What is essential reading in policy process research?

The first Conference on Policy Process Research (COPPR) takes place in January 2023, online and in person (Denver).

I’m thinking of proposing an online panel (without paper presentations) that asks: what is essential reading in policy process research?

Put another way, if you were guiding students who were relatively new to public policy studies, what would you want them to know?

My motivation is fairly instrumental. I will be writing the third edition of Understanding Public Policy, reflecting on what is in there, what is absent, and what changes to make as a result (and thinking of how to update the 500 and 1000 word summaries). What do I need to discuss more, and what should I cut to make space? For example:

  1. The book focuses on ‘mainstream’ policy theories and does not have much discussion of interpretive or critical approaches (although this series does more). If I were to shift the balance, what insights would be essential?
  2. If I were to devote a lot more space to (say) the study of gender or race, should it be mainstreamed throughout every chapter (e.g. many chapters discuss a major policy theory) or consolidated in dedicated chapters (e.g. the chapter on power)?
  3. The first edition’s conclusion focused on how to combine theoretical insights. The second focused on the dominance of the field by authors in a small number of Global North countries (especially in the US and Western Europe). What should be the concluding theme of the third?
  4. From what approaches (e.g. to teaching public policy with the aid of written material) can I learn?
  5. Are there better ways to foster learning than someone like me writing textbooks and explainers?

These are just some early (and perhaps self-indulgent) thoughts on what to discuss.

If you were thinking of proposing something with a similar theme, or would like to collaborate to design this panel proposal, please let me know.

Or, if you were to attend a panel like this, who else would you want to hear from? For example, it could be a panel composed of people who write introductory textbooks or (say) people who use them for teaching or read them during their studies.

Any ideas welcome (by August), either by commenting below or emailing me directly (p.a.cairney@stir.ac.uk).

12 Comments

Filed under Academic innovation or navel gazing

12 responses to “What is essential reading in policy process research?

  1. Very interested in the panel idea and will also be getting the next edition of your excellent book. I’d be keen on: a) more on ecological challenges and how these affect policymaking and governance across the board; b) lessons from pandemic response; c) policymaking in conditions of turbulence and deep crisis; d) interpretive and narrative perspectives on policy (see eg Jason Blakely, Mark Bevir); e) regulation of free-for-all spaces (atmosphere, oceans, Internet).

    • Thanks Ian. These are great points. Yes, a focus on how policy theory insights can inform the study of grand challenges (and responses) is on my mind too.

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  3. Dear Paul, I am very interested in your panel idea as well. I wrote my own policy process textbook two years ago (in Dutch; entitled ‘Bouwen aan beleid: het proces van de overheid’). I am very much interested in the conceptualization of the policy process: how do we keep on doing it? Why would we still go for a classic phases -approach? Or what better alternatives are out there? All the best, Ellen Wayenberg

    • Thank you, Ellen. Would you like to be on the panel? If so, I can follow up via email.

    • Felix Abrahams Obi

      The policy processes practiced in LMICs and Global South need to be critically studied and placed side by side with the content from Global North against the backdrop of weak governance structures and complex political economy.
      Nigeria practices America styled presidential democracy but the President can use the instruments of state to stifle free speech, weaken the legislative arm and make the judiciary toothless.

      These realities impact on the policy process itself which is made within the backdrop of Nigerian/African cultural realities that exalt and place high premium on respect for elders. So if “elders” or political parties want something or hold a position, you’d better align.

  4. Laura De Vito

    Hi Paul, very interesting indeed, also in the panel idea if appropriate. When I teach (Environmental) Public Policy I talk about the role of citizens and cover different models of participation – We discuss different examples of citizen assemblies and this often links well to issues of environmental justice and how policy can (or fail to)redress this. Not sure this will be relevant but this is normally well received by students on environmental policy/management courses.

  5. Hi Paul,

    This is a great idea. I hope you also intend to include panels on developing countries. As you may remember, we have a book on how policies are shaped in India. We referred to your complexity theory of policy making quite extensively and also came up with a outline of a theory of our own. We would be interested to know more about the conference.

  6. priscilla

    Dear Paul

    Very interested in your new addition as I have gained so much from your previous work for my PhD on the use of evidence when crafting child poverty policy within a politically contested and conflicted region (NI). I started with the ‘mainstream’ policy theories and progressively as confidence grew switched to using interpretive and critical approaches such as Narrative Policy Framework as these suited the research subject rather than prescribing it which was very liberating as well as taking into account context, space & actors.

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