T10P02 - Relational Approaches to Policy Analysis

Topic : Methodologies

Panel Chair : Nick Turnbull - nick.turnbull@manchester.ac.uk

Panel Second Chair : Hendrik Wagenaar - h.wagenaar@sheffield.ac.uk

Objectives and Scientific Relevance of the panel

Call for papers

Session 1 Conceptualizing relational approaches to public policy


Nick Turnbull - nick.turnbull@manchester.ac.uk - University of Manchester - United Kingdom

Hendrik Wagenaar - h.wagenaar@sheffield.ac.uk - University of Sheffield - United Kingdom

Relational Public Administration

Nick Turnbull - nick.turnbull@manchester.ac.uk - University of Manchester - United Kingdom

Koen Bartels - k.bartels@bangor.ac.uk - Bangor University - United Kingdom

The idea has recently started to spread that relationships are at the heart of public administration as well as a vision for transforming it towards greater effectiveness and democracy. While this idea resounds with many relational approaches in our field, a widespread appreciation of the significance of relationality seems to be missing. Remarkably enough, there is no overview of the great variety of relational approaches and interpretations, their similarities and differences, strengths and limitations, and emerging insights and joint research agenda. Therefore, this paper canvasses relational perspectives in public administration and related fields to articulate what relationality means, how it has been used, and what this implies for future research and practice. In close conversation with the subfield of relational sociology, we propose a categorisation of relational approaches into four types. We especially highlight the differences between studies that analyse and conceptualise how relationships manifest themselves and matter on the one hand and studies of relational theory and practice which make epistemic arguments about relationality. Altogether, we argue that relational public administration enables us to better account for socially situated individual practices, understand social power and inequality in the new public governance, and foster more productive and democratic relationships.

Climate Policy-Making in a Relational Perspective: Comparing Germany and the UK

Volker Schneider - volker.schneider@uni-konstanz.de - University of Konstanz - Germany

This paper uses a relational approach to analyse climate policy-making in Germany and the UK, to identify major policy actors, and to measure collaboration and information exchange. Both countries are generally considered to have undergone changes in their environmental policy orientation from end-of-pipe solutions to more integrated forms of environmental management associated with ecological modernisation. Yet the two countries differ drastically in their climate policy networks, depicted on the basis of relational data with regard to influence reputation and scientific information exchange. Methods of social network analysis and network visualization are used to depict and analyse relational configurations, actor network positions, and policy preferences.

Different network configurations in the two countries are mainly explained by political-institutional and political-economical differences. In Germany, the most influential policy actors are drawn mostly from policy arenas, industry and science – a typical configuration under conditions of ecological modernisation. In the UK, in contrast, the most influential actors are governmental or quasi-governmental institutions or the NGO sector. Climate policy in the UK is shaped by a strong advocacy coalition calling for large-scale cuts in GHG emissions, but one that has relatively little influence.  In Germany, less ambitious policy targets and more concrete policy actions could be seen as a result of a policy network that is strongly shaped by ecological modernists, in which pragmatic realism pervades.

What is a Policy Field? A Relational Approach to Policy Theory.

Hendrik Wagenaar - h.wagenaar@sheffield.ac.uk - University of Sheffield - United Kingdom

The purpose of this paper is twofold: to further develop the concept of policy field by articulating a link between systems thinking, practice and dialogical meaning, and to map how the concept might inform policy theory.[1] The concept of policy field is common in the German-speaking world, but less so in Anglo-Saxon theory (Hösl & Krueger, 2014). Policy fields are seen as configurations of ideas, actors, interests and institutions. In that sense they are meant to transcend common concepts such policy subsystems and policy networks. In this paper we articulate the concept of policy field through a relational approach to policy analysis. Relational thinking is anti-dualist and focuses on processes instead of entities. Its unit of analysis is practices, and how these evolve and constitute the world around us. Its aim is not only to formulate representations of the world but, deliberately taking the perspective of the policy actors, who design and instigate change in complex, densely interconnected, dynamic systems. This requires a rethinking of the nature of knowledge as being animated and enabled by experience and practice.[2] Using examples from the domains of prostitution policy as well as climate change and human-nature relations, particularly water, the paper articulates how such a relational approach to the concept of a policy field policy analysis can be understood and enacted.  

[1] Ison, R. (2010) Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate Change World, Springer
[2] Wagenaar, H. & Cook, S.D.N., (2011) “The Push and Pull of the World: How Experience Animates Practice”, Evidence and Policy, (7), 2: 193-212; Cook, S.D.N. & Wagenaar, H., (2012), Navigating the Eternally Unfolding Present; Toward an Epistemology of Practice". American Review of Public Administration, (42) 1: 3-38; 


Seeing Ahead -- Relationally

Amanda Wolf - amanda.wolf@vuw.ac.nz - Victoria University of Wellington - New Zealand

Policy analysis can be likened to driving full-speed ahead with a fractured windscreen, navigating by a tiny stream of data flowing in from a foggy rear-view mirror. Safely delivering citizen–passengers to their future wellbeing depends in part on the driver/analyst’s skills in iterating between the ‘known’ past and the unknown future. This conceptual–methodological paper considers the potential of relational approaches to policy forecasting. To see ahead, relationally, an analyst—bearing the standard of practical wisdom—iterates between what ‘evidence’ the present/past potentially offers and what the future plausibly requires. Relational policy analysis privileges case-to-case reasoning in support of a more insightful sifting of complicated policy experiences and evidence. The analyst apprehends localised policy-relevant situations, extracts relevant information from them, and works with people in them with respect to what may be, and then maps out and scrutinises possible routes to future, improved situations and how to get there. For example, a long-time homeless man who has rejected all support in the past is offered by chance an opportunity to volunteer at a garden centre, discovers a gardening passion which a social worker notes, and finally accepts a supported place in a house in order to continue to garden.


Initial assumptions set the scene as follows. Policy change is experienced locally, in diverse receiving environments. Ex ante, each policy-receiving environment is envisaged as the status quo plus the policy change at t +1. Therefore, whereas others use depersonalised trend analysis, theoretical prediction, ‘big data’ or experiments to estimate the future from the present, the relational analyst can profit from a case-wise comparison of a known situation with a desired one. Case comparison preserves the full range of relationships, and proceeds intersubjectively as emergent changes in the case are experienced and interpreted by both analyst and those whose behaviours policy would influence and whose wellbeing is ostensibly of interest. Consistent with a pragmatic tradition, relational policy analysts ‘talk’ with their passengers en route and adjust their speed, direction of travel and destination accordingly.


In sum, as elaborated in this paper, analysts work between cases (localised, current/immediate past and the next evolution), work in a second-person dialogic mode (iterating between stories in context as told and interpreted in the past and emerging situations of interest), and employ their own expertise (as any skilled driver must). Various ‘between-case’ methods are summarised and assessed, and illustrated with stylised examples.

Holding a referendum or not? Analyzing the decision process in the case of Stuttgart 21

Heike Brugger - heike.brugger@uni-konstanz.de - University of Konstanz - Germany

Antje Witting - antje.witting@uni-konstanz.de - University of Konstanz - Germany

Melanie Nagel - mel@drmichaelnagel.de - University of Konstanz - Germany

Stuttgart 21 is a huge infrastructural project to rebuild a railway hub in the heart of Europe. This project had been discussed controversially because of financial, technical, environmental, urban developmental and democratic reasons. Many citizens demanded more public participation and asked for a referendum about the project. Grassroot-activists and civil society groups initiated public protests and successfully used social media to attract crowd support. In our article we introduce a newspaper article-based case study combining discourse and social network analysis. The study explores the potential of the Institutional Analysis Development (IAD) framework comparing the process leading to the rejection of a referendum in 2007 and its acceptance in 2011. It consists of two backward-flowing diagnostic analyses: one between 2002 and 2007, leading to the rejection of the petition to hold a referendum. The second was between 2008 and 2011, leading to the 2011 referendum.


Applying Text Mining to Improve the Interpretation and Analysis of Network Subgroup Effects in Urban Environmental Governance Assessments

ROGER S. CHEN - csr@faculty.pccu.edu.tw - Chinese Cultural University, Taiwan - Taiwan

In recent years, social network analysis has been largely applied in literature of environmental governance and resource management, which illuminates how cooperation and social capital play a part in building stakeholder relationship and multilevel governance. However, the application of social network analysis still encounters the vagueness inherent in its subgroup analysis and the difficulties of data collection in an urban setting. In the paper, text mining is proposed to construct networks with specific stakeholder interactions that are able to assist the analytical interpretation of subgroup effects, specifically the indications of bridging/bonding ties. Furthermore, applying text mining on solid and traceable information extracted from event-based digital data is not only able to identify stakeholders and their interactions, remedy the problems of data reliability, but also construct stakeholder networks in desired dimensions for subgroup network analysis. Based on the stakeholder networks with specific meanings, social network analysis is applied in the paper to assess the water-related resilience building in Tainan city, located in the south of Taiwan. The results of the analysis suggest that incorporating text mining in social network analysis offers an useful alternative for data collection and data processing to encompass the urban complexity and helps to advance the theoretical interpretation of bridging/bonding measurements that are important concepts in social network analysis for studying environmental governance and management.

Session 2 Applied relational policy analysis

Locating Politics in the Assemblage: A new conceptual framework for analysing global diaspora governance

Catherine Craven - catherine_craven@soas.ac.uk - SOAS, University of London - United Kingdom

While past decades have seen a steady proliferation of national policies and institutions seeking to harness the potential of diasporas, the surge in interest directed at diaspora communities by non-state global governance actors is a more recent development. However, such global-izing of diaspora engagement does not describe a simple scaling-up of policies from the domestic to the supranational level. Rather, it describes a qualitative shift characterised by the reconfiguration of policies, actors and spaces by and through which diasporas are now being governed. No doubt, this calls for a reassessment of existing analytical frameworks. This paper makes the case for a new ontological and epistemological perspective for studying global diaspora governance. It proposes that existing analyses of diaspora governance lack explanatory power for a number of reasons. They either remain state-centric, and thus fail to account for the complexities of contemporary global governance configurations, or, if they do problematize complexity, they do so in a way that depoliticises global governance. Instead, this paper argues for a critical realist ontology, which suggests that we think about global diaspora governance through the concept of the assemblage. Assemblages, this paper argues, allow us to consider global diaspora governance as complex relations between human and non-human agents whose configurations shape the conditions of possibility for action in a particular circumstance. When paired with Bourdieusian practice theory, the assemblage can also act as the (de-/reterritorialized) field within which practices are hierarchically ordered, thus enabling the study of how political struggles unfold inside specific configurations of global diaspora governance. The theoretical argument made in this paper will be supported by empirical data on the global diaspora governance networks that engage Sri Lankan Tamils residing in Toronto.

A relational analysis of a public policy implementation tool: the Brazilian Single Registry for Social Programs

Natalia Koga - natalia.koga@enap.gov.br - Enap - National School of Public Administration - Brazil

Denise Direito - Denisedireito@yahoo.com.br - Ministery of Social Development-MDS - Brazil

This article proposes a relational approach for the analysis of public policy implementation. Starting from the literature more recent criticism on the limitations of the traditional “top down” and “bottom-up” perspectives of public policy implementation, this investigation argues for the potential contribution that a relational perspective can bring to build more comprehensive models of analysis that provide additional explaining elements such as the political and interactional aspects to the long-established rationalist and linear representations of the social action.


In order to test this main argument, this investigation developed and analytical and methodological framework based on a relational approach in order to examine the transactional dynamics of the main tool of social policy implementation in Brazil, the Singly Registry for Social Programs (Cadastro Único). The Cadastro Único is the main tool for the identification and social-economic characterization of the Brazilian low-income families. It gathers updated and extensive data on the living conditions of 27 million families that correspond to around 80 million people. These data are used by all the more than 30 existing federal social programs for purposes that go from beneficiaries’ selection, policy planning and monitoring as well as outcomes assessment. To collect and to keep these data updated and accessible for all social programs, the Cadastro Único’s functioning involves a complex operational network of more than 9.500 local facilities which covers the whole national territory. Besides this main role, the Cadastro Único was normatively conceived to play an additional strategic role that is to provide integration amongst all social programs that use its resources.


The main investigation question of this research is thus to understand the level of policy integration that an implementation tool of this dimension and complexity can provoke within Brazilian social protection system.  By means of social network analysis techniques and semi-structured interviews with key public managers, this investigation analyzed Cadastro Único in its interaction with several social programs that take part of this system.


The article is divided in five sections. Firstly, the article examines and attempts to build a dialogue between the literature on tools of public policy implementation and impacting works from the relational sociology such as the ones produce by Mustafa Emirbayer and Anne Mische. The second part of the article is dedicated to briefly introduce the trajectory of the object of analysis – the Cadastro Único and the public policies of the Brazilian social protection system. The third part depicts the methodology adopted in the investigation. The forth part shows the results of the analysis, including the sociograms constructed by the social network analysis techniques and the examination of the interviews with managers of the 17 main social programs that the investigation inquired from April to June 2016. Finally, the fifth part discuss the potentialities and limitations of Cadastro Único to induce public policy integration as well as the contributions of the relational approach to this inquiry and to deepen the understanding of the dynamics of public policy implementation.

RECONSIDERING THE FISCAL WAR IN BRAZIL: A morphogenetic analysis of industrial policy-making

Gouveia Moreira Marcelo - mgouveiam@gmail.com - Minas Gerais State Government, Brazil - Brazil

The fiscal war is a fiscal-federalist problem that has persisted in Brazil for decades, increasingly generating conflicts among its constituent states, which have been manifested mainly through their competitive use of tax breaks and related financial benefits for FDI attraction and industrial development policy. Despite the pervasiveness of the problem, it is surprising how policy-makers and scholars have repeatedly resorted to mainstream positivist epistemologies to address the issue, restricting analysis basically to the lock-in of constitutional and regulatory settings enabling the fiscal war (e.g. Kugelmas and Sola 1999; Souza 2005); and to the economic bounded rationality of actors engaged in it (e.g. Rodriguez-Pose and Arbix 2001; Nascimento 2008). These analyses incur in problems that cloud analytical time perspective, explanatory depth and, ultimately, the correct situation of the problem along with the identification of viable solutions to it.


Therefore, to face the question at stake - what are the underlying conditions that allow for the persistence of the fiscal war in the Brazilian federation since the Constitution of 1988? - this paper proposes a move beyond mainstream epistemologies to an ontologically deep analysis of this policy problem, drawing on Archer’s (1995) Morphogenetic Approach, and looking at the historically situated dialectic interplay between material and ideational structures as mediated by subnational State agents to assess the persistence of the fiscal war in Brazil.


Unlike the currently available literature, the proposed approach provides resources for a case-study analysis that does not conflate necessary and contingent relations between structural conditioners with agential ‘efficient’ causality. Rather, it allows for a retroductive assessment of the structural material and ideational mechanisms that conditioned the contingent relations between Brazilian States, through their economic and industrial development policy-making, leading up to their 'actualization' of the fiscal war behavior that has been increasingly observed since 1988.


Finally, by analyzing the case of the fiscal war phenomenon in Brazil, this paper aims at providing an inherently different and ontologically deep explanation for its emergence and reproduction by State agents, and by doing so to contribute with innovative methodologies for policy analysis that may bring new insights and potential solutions for vexing social problems.




Archer, Margaret S. Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.


Kugelmas, Eduardo, and Lourdes Sola. “Recentralização/Descentralização: Dinâmica Do Regime Federativo No Brasil Dos Anos 90.” Tempo Social: Revista de Sociologia 11, no. 2 (1999): 63–81. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0103-20701999000200005.


Nascimento, Sidnei Pereira do. “Guerra Fiscal: Uma avaliação comparativa entre alguns Estados participantes.” Economia Aplicada 12, no. 4 (2008): 677–706. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1413-80502008000400007


Rodriguez-Pose, Andre, and Glauco Arbix. “Strategies of Waste: Bidding Wars in the Brazilian Automobile Sector.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 25, no. 1 (2001): 134–54. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.00302.


Souza, Celina. “Federalismo, Desenho Constitucional E Instituições Federativas No Brasil Pós-1988.” Revista de Sociologia e Política 24, no. Jun (2005): 105–21. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5380/rsp.v24i0.3719


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