Category Archives: Research methods and processes

Using information processing theory to build a smarter government

Koski_WorkmanChris Koski and
Samuel Workman

Many people assume that the main problem faced by governments is an information deficit. However, the opposite is true. A surfeit of information exists and institutions have a hard time managing it.  At the same time, all the information that exists in defining problems may be insufficient. Institutions need to develop a capacity to seek out better quality information too.

In our recent research article in the special issue Practical Lessons from Policy Theories, we analyse studies of national and subnational information processing and policy change to identify potential bottlenecks of information and patterns of policy feedback, identifying lessons from this literature.  Continue reading Using information processing theory to build a smarter government

Narratives as tools for influencing policy change

Crow_JonesDeserai Crow and Michael Jones

Imagine. You are an ecologist. You recently discovered that a chemical that is discharged from a local manufacturing plant is threatening a bird that locals love to watch every spring. Now, imagine that you desperately want your research to be relevant and make a difference to help save these birds. All of your training gives you depth of expertise that few others possess. Your training also gives you the ability to communicate and navigate things such as probabilities, uncertainty, and p-values with ease.

But as NPR’s Robert Krulwich argues, focusing on this very specialized training when you communicate policy problems could lead you in the wrong direction. While being true to the science and best practices of your training, one must also be able to tell a compelling story.  Perhaps combine your scientific findings with the story about the little old ladies who feed the birds in their backyards on spring mornings, emphasizing the beauty and majesty of these avian creatures, their role in the community, and how the toxic chemicals are not just a threat to the birds, but are also a threat to the community’s understanding of itself and its sense of place.  The latest social science is showing that if you tell a good story, your policy communications are likely to be more effective.

This blog is based on our recent article on narrative as a tool for influencing policy change in the 2018 special issue on Practical Lessons from Policy Theories.  Continue reading Narratives as tools for influencing policy change

Introduction to the 2018 special issue on Practical Lessons from Policy Theories

WeibleCairneyChristopher M. Weible and Paul Cairney

In this Special Issue of Policy & Politics, we issue a challenge to policy theory scholars to change the way they produce and communicate research: translate your findings to a wider audience to garner feedback on gauge their clarity and quality.

Policy theories have generated widespread knowledge of the policy process, but the field is vast and uncoordinated, and too many scholars write and speak with so much jargon that ideas become obfuscated, hardly understandable to other scholars, and beyond the interests of people outside of academia. As scholars, we often assume, rather than demonstrate, that our ideas convincingly make sense to people beyond our narrow academic circles and that policy process research contains insights that add cumulative and comparable knowledge to practice and the field.  Continue reading Introduction to the 2018 special issue on Practical Lessons from Policy Theories

Same-same but different: what can superdiversity offer that multiculturalism cannot? 

MagazziniTina Magazzini

Studies in psychology often refer to their samples as being WEIRD –Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. It should come as no surprise that most social psychology results rely on research that is tested on a narrow and in many ways privileged sample of society, given that most participants in behavioral studies are undergraduates at Western universities. What is more intriguing, and less obvious, is the fact that there seems to be an opposite, specular trend in the field of public and social policy. We—political scientists, sociologists, anthropologist, legal scholars—tend, by and large, to focus on subjects only insofar as they appear to be marginalized, racialized, or vulnerable: in short, only when they are seen as a ‘problem’.

The burgeoning, rich scholarship on migration and integration that has developed over the last years is no exception. The surge in research on (and research funding available for) minority integration, social cohesion and European identity is highly dependent upon migration being understood as a ‘problem’ to be managed, on ‘identity’ being seen as under threat, and on there being a clear-cut distinction between who belongs to a minority and who doesn’t, who migrants are and who they are not.

In my recent Policy & Politics article on the multilevel governance of superdiversity in Europe, as part of the journal’s superdiversity Special Issue, my aim is to problematize the relationship between identity and difference, and to suggest ways in which superdiversity can be employed as a useful tool to deconstruct what is usually left unstudied (because it is perceived as unproblematic): the so-called ‘mainstream’ or ‘majority’. Continue reading Same-same but different: what can superdiversity offer that multiculturalism cannot? 

Research With and For Marginalised Communities

Andrew Ryder
Andrew Ryder

by Andrew Ryder, Fellow at the University of Bristol, Associate Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham, and Visiting Professor at Corvinus University Budapest.

It is my contention that universities are institutions of central importance in maintaining humanist values. Alas we live in age where such a vision seems to be at risk through an audit culture which seems to commodify and tame knowledge production.  I come from a background of service provision and activism, as a teacher and later community organiser working for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma (GTR) communities, and have sought to base this work on emancipatory practice.  Since I started lecturing full time in higher education five years ago, through employment at the Corvinus University Budapest and a series of fellowships at the University of Bristol and Third Sector Research Centre, Birmingham, I have sought to fuse my previous background of emancipatory work with knowledge production. This has primarily been achieved by promoting collaborative research with GTR communities.  There is a growing interest in the co-production of research knowledge involving academics working in partnership with marginalised citizens and communities. However, the concept of community participation in research – certainly as equal partners – has been, and remains, contested. Is the knowledge generated ‘tainted’ by activism and engagement or can it be critical and objective? Continue reading Research With and For Marginalised Communities

Crowdsourcing Data to Improve Macro-Comparative Research

Nate Breznau
Nate Breznau

by Nate Breznau, University of Bremen

Early in my studies a supervisor recommended that I replicate a key publication in my research area on the relationship of public opinion and social welfare policy. Throughout my entire dissertation studies I couldn’t do it. This is how I arrived at the following conclusion:

Different researchers (or teams) who work with the same data and employ the same statistical models will not arrive at the same results.

 My study was actually a reanalysis, not a replication because I took the same data and methods as the original researchers. Of course in true replication studies researchers do not expect to arrive at identical or even similar results. The subjective perceptions of the scientists and the unique observational contexts lead to variations in results. But with secondary data and reproduction of statistical models how are different outcomes possible?! These secondary observer effects, as I label them,

Continue reading Crowdsourcing Data to Improve Macro-Comparative Research

From Tools to Toolkits in Policy Instrument Studies

Ishani Mukherjee
Ishani Mukherjee

Ishani Mukherjee, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, discusses her article on the new design orientation in policy formulation research. Written with Michael Howlett and Jun Jie Woo, this article is available now on fast track.

At a time when policymakers are tasked with developing innovative solutions to increasingly complex policy problems, the need for intelligent policy design has never been greater. A rekindling of the policy design discourse has emerged over the last few years, in response to the globalization ‘turn’ of the late 1990s – early 2000s. This approach eclipsed design thinking Continue reading From Tools to Toolkits in Policy Instrument Studies