Interpretation and intention in policy analysis

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16 Citations (Scopus)


The interpretative approach to policy analysis is not one singular method, but rather a family of approaches. Different approaches to interpretive theory have varying takes on the object of interpretation (intentions, reasons, traditions, stories, discourses, systems of signs), follow different methods, and operate on different philosophical preconceptions, but their shared assumption is that policy formation and implementation, or broader, the activities and interactions of government agencies, public offi cials and their publics in civil society, cannot be properly understood unless we grasp their relevant meanings (Bevir and Rhodes 2003). For example, as Yanow puts it in characterizing interpretive policy analysis: “An interpretive approach to policy analysis is one that focuses on the meanings of policy, on the values, feelings, or beliefs they express, and on the processes by which those meanings are communicated to and ‘read’ by various audiences.” (Yanow 2000) This is the standard defi nition of interpretive policy analysis, and obviously it makes sense as it couples a particular mode of inquiry and explanation to a particular image of the social-political world. That world, which is both the object and context of policy analysis, is characterized by “values, feelings and beliefs” (Weiss and Rein 1970) and the way these are expressed and communicated among various groups. It is also-something that is undercharacterized in Yanow’s defi nition-about acting in a world of uncertainty that originates in complexity (Bohman 1996; Dryzek 1990), irrepressible ambiguity and contingency (Schwandt 1997), and the inevitable confl ict and incompatibility that spring forth from pluralistic practices and institutional positions (Kekes 1993; Wagenaar 2002).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Public Policy Analysis
Subtitle of host publicationTheory, Politics, and Methods
EditorsFrank Fischer, Gerald J. Miller
Place of PublicationUnited States
PublisherCRC Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781351564373
ISBN (Print)9781574445619
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


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