Reading between the li(n)es: Policy Document Analysis

Fresh from a session on “Social innovation” (with a useful PhD writing interlude) I went to “What is… Policy Document Analysis?” These “what is…” events are put on by the methods@manchester folks.Sometimes ‘sage on the stage followed by q and a’ is okay. This was one of those occasions.

  • Imma bullet point it, (#wearealldeadalongtime)
    Documents aren’t just things on paper, can be photos etc etc
    “social facts, constructions of particular representation using literary using literary conventions” (Atkinson and Coffey. 2010)
    Not neutral, but a particular version of reality
    Policy is “statement of intent” with an “ought” function

Policy documents have specialised tones/registers, and don’t exist in isolation (intertextuality)
You can look at what is “in” the document – content analysis, thematic analysis, and/or at how the document came into existence (discourse analysis) and WHY (see my list of questions).

Three ways of looking at this
English for Specific Purposes (Swales, 1981, 2000)
Systemic Functional Linguistics (Halliday and Martin, 1993)
New Rhetoric (Miller, 1994). [I think Carolyn Miller] – Looking at attitudes, values and beliefs of the text users

“What the problem is represented to be” – Carol Bacchi –[Adelaide Uni!]  Foucauldian analysis. All policies designed to solve problems, also contain explicit and/or implicit solutions. Therefore can/should identify the problem representations and trace them historically [i.e. genealogy of…]

Sequence of document analysis

  1. Selection (get them all in one place)
  2. Familiarisation (skim etc)
  3. Reading
  4. Identifying extracts
  5. Developing analysis

Two observations from me

Two more  observations

  • It’s the silences that matter – not just which “problems” are off the table, but which “solutions” are off the table for the problems brought forward.
  • Policy documents are picked up and put down as needed (deliberate ambiguity within and between them, creating needed rhetorical wiggle-room in the unending legitimacy battles and turf battles). Policies that are inconvenient are simply ignored

Questions I like to ask:
Who wrote this document?
Who was paying them?
In response to what events/documents/problems?
Why did they write (beyond “following orders/pay the mortgage”)? What was the intended outcome?
Who is the intended audience for this document?
What has been elided? Conflated, either accidentally or on purpose?
What, in the eyes of critics, were the ‘hidden motives’? Is this a trojan horse for something else?
Who has ‘pushed back’ on this document – on what grounds (with what effect)
Did this document achieve its intended notoriety/fame/infamy/impact?

See also: Donald Schon “Beyond the Stable State

Future “what is” events

What is..? interviewing ‘elite’ groups
18 February 2015
1pm – 2pm

What is..? observation in the workplace
25 February 2015
1pm – 2pm

What is..? textual analysis
4 March 2015
1pm – 2pm

3 thoughts on “Reading between the li(n)es: Policy Document Analysis

Add yours

  1. Maybe i should’ve gone….this is my bread and butter. One major element id add is that it’s vital to get as close to the practitioner’s perspective as possible. More than jargon, more than coverage unto itself its being able to wrap your head around how the authors think and all that entails…best case being to get the actual insider xp from the folks behind the doc. Its all about triangulation, constant re-reading and cross referencing sources over time. Some of the most important insights in my PhD stem directly from working for Ofgem, constantly learning new ways to utilise that priveleged access.

    1. An example from a few months back…i spent weeks writing up a case study of a particular industry code change for my boss, then analysed it again academically, then informally interviewed him after he’d spoken with the policy manager at ofgem who’d worked on it…then re-read the docs again….each time got a different and unique perspective, from an actor level inside out practical analysis to the implications for the GB grid socio-institutional and techno-economic Stability and Changr mechanisms…

  2. And also from somone on facebook – (Re who is paying as a key question) – Was certainly true with rating agencies in the banking crisis, and I am doing some research now on consultants that perform actuarial services – there is a ongoing discussion as to whether they are being bought through applying ridiculous methodologies on future liabilities and deficits on pensions funds that happen to suit the company or equity / shareholders paying the invoice! #corruption

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