the context, text and effects approach to researching policy

Sandra Taylor(1) has argued that policy analysis can be undertaken through investigation of three inter-related avenues:

(1)   Context.

The context of any given education policy is always specific and particular. It is always also historically situated. Examining the context of policy not includes finding out how it came to be this way in this place, but also seeing the ways in which the global is taken up in the national, by whom and in what/whose interests.

(2)   Texts.

Policy is often not a single text, but rather is an assemblage of political announcements, white and green papers, political inquiries, media reportage, websites and administrative guidelines and application texts (e.g. curriculum statements). While it is helpful to map the scope and nature of such texts, it is rarely possible to examine them all in similar depth. It is therefore important to identify a feasible number of key texts that represent the policy assemblage. These can then be subject to some kind of textual analysis. Taylor uses critical discourse analysis (2).

(3)   Effects/Consequences.

Policies are not simply implemented. They are read and re-read and brought into being in specific locations with specific histories and by particular people. Their actions are framed by both local and meso-macro contexts.  It is critical to not simply ‘read off’ a policy text and assume what will happen: as researchers we need to see how they are taken up, where, by whom how and to what ends. Single or multiple case studies, surveys and interview based investigations can be undertaken to ‘see’ policy effects.

 (1) Taylor, S.  (1997). Critical Policy Analysis: exploring contexts, texts and consequences. Discourse Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 18(1), 23-35

(2) A paper from Sandra using critical discourse analysis on policy texts is on

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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