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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

Deliberative Policy Analysis: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Policy Analysis
Political Methodology
Political Theory
Section Number
Section Chair
Tamara Metze
Wageningen University and Research Center
Section Co-Chair
Hendrik Wagenaar
Kings College London

It has been 15 years since Hajer and Wagenaar published Deliberative Policy Analysis: Understanding Governance in the Network Society (Cambridge University Press, 2003) (DPA). The book became one of the most cited books in interpretive policy analysis. The central argument of the two editors was that the sociology of policymaking had changed and that this required a new kind of policy analysis. The conventional approach, as taught in many politics and policy departments, is loosely based on the policy cycle model, seeks authoritative knowledge by employing empiricist and often quantitative methods, and is allied with, and derives its legitimation from, a classical-modernist form of government in which large government bureaucracies headed by elected officials manage societal sectors. In contrast Hajer and Wagenaar described a decentered, highly pluralistic, unpredictable and often unknowable policy environment that limited the effectiveness of both governance and policy analysts. To address the lack of fit between the dominant epistemology at the time and the dynamic complexity of contemporary society (2003, 13), Hajer and Wagenaar suggested a deliberative policy analysis built on the three pillars of interpretation, practice-orientation and deliberation. The unstated assumption was that knowledge that is interpretive, pragmatic and obtained through deliberation is more valid and reliable and has a better chance to be accepted by policy makers.

Since the book’s publication, the three pillars have moved in different directions, and this Section seeks to bring these three dimensions – interpretation, deliberation, practice-orientation - into dialogue again. Policy analysts have by and large favoured the interpretive dimension of DPA, as evidenced by a number of methodological and conceptual handbooks (a. o. Wagenaar, 2011; Schwartz-Shea and Yanow, 2012; Bevir and Rhodes, 2015), a journal (Critical Policy Studies) and dedicated conferences on interpretive policy analysis (IPA) and sections within political science and public administration conferences (e.g. ICPP, PSA, ECPR, APSA). In parallel, a particularly fertile field of deliberative theory and research has developed that mostly looks beyond public policy towards the role of deliberation in democracy and the varieties of its institutionalization (Dryzek 2000; 2012). However, except for a few areas (climate change, forestry, water management, see e.g. Dryzek; 2013; Arts et. al, 2013; Fischer, 2017; Foden et al 2017), studies of democratic deliberation are usually not focused on specific policies (but see Dryzek, 1990; Fischer, 2003; Forester, 1999). An interesting policy-focused application of deliberation in an authoritarian context, and also evidence of the global take-up of DPA, can be found in Ya Li’s deliberative laboratory in Beijing (Li, 2015). The third pillar of DPA, its practice-oriented dimension, represents its pragmatist roots. Hajer and Wagenaar argue for the essential unity of knowing and acting and a focus on practice in policy analysis, which they describe as the integration of “the actor, his or her beliefs and values, resources and external environment in one ‘activity system’ in which social, individual and material aspects are interdependent” (2003, 20). Interestingly, this pragmatist dimension of DPA has been by and large ignored by policy scholars (but see Wagenaar and Cook, 2003, and Shove et. al, 2013; Foden et al 2017), despite the prominence of similar vocabulary in accounts of policy inspired by the language of science and technology studies (STS) (Spaargaren 2011; Stirling 2007).

One reason for the neglect of the practice and deliberate dimensions of DPA could very well be that it presented itself above all, as the subtitle “Understanding Governance” suggests, as an epistemological innovation. However, true to its pragmatist roots, DPA also contains a progressive moral-political program. Its aims are not just the articulation of an approach to knowledge acquisition, but also to contribute to social, political and democratic transformation. Its pragmatist epistemology is interventionist and therefore intimately tied to an (actionable) methodology of co-producing inquiry and social intervention with all relevant stakeholders.

In both the narrow, epistemic and the inclusive, interventionist conception of DPA, the three pillars of DPA, interpretive methods, deliberation and practice, are key. However, instead of being pursued separately, we envisage them in alliance with one another in a broader conception of DPA. For example, co-production of policy research are instances where interpretation, pragmatism and deliberation go hand in hand in shaping a project of inquiry (Bartels, 2016). Conflict mediation and collaborative governance are both practical tools to move stubborn policy controversies ahead in a deliberative way and a method of inquiry (Forester, 2009; Innes and Booher, 2010; Ansell and Gash, 2007). Recently, the role of imaginaries, images and other forms of visioning and visualizations are further analysed and experimented with as design of urban futures (Hajer 2016), or for sustainable energy (Metze, forthcoming).

The overall aim of this Section, which is co-organized by Koen Bartels and Katharina Paul, is to further articulate the broader, interventionist conception of DPA. With this Section, we seek to challenge DPA out of its narrow epistemological framework and to open it up for a range of creative possibilities where systematic inquiry goes hand in hand with social and political intervention. At the same time, we invite critical debate on how situations of co-creation of knowledge and of policies in participatory policy research, such as action research, citizen science, research by design, living labs, or communities of practice - affect the nature and quality of inquiry, how value-driven policy inquiry works out (or not) in practice, and reflections on the role and positionality of the analyst in such DPA-inspired modes of inquiry. Importantly, we seek to explore research that aims to integrate two or more of the three pillars of DPA in innovative ways, that analyzes the philosophical and conceptual foundations of DPA, that reviews DPA, including its challenges and critics, looks at the application of DPA in different substantive policy fields, and in comparative applications of DPA.

Panel List

Code Title Details
P102Deliberation or Shouting from the Outside? Progressive Think Tanks and Public Policy View Panel Details
P104Deliberative Policy Analysis, Action Research and Sustainability Transitions View Panel Details
P366Publics and Material Representation View Panel Details
P392Representation and Responsibility in Governing (Emerging) Technologies View Panel Details
P405Roundtable: Setting the Course for Deliberative Policy Analysis: A Dialogue on Integrating Interpretation, Deliberation, and Practice View Panel Details
P441The Escalation Dynamics of Policy Conflicts View Panel Details
P527Theoretical Perspectives and New Challenges in Deliberative Policy Analysis View Panel Details
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