Activists, futurists, and governance: The formulation of the policy underlying the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The tendency for policy to change as it progresses through the policy-making process has been recorded for at least thirty years in the literature. This can have serious implications for government, as substantial changes can mean that policy-in-practice is compromised, and desired outcomes are not achieved. However, there is little focus in the literature upon how and why such changes occur. This thesis aimed to explore what occurred during the policy-making process for one policy, the formulation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and used Policy Network Analysis (PNA), which focuses on the role of policy networks, as its frame of analysis. In particular, following the dialectical model of Marsh and Smith (2000), it explored how three relationships between the structure, context and outcomes, shape the way in which policy networks affect policy outcomes. In this case the “outcome” was the policy as it was to be eventually implemented – the legislation, rules and regulations that were created to guide the operationalisation of the NDIS. How these have been put into effect is not the subject of this thesis. Two methods were employed to research what occurred. First, a forensic examination of all relevant documentation between 2006-07 and 2014 which revealed three critical stages during the development of the NDIS policy, and the possibility of policy networks forming at these stages. Secondly, one-on-one interviews were conducted with some of the significant individuals reported in the documentation as being involved in the process, including politicians, senior bureaucrats and disability advocates. The interviews confirmed the main finding of the study which was that at least three separate networks formed during the formulation of the NDIS policy between 2007 and 2014. These have been named herein as the Disability Advocates Network, the Insurance Model Network and the Statutory Regulations Network, to reflect their distinct functions, outcomes focus and the unique skills of the main participants in each. This is an important observation that has not been otherwise reported. The interviews also revealed the dynamics of the relationships within these networks. Ontologically, the study confirmed the claims of Marsh and Smith’s (2000) Dialectical Model, in that these interactions strongly influenced how and why policy was formulated. Specifically in relation to the NDIS, the presence of powerful individuals shaped the discourse and steered the dialectics towards certain directions and policy decisions. Other findings from this study that contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of policy networks, and PNA in particular, are that networks transition, with new ones forming at different stages of the process in response to the changing policy outcomes required, and that different types of networks affect the interactions and the relationships within them and some are more or less appropriate at different policy stages. Finally, the formulation of the implementation policy, in the case of the NDIS - the rules and regulations that would guide the eventual operationalisation, is a critical, and often overlooked, stage of the policy-making process.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Canberra
SupervisorDarren Sinclair (Supervisor) & David Marsh (Supervisor)

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