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28 June 2017
Research Uptake Policy Series Print
Wednesday, 12 February 2014 00:00
In this new series, I selectively review a number of concepts in the field of knowledge to policy. The topic has been defined from a range of angles, with various authors from wide-ranging disciplines and research traditions having studied the role of knowledge in the policymaking process. 
 
I have identified four areas that will serve as a framework within which to review some concepts in the knowledge-to-policy literature:
 
 
Provided in each part is a short reference guide to the literature and, where relevant, I point out practical implications with suggestions on how to utilise these heuristics/theories and frameworks. I also look at whether and, if applicable, how the material under discussion has been applied in the African context.
 
Part I: Tensions between researchers, policy analysts and politicians
 
“There is often an uneasy relationship between researchers and policy practitioners. Each looks at the world through different coloured lenses. Each has different perspectives on what the problem is, and unrealistic expectations.” (Edwards, n.d.)
 
A number of texts discuss the often uneasy relationship between policymakers and researchers. In Part 1 of this series, we examine various frameworks and attempt to explain why this divide between knowledge producers and the policy community exists and how it came about. I put forward practical suggestions on how to overcome this. 
 
Part 2: Meta-analysis of the knowledge-to-policy field
 
Using meta-analysis, we review various methods and approaches used in the study of knowledge to policy, with the focus on the analysis activity. This is useful in developing awareness of the various assumptions and origins of heuristics / models and frameworks. 
 
I give a short introduction to various authors that have tried to do such a meta-analysis and draw conclusions on how this is useful in understanding various theories that have been developed.
 
Part 3: New approaches to agenda analysis and policy formation
 
As argued by Parsons (1995)  and Lindquist (2001), the array of ideas and number of frameworks to guide the development of policy in its formative phases are quite bewildering, not only to the student of policy analysis but also to the professional analyst. Recent attempts have focused on developing models and frameworks that are more comprehensive. We review the following:
 
  • The Stages Heuristic 
  • The policy networks and communities metaphors
  • Multiple streams/policy windows—a model of agenda setting
  • The Advocacy Coalition Framework
 
The Stages Heuristic
 
The Stages Heuristic divide the policy cycle into a series of stages from the agenda-setting stage to the evaluation stage. This heuristic was for a long time considered the “textbook approach” toward policy analysis. Although outdated, it was very influential and I briefly describe the applications and their influence.
 
Policy networks and communities
 
The network metaphor has been used in the social sciences context since the 1950s and 1960s to map and analyse interrelationships, dependencies and linkages between individuals. This concept became useful to political scientists as it helped capture the fluidity of the interactions of people on a range of levels (Parsons, 1995). We look at how this is used in knowledge-to-policy studies and I comment on how networks can be leveraged in practice and how they can play a role in informing policy.
 
Multiple streams/policy windows—a model of agenda setting
 
Getting issues onto the policy agenda is limited by bottle-necks—people (and the system) can consider only so many issues at a time. Issues cannot, and in practice do not, receive equally weighted consideration or priority. Issues constantly move up and down the policy agenda as actors compete for space and drive issues. We may attempt to explain this process through the multiple streams approach.
 
Kingdon (1984) developed a widely used model for agenda setting. The policy window / multiple streams model acknowledges both internal and external influences on policy networks (Lindquist, 2001). This model explains that research knowledge will not influence the policymaking process unless it can be attached to some issue that has risen high up on the agenda.
 
The Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF)
 
In line with Sabatier’s key criticisms of the Stages Heuristic published in 1986, he and Jenkins Smith (2011) proposed a framework that addressed several needs for a framework that would allow explaining policy change. 
 
Sabatier’s focus on the policy process is on the policy problem rather than on the policy programme. The ACF is a systems-based approach that aims to integrate stages of policy cycles but also attempts to integrate the knowledge utilisation and policy change literature with the key unit of analysis focused on policymakers, influencers, implementers, etc. 
 
Part 4: Towards synthesised theories of policy change
 
A wide-ranging conclusion to various literature reviews on the policy process suggests that scholars should work towards synthesised theories of policy change. In the concluding part of the series, we look at the implications and shortcomings of existing approaches and models (developed mostly in North America and the UK) in the African context. We contemplate what exactly such a synthesised theory might entail and what is required for it to be useful in Africa.
 
The Essay on which this series is based can be found here
 

 
Dr Sara Grobbelaar is a senior researcher at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
 
References
 
Edwards, M. (n.d.). Social Science Research and Public Policy : Narrowing the Divide.
 
 
 
 
Weible, C. M., Sabatier, P. a., Jenkins-Smith, H. C., Nohrstedt, D., Henry, A. D., & deLeon, P. (2011). A Quarter Century of the Advocacy Coalition Framework: An Introduction to the Special Issue. Policy Studies Journal, 39(3), 349–360. doi:10.1111/j.1541-0072.2011.00412.x
 
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