Interpretive Policy Analysis Conference

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I attended the 10th International Conference on Interpretive Policy Analysis in Lille. What initially attracted me to this conference was that it was examining the practices of policy making from various sociological perspectives such as discourse analysis, ethnographic methods and action research.

Some of the early keynote presentations set the tone of the later discussions by framing policy practices through a Bourdieuian perspective e.g. field and habitus. For example, Vincent Dubois used his keynote to present some of his ethnographic fieldwork in the area of welfare reform to highlight the value of understanding discourses, narratives and social structures when interpreting policy. He shared some excellent insights into how dominant political narratives can drive changes within the policy system.

I presented a paper during the session on action research on “The dilemmas and potential of co-designing interventions for Sustainable Behaviour Change”. This paper was based on reflections of the Open Practices project to date and previous co-design projects in the UK.

I decided to present during this session because action research and co-design have many common methods. The basis of my argument in the paper was that co-design can combine alternative ideas and perspectives (e.g. interdisciplinary knowledge, desirable visions of future behaviours), new policy practices (e.g. co-creation, policy labs, practical experiments, ethnographic study) and new social relations (e.g. new networks and actors).

During my presentation I aimed to situate co-design in relation to action research in the policy context. I was hoping that the audience of action research would be able to draw parallels to their own work and understand the value design can bring. The feedback and discussion at the end of the session was very interesting and there were lots of supportive points made about the role of design. One of the attendees said “design is essential” in the policy context.

Some of the key reflections I took away from the various session i attended during the conference are:

  • The role of meta and macro narratives on policy making and the circular effects of political discourse e.g. how governments may intentionally develop a narrative to support a policy (e.g. austerity enabled by skivers vs strivers narrative, tax evasion vs benefit cheats)
  • The need to clarify the social roots of policy making i.e. from different generations, mindsets, class etc.
  • The role of normative biases, symbolic power and social forces in policy making
  • That political legitimacy depends of the social structure of its definition and how policy makers can become trapped into a community of practice
  • The relational aspect of policy-making (e.g. politicians, policy makers, intermediary organisations, contractors, publics)
  • Policy can be viewed as a system of relations. The structure of those relations determines legitimacy, representation etc.
  • The importance of critically examining the ordering of policy categories to determine their social structuring and how policy makers and intermediary organisations define themselves in relation to policy categories