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23 July 2019
Part 4: Research Uptake Policy series: Towards synthesised theories of policy change – developing and establishing learning processes and frameworks Print
Thursday, 29 January 2015 14:39

In the fourth and final blog of this “Research Uptake: Knowledge to Policy” blog series, Dr Sara Grobbelaar, DRUSSA  Researcher at CREST, explores why synthesizing models of policy change may be an important step towards developing a robust theory of policy change in Sub-Saharan Africa.

So far in this four-part series we have looked at Part 1: Tensions between researchers, policy makers and politicians;  Part 2: Meta analysis of knowledge to policy and Part 3: Key heuristics, metaphors, theories and frameworks. In this final article I look at integrating policy change models and explore why this may have potential to contributing to developing a strong theory of policy change the Sub-Saharan Africa context.


Understanding the context

In order to understand how knowledge producers can better support the policymaking process it's important to understand the process of policy development and change, which in turn makes it essential to have robust theories of policy change. So far this series has focused on reviewing a variety of theories and comparing their usefulness and limitations. One general short-coming is that, as Carden (2008) cautions, most of the theoretical literature on policy-making is about High Income Countries and assumes conditions that may not exist in the contexts of Sub-Saharan Africa.


Furthermore, conclusions in various literature reviews on the policy process suggest that scholars should work towards synthesised theories of policy change. Real-Dato (2009), for instance, argues that existing theories and frameworks such as Multiple Streams, Punctuated Equilibrium Theory, and the Advocacy Coalition Framework(ACF) could be merged in a single “synthetic explanatory framework”. He adds that the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework could then be used as a theoretical “baseline” through which the synthesis framework could be developed. This would provide a structure in which the importance of institutions could be embedded, and thus incorporate various levels of analysis.


Developing a Theory for Sub-Saharan Africa

A robust theory of policy development for the Sub-Saharan context would facilitate a policy-learning approach where policymakers can continuously learn and explore the utility of possible policy and implementation mechanisms and, in so-doing, incrementally strengthening institutions and improve the policy process.


In developing a synthesised theory for the Sub-Saharan African context I believe we need to consider a number of different (but sometimes overlapping) questions:

  • What are the shortcomings of existing theories and models of policy change when applied in low- and middle-income contexts?
  • To what extent have authors applied or synthesised theories of the policy process to explain policy change in low- and middle-income countries?
  • What is the role of research and knowledge in these theories of policy change?
  • How do governments identify a need for policy development or change, how and why do they decide on a certain outcome and how do they decide how to implement the policy?
  • How can we develop more effective systems of linkages between policy development and implementation actors, while at the same time supporting a learning approach?


By looking at each of the theories covered in this series, and comparing them in the context of the questions above, I believe it would be possible to develop an over-arching framework that could contribute to a better understanding of the policymaking process in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is the fourth 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 3: Towards synthesised theories of policy change

The essay on which this series is based can be found here

Sara Grobbelaar is a Senior Researcher CREST, Stellenbosch University