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Robert Hoppe and H.K. Colebatch

One of the reviewers of an earlier draft of this handbook questioned whether there was any need for the editors to say anything more at this point: ‘The chapters speak for themselves’, it was said. Well, perhaps they do, but we saw a handbook on the policy process as being more than a collection of self-referential chapters; we wanted it to be a user’s guide to the ways in which scholars have crafted their analyses of policy as part of the pursuit of governing – that is, the way in which they have theorised ‘policy’. In our introductory chapter, we outlined our perspective on policy as a concept which is mobilised by both participants and observers in the accomplishment of governing, and explained why we had structured this handbook the way we did. In closing the book, we want to review how this perspective has contributed to our growing understanding of the process of governing, and the concepts we use to make sense of it. In doing so, we revisit the questions that ordered this handbook: do the different meanings of ‘policy’ have a recognisable ‘architecture’ that puts them under a common ‘signature’? What does it mean to speak of a ‘policy process’? Is it possible to order the field of theorising the policy process in a few root metaphors or panoramic views of policymaking? And how do these views relate to each other – are they parallel and complementary, rivals or incommensurable? In posing and answering these questions, we cannot avoid adding our own observations, accents and reflections as editors to the ways our authors have responded to our original calls. We stressed that we did not want this handbook to be simply a menu of ‘leading theories of the policy process’; this has already been done (most recently, by Weible and Sabatier, 2017). We have focused on the process of theorising: the way in which practitioners, observers and the public have used the idea of policy, and of a policy process, to make sense of governing in contemporary society. ‘Policy’ is used in a diversity of ways, often undefined and ambiguous, and eludes any attempt to confine it in a clear definition. At best, ‘policy’ is an ‘umbrella’ for a set of family resemblances (Wittgenstein, 1953/2010) under one non-essentialist concept. Following Agamben, it is perhaps even more honest and precise to speak of a range of problematic phenomena or events that bear the ‘signature’ of policy. All social inquiry, policy inquiry included, involves the identification of enigmatic, problematic situations and events and the choice of pertinent concepts, ‘which entail signatures, without which they remain inert and unproductive’ (Agamben, 2009: 78). What we in scholarly parlance call ‘concepts’, start their scientific trajectories as ‘signatures’, which act like clues or keys to ‘unlock’ those enigmatic situations and make them ‘legible’. Only much later, as links between observation and models are established, do the signatures acquire, justifiably or not, the character of scientific ‘concepts’

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Holger Strassheim

This chapter discusses the perception of the policy process as a body of expertise by taking evidence-based policy making (EBPM) as the latest and most significant expression of this understanding. It is argued that EBPM shapes the policy process through time. At its core, EBPM is about the temporal design of the process in order to allow evidence and expertise to be integrated at every possible moment. The following questions are asked: Does EBPM have an effect on the policy process and, if this is the case, in which ways? How is the formulation of both policy problems and goals influenced when decision-making is based on facts? Do policy makers conceive of the past, present and future of their actions differently when informed by evidence? In answering these questions, the chapter brings together critical research on expertise and evidence with literature addressing the temporal features of policy making.

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Nick Turnbull

The policy process is not ‘mere’ problem-solving. The idealized vision of a linear progression from problem to solution has been rejected for more complex analyses. This chapter reviews theory in regard to all three elements of the problem orientation: problem, solution, and the process that links them. The problem itself is problematic, therefore policy analysis involves sorting through questions rather than simply seeking the best solution. Problems are already a result. Partial solutions are the norm, reached through a succession of questioning processes. The policy process is the continuing collective management of the problematic. In theories of process, a key distinction arises between analytical and post-positivist models. Problems and solutions are not autonomous from the policy process. For many scholars, the policy process, the problem and the solution have become inextricably intertwined in a creative process of self-reference: each emerges from the other in the course of interrogation.

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Michal Sedlačko

The processes and work of public policy seem to be deceptively low-tech; documents and meetings seem to be central to the ways policy is done. Documents play the role of policy inputs, the means through which policy workers carry out their tasks, and are also the chief form of policy outputs. This chapter develops theoretical and methodological sensibility for the material, practical and ‘ordering’ aspects of policy documents, foregrounding the ways ‘things’ are translated into arrangements of words and numbers, and translated back into ‘things’ (i.e. action). Policy or governing is in this context understood as ‘sociomaterial ordering’ with the aim to prefigure fields of action, and documents are one of the main vehicles of sociomaterial ordering through which policy or governing are realised. The central contribution of this chapter lies in the description and classification of the ‘powers’ of documents, serving for specifying the methodological approach of tracing documents’ empirical effects in studies of the policy process.

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Koen P.R. Bartels

Understanding policy as practice means that policy does not so much take the shape of formal statements (decisions, rules, documents) but is both a process and outcome of the ordinary, situated and embodied activities which policy actors routinely enact in the course of participating in the policy process. This chapter reviews how the historical development of policy studies is intimately tied up with analysis of practice and explains how practice theory provides a philosophical programme that confirms and extends thinking of policy as practice. The chapter also considers a variety of ways in which practice has been analysed and what has been gained from these studies and their different approaches. Finally, several methods and challenges involved with studying policy as practice are discussed.

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David P. Dolowitz

Compelling stories are essential to policies, and as policies face challenges the stories change. This chapter discusses three distinct but intertwined themes: (i) policy as meta-narrative, (ii) policy as narration, and (iii) policy as narrative-networks. First, policymakers (and other actors) construct general stories that serve to capture and convey a policy initiative in a coherent, repeatable plot. But much of policy also emerges from the interpretive actions of street-level and other actors who actively narrate a policy into existence (possibly changing the script in the process). And, lastly, policy also takes the form of active communities, which we refer to as narrative-networks, which coalesce around a policy initiative and further its realization. These communities can challenge dominant policy narratives. We illustrate these ideas with the example of drug enforcement in the U.S., using contrasting narratives from the Reagan and Obama eras to dramatize the importance of narratives in the policy process.

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Jan Kohoutek, Martin Nekola and Arnošt Veselý

Policy work is a theme rarely tackled in edited scholarly volumes. Highlighting the significance of policy work in public policymaking, this chapter reviews how policy processes can be understood as a pattern of specialized work. To this end, the chapter first delineates the main characteristics of policy work and proceeds to review the major conceptual approaches to it. The chapter then gives an overview of empirical literature on the work of policy, and concludes with some suggestions for future research on it. In essence, the chapter argues that policy work encompasses much broader and diverse sets of practice-related activities than commonly assumed and advocated in policy analysis. It is therefore timely to re-orient, both conceptually and empirically, scholarly thinking of what is the nature of work policy practitioners do in reality, to reach beyond the confines of governmental instrumentalism and science-led (purely rational) problem-solving.

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Edited by Rune Halvorsen and Bjørn Hvinden

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David Dery

This chapter seeks to bring to the fore the power of the politics of problem definition which seems to have lost its importance as the process through which different groups of people learn to live together and together pursue evolving visions of the good life. We argue that the problem definition perspective offers much more than a possible explanation for the rise of issues onto the public agenda. To clarify the place of problem definition in public policymaking, we first take note of problem definition in the context of policy analysis. Next, the notion of problematization serves us well as shorthand for the ongoing processes – “issue selection” as well as “problem definition” – through which people with different values, visions, and preferences learn to live together. Finally, both processes provide a useful and rich conceptual framework for understanding the preservation as well as the renewal of the values society lives by.

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Victor Bekkers and Arthur Edwards

This chapter presents a theoretically informed overview of empirical insights in both unsolicited and solicited forms of online citizen involvement in policy processes, including protest politics, social media monitoring, crowdsourcing and online deliberation. Social media uses positively affect the opportunity structure for citizen involvement, especially in the puzzling dimension and in the input phase of policy processes. In later phases, and in the powering dimension, institutional factors bearing on the traditional patterns of involvement of proximate policymakers tend to reduce these effects. Our analysis reveals at least three mechanisms mediating, mitigating and working against the democratic potential of social media: (1) the ‘clash’ between technological capabilities and institutional forces, (2) the ‘double-edged sword’ character of social media, the capabilities of which can also be used by the decisionmakers, and (3) the importance of the landscape of media organizations for the effectiveness of social media uses by citizens.