this, legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) articulated the concept of intersectionality with reference to the metaphor of a traffic intersection (see Hancock 2016 for an overview).

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How do municipalities contest the policies of higher authorities?

Screenshot 2022-09-13 092753

Imrat Verhoeven, Michael Strange, and Gabriel Siles-Brügge.

Cities offer sanctuary to refugees against the wishes of national governments. Local governments oppose fracking initiatives from state governments. How do local governments contest perceived policy threats from supranational, national, or regional governments? In a recently published paper, we develop a new typology to make sense of the global phenomenon of ‘municipal contestation’.

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Brexit & UK Net Zero Energy: It’s Far from Over

Caroline Kuzemko, Mathieu Blondeel, and Antony Froggatt.


Now, a year and a half post the end of the transition period and as the Northern Ireland Protocol bill passes its first round of votes in the House of Commons, is a good moment to assess the implications of Brexit for UK energy and climate policy.

Brexit was framed as a route back towards a truly ‘Great’ Britain. Getting Brexit done was meant to ‘take back control of our money, laws and borders’ and enable new, global trading relationships, whilst also reducing bureaucratic burdens and keeping public funds in the UK, to be spent on the NHS. This infers that the UK would be able to do things ‘better’ than the EU.

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Public participation in energy market regulation in Great Britain

Blakelock and TurnpennyElizabeth Blakelock and John Turnpenny

Politicians in Great Britain are severely constrained when it comes to influencing the energy system. This is largely because decision making has been delegated – away from elected representatives to technical experts, and, specifically in the case of energy markets, to the regulator, Ofgem (the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets). Although legislation can attempt to shape Ofgem’s work, the impact of attempts to do so have been mixed at best. Continue reading

What informs policy? Sources of information bureaucrats use in policymaking

Koga et alNatália Massaco Koga, Miguel Loureiro
Pedro Lucas de Moura Palotti, Rafael da Silva Lins
Bruno Gontyjo do Couto and Shanna Nogueira Lima.

The Evidence-based policy (EBP) movement argues for policy actors to use scientific evidence on ‘what works’ to improve public policies, highlighting the importance of science in policymaking. Empirical research shows that even bureaucrats in Anglo-Saxon countries, strongly influenced by this movement do not use academic sources widely, often preferring other sources of information, such as news media, public opinion and peers. But what informs policy in countries with low EBP influence?

In our recent article published in Policy & Politics, we give an overview of the sources of information Brazilian bureaucrats use in their policy work. Our study not only shows what informs bureaucrats in general, but also what informs different bureaucrats in their different policy contexts. Using data from a large-n survey with 2,180 Brazilian federal bureaucrats, we uncovered associations between sources of information and factors shaping their preferences, such as policy work and policy capacities. Based on the literature on policy analysis and EBP we present an analytical model for examining the use of information sources by bureaucrats in policymaking. Our framework advocates that sources of information depend on individual characteristics, the type of work, the policy sector and analytical policy capacities (see the diagram below).

Factors shaping bureaucrats’ use of information sources


We found that in a civil law system such as the Brazilian administration, ‘homemade’ sources dominate: mainly government sources were used, especially among bureaucrats performing analytical and oversight tasks, and those in higher positions. In fact, there was a strong association between sources of information produced by government and most contextual variables. In addition, we found a significant use of in-house sources in analytical and oversight types of policy work by mid-level bureaucrats in the control policy realm, as well as – to a lesser extent – in economic and social policy sectors. We also observed that the use of academic sources was associated with higher analytical capacity – both of the individual and of the organisation – although it was not predominant in any particular policy sector. The table below details these findings.

Type of policy work and sources of information


Two main issues emerge from these results. The first is the potential role that government sources of information play as an intermediary and validator of other sources of information; the second concerns the relationships found between the analytical and oversight work. Are there gatekeepers or knowledge brokers controlling which sources of information reach the federal administration? If so, who are they and how does this dynamic operate? Our results seem to suggest that oversight and mid-level bureaucrats are key actors exercising this function.

An aspect rarely discussed in the literature is what effect a country’s legal system exerts on the legitimacy of different types of information. For example, the civil law legal system in Brazil (in contrast to common law systems) may necessitate the transformation of different types of information into governmental sources such as laws and regulations, formal legal opinions or control agencies’ recommendations, in order to be legitimated by the state.

Based on our findings, we propose two important policy prescriptions. Firstly, as contextual factors are relevant to determine which sources of information public officials use, then enhancing analytical capacity seems particularly important. This is also important if we are to expand and improve the use of scientific knowledge in policymaking. One way of doing that is to strengthen the relationship between individual and organisational capacities. Secondly, we can’t ignore the inherent political nature of policymaking and the necessity of combining scientific sources with other sources of information in public administration. Efforts to build good evidence-based governance systems need to consider that other types of knowledge beyond scientific knowledge can also count as evidence and can be equally valuable sources of scientific knowledge as government sources.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics

Natália Massaco Koga, Miguel Loureiro, Pedro Lucas de Moura Palotti, Rafael da Silva Lins, Bruno Gontyjo do Couto, and Shanna Nogueira Lima. (2022) Analysing the information sources Brazilian bureaucrats use as evidence in everyday policymaking Policy and Politics.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

The neglected politics behind evidence-based policy: shedding light on instrument constituency dynamics

Expert knowledge and policymaking: a multi-disciplinary research agenda

Lessons from policy theories for the pursuit of equity in health, education and gender policy

Special Issue: Transformational change through Public Policy

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Policy & Politics, the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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Updating your course reading lists? Check out our essential reading recommendations for teaching Public Participation, Gender and the Policy Process, and Policy Innovation from Policy & Politics

Elizabeth SarahElizabeth Koebele with Sarah Brown

Are you planning a new policy or politics-focused course? Or maybe you’re updating your existing syllabi with some of the newest research on policy and politics? We’re here to help! In this blog, we provide recommendations for new Policy & Politics articles (as well as a few older favorites) that make excellent contributions to syllabi for a diversity of courses. We hope this saves you time and effort in mining our recent articles while also ensuring your course materials reflect the latest research from the frontiers of the discipline. Continue reading

Spotlighting interpretive approaches to public policy scholarship – Dr Tiffany Manuel on intersectionality

New Policy & Politics blog feature by Dr Tiffany Manuel.

In this video, Dr Tiffany Manuel (or Dr T as she prefers to be called) provides an excellent challenge to public policy researchers to think about the ways in which intersectionality needs to be woven into their research, that is not just driven by members of minority groups. In her talk, Dr T refers to her paper: How Does One Live the Good Life?: Assessing the State of Intersectionality in Public Policy:….

This video is part of a new feature on the Policy and Politics blog which aims to spotlight interpretive approaches to the study of policy and politics. This spotlight series hopes to encourage a greater range of scholarship. Continue reading

Policy & Politics Highlights collection on policy and regulation August 2022 – October 2022 –free to access

Image credit: Evelyn Sturdy at Unsplash

Quarterly highlights collection 1 August – 31 October 2022

Welcome to this quarter’s highlights collection featuring three articles that provide a range of insights from different perspectives on policy and regulation. Continue reading

PODCAST: Special issue blog series on Transformational Change through Public Policy.

Special issue blog series on Transformational Change through Public Policy.

Oscar Berglund and Elizabeth A. Koebele

Listen to Co-Editors Oscar Berglund and Elizabeth A. Koebele talk with Jess Miles about the latest special issue – ‘Transformational change through public policy’.

In this episode of the Transforming Society Podcast, they discuss what transformational change is, how public policy academia needs to adapt to bring it about and their hope to inspire a new generation of scholars by setting out the structure for a research program.

Listen to the podcast here:

Table of contents for special issue on Transformational Change through Public Policy

Introduction to Transformational Change through Public Policy (Oscar Berglund, Claire Dunlop, Elizabeth Koebele and Chris Weible)

The impact of direct democracy on policy change: insights from European citizens’ initiatives (Jale Tosun, Daniel Béland & Yannis Papadopoulos)

The democratic transformation of Public Policy through community activism in Brazil (Rosana de Freitas Boullosa & Janaína Lopes Pereira Peres)

Lessons from policy theories for the pursuit of equity in health, education, and gender policy (Paul Cairney, Emily St Denny, Sean Kippin, Heather Mitchell)

A Future Research Agenda for Transformational Urban Policy Studies (Meghan Joy & Ronald K. Vogel)

Transforming Public Policy with Engaged Scholarship: Better Together (Leah Levac, Alana Cattapan, Tobin LeBlanc Haley, Laura Pin, Ethel Tungohan, & Sarah Marie Wiebe)

When do disasters spark transformative policy change and why? (Daniel Nohrstedt)

New pathways to paradigm change in Public Policy: Combining insights from policy design, mix and feedback (Sebastian Sewerin, Michael Howlett & Benjamin Cashore)

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Policy & Politics, the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

New blog series on Transformational Change through Public Policy – Introductory blog on our forthcoming special issue: Transformational Change through Public Policy.

Special issue blog series on Transformational Change through Public Policy.

P&P EdsGuest edited by co-editors Oscar Berglund, Claire Dunlop, Elizabeth Koebele and Chris Weible

The 2020s are turbulent times, from COVID-19 to cost-of-living crises, violent and institutionalised racism, attacks on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and beyond – all against the backdrop of rapid climate change. Meanwhile, symbolic action and agenda denial are widespread responses whilst polarisation and authoritarianism increase. The impetus for this Policy & Politics 2022 special issue on “Transformational Change through Public Policy” (see below for table of contents) comes from a sense of unease about the lack of action on these challenges and the role public policy studies may play in addressing them.

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