Policy as palimpsest
A palimpsest is a multi-layered text that is reinscribed over time. This article presents policy as analogous to a palimpsest to highlight implementation processes and the complexity of judging progress. Findings from an ethnographic study of the UK Sure Start Children’s Centres policy demonstrate how implementation is experienced locally. Here religious beliefs and traditional cultures influence implementation and persistent social structures are in tension with rapid policy shifts or ‘initiativitis’. Perceptions of progress depend on how history is interpreted, how policy is framed and how the future is imagined. Unintended consequences are produced as a local policy-palimpsest is enacted.
© The Policy Press, 2012 • ISSN 0305 5736 423
Key words: implementation • childcare • policy framing • time
Policy & Politics vol 40 no 3 • 423-43 (2012) • http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/030557312X626613
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This debilitating disease is most acutely felt at the operational level of organisations by people who are engaged in delivering core products or services. Its presenting symptoms include a loss of focus, overwork, frustration, anger and demotivation.
The apparent cause of these signs of initiativitis is too many ideas being implemented in too short a timescale. The resultant bottleneck allows insufficient time for any one idea to take root and become established before the next comes along and diverts necessary resources.
The range of responses to initiativitis vary from on the one hand putting pressure on people to do more to tolerating slippage in timescales or the effectiveness of the initiative on the other. Both fall foul of the quart and the pint pot rule. A simple enough rule that requires no explanation, but one which is breached by most organisations, most days.