How diverse and inclusive are policy process theories?

Tanya Mike BlogTanya Heikkila and Mike Jones

The various approaches to studying policy processes differ by their attention to distinct questions, issues and theoretical emphasis. Some zoom into particular “stages” of policymaking such as agenda setting (Multiple Streams Analysis), while others pay attention to long term patterns in policy evolution (Punctuated Equilibrium Theory). Several explore how policy actors form coalitions, communicate, strategize, and influence policy outcomes (Advocacy Change Framework, Narrative Policy Framework, Social Construction Framework). Others emphasize how institutions matter in shaping how policies are designed and perform (Institutional Analysis and Development framework, Ecology of Games Framework, Punctuated Equilibrium Theory, Institutional Collective Action framework). Despite efforts to assess the scope and quality of policy process approaches, little has been done in the way of evaluating their diversity and inclusivity.

In their, recent article in Policy and Politics, authors Tanya Heikkila and Mike Jones tackle this significant challenge by identifying a set of implied “Rules of Inclusion” which they perceive to be at work in studies of the policy process. Their working assumption is that, if we understand science to be a social enterprise, then we must also accept that individuals make decisions that determine what counts as a “policy process approach”, as well as what qualifies as research. In the study of policy processes, gatekeepers include the likes of journal editors, editorial boards, editors of important volumes, conference organizers, authors and publishers of policy process textbooks, and others possessing important decision-making authority. Their positions allow them to make and enforce rules of inclusion. In essence, they set boundaries that influence what we study, how we study it, and who is able to study it – and thus shape the diversity and inclusivity of the field.

By taking these ‘rules of inclusion’ into account, Heikkila and Jones assess diversity across research methods, concepts, topics, contexts and authorships among various approaches to studying policy processes. In doing so, they effectively highlight gaps, for example in normative or positive approaches and practical translations of studies that include actionable advice for policy practitioners.

In structuring their analysis of the inclusivity of the field as the “who?”, “what?” and “how?”, they find it wanting in all respects. Consequently, their recommendations are based on proposals across all these categories:

As for the who?: we need to create space for conversations among scholars from a wider range of ideological perspectives than we see in both the normative and positive realms of policy-related research. This also means intentionally reaching out to diverse scholars and researchers around the world, especially from areas historically underrepresented, such as the Global South.

As for the what?: co-ordinating multiple research networks to focus on policy problems, rather than siloed approaches from single perspectives allow for multiple policy process approaches to be brought to bear on a problem or issue. This could help avoid working within siloed approaches and guide policy process approaches toward shared understandings of key concepts and methods. It might also mitigate some of the problems for the advancement of scientific knowledge that can arise from the extensive diversity of concepts in use.

As for the how?: complicated by the cacophony of terminology and concepts by which we classify research epistemologies, philosophies and methods, the authors summarise that we need better data and concepts around diversity and inclusivity.

Quite a daunting list. But as a first step, they argue, we need to devise and collect better diversity data. Quite urgently, we also need the kind of theorizing that produces more meaningful demarcations regarding how we conduct policy process research as we currently cannot accurately appreciate methodological, ontological and epistemological variation, let alone evaluate it.

Finally, we need to have conversations across different policy process approaches about our science-based heritage and what these foundations mean for diversity and inclusion in the future.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics

Heikkila, Tanya; Jones, Michael D. (2022) ‘How diverse and inclusive are policy process thoeries?’ Policy and Politics DOI:

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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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