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16 July 2019
Part 3: Research Uptake Policy series: Key heuristics, metaphors, theories and frameworks Print
Defining the Field
Thursday, 16 October 2014 08:22

In Part Three of this  four-part “Research Uptake: Knowledge to Policy” blog series, Dr Sara Grobbelaar, DRUSSA  Researcher at CREST, considers two frameworks through which policy analysis can be done - Policy Networks and Communities, and Institutional Analysis and Development.

Policy networks and communities

The network metaphor has been used in the social sciences context since the 1950 and 1960s to map and analyse interrelationships, dependencies and linkages between individuals. This concept became useful as it assisted in capturing the fluidity of the interactions of people that may be relating at a range of levels and highlights the mechanism through which people and organisations interact in a political setting.

The network approach focuses on patterns of formal and informal contacts and relationships that have an influence on how policy agendas and decision making are shaped.

Carlsson (2000) developed practical suggestions for how networks may play a role in influencing policy:

Stages of the policy process

Key objectives for actors aiming to influence policy

How networks can help

Agenda setting

Convince policymakers that the issue does indeed require attention
  • Marshall evidence to enhance the credibility of the argument
  • Extend an advocacy campaign
  • Foster links among researchers, CSOs and policymakers


Inform policymakers of the options and build a consensus

  • Collate good-quality representative evidence and act as a ‘resource bank’
  • Channel international resources and expertise into the policy process
  • Build long-term collaborative relationships with policymakers
  • Bypass formal barriers to consensus


Complement government capacity

  • Enhance the sustainability and reach of the policy
  • Act as dynamic ‘platforms for action’


Collate quality evidence and channel it into the policy process

  • Provide good-quality representative evidence and feedback
  • Link policymakers to policy end-users


Capacity building for CSOs aiming to influence policy

  • Provide a dynamic environment for communication and collaborative action
  • Provide support and encouragement
  • Provide a means of political representation


"The network approach focuses on patterns of formal and informal contacts and relationships that have an influence on how policy agendas and decision making are shaped"

Institutional Analysis and Development framework

The IAD framework aims at identifying the various types of structural variables that exist within institutional arrangements to understand how these variables differ from one situation to another. The IAD framework  (Ostrom et al., 1994; Ostrom, 2011) has at its unit of analysis a specific policy arena, and categorises action areas and views individual actions into:

1.    An action situation that describes the decision situation

2.   Variables describing the actors involved in the process

The framework is problem-oriented and can explain how actors organize in order to solve the problem. The goal is to identify patterns of interaction where activities may generate specific outcomes that will be assessed through evaluation criteria. Actions are affected by the actor’s biophysical situation and also institutional attributes, rules and norms and problems on either the operational level, the policy level or constitutional level.

The first step towards applying the framework is to identify and define the conceptual unit – in this framework referred to as the “action situation“.

Ostrom (2011) explains that the action situation can be defined as the “social spaces where individuals interact, exchange goods and services, solve problems, dominate one another, or fight (among the many things that individuals do in action situations)”

After the definition of the situation and motivator of actors, two additional steps can be taken according to Ostrom (2011):

1.    A more comprehensive understanding of the factors that make up the structure of the situation;

2.   How the action situation may change over time and dependence on earlier outcomes and actions.

The following figure outlines a general range of variables to describe the structure of an action situation:

The set of actors include the groups and number of individuals that are taking part in the process. Here the analyst needs to make certain assumptions regarding what and how participants value something, the resources available, belief systems and the availability and mechanisms for processing information.

The underlying method tinvolves thinking of action situations in terms of the set of rules that determine what actions are required, allowed or not permitted. Such a set of rules are implicit or explicit efforts to create order.  This is included in the Action Situation as the set of allowable actions within the assigned roles of individuals but also within the wider environment. Ostrom highlights the importance of a common understanding of the rules.

Positions refer to the roles that exist and have been taken up by the various actors. The potential outcomes are viewed as possible outcomes from a chain of events that could aid to understanding how participants’ actions lead to events and eventually outcomes. Key factors considered here include the information available to participants, and how they perceive costs and benefits of the particular issue at hand. The framework also includes the control over choice and the nature of influence as well as autonomy with which decision can be made.


"Capano (2009) suggests that strong epistemological and theoretical choices that are made in applying theories of policy change are often not conscious"

Conclusion: Contextualising theories of policy change

It’s important to understand the paradigms within which Knowledge Utilisation models have been developed as well as the underlying assumptions for these models.  Capano (2009) suggests that strong epistemological and theoretical choices that are made in applying theories of policy change are often not conscious. This is also supported by Carden (2008) who warns that most of the literature on policy-making was developed in industrialised countries and assumes conditions that may not exist in a developing country context. For instance, these models may assume reasonably stable and predictable institutional arrangements or an array of lively and critical intermediate organisations/third community organisations (academic, journalistic and think tank communities). Blindly applying these models to a developing country context may not be appropriate.

Mapping the series

This is the third blog in a four-part “Research Uptake: Knowledge to Policy” blog series:

Part 1 discussed tensions between researchers, policy analysts and politicians.

Part 2 discussed a meta-analysis of the knowledge to policy field.

 Part 4: Towards synthesised theories of policy change

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