, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 153-179

The rhetorics of policy analysis

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This paper claims that policy analysis is inherently rhetorical, that it cannot be fully understood apart from the audiences to which it is directed and the styles in which it is communicated. Defining rhetoric as persuasive discourse within and between interpretive communities, I argue that policy analysts are embedded in a complex rhetorical situation created by the interaction of three primary audiences (scientists, politicians, and lay advocates), each of which has its own normal discourse and agreed-upon conventions of persuasion, and that failure to persuade any one of these audiences will cause analysts to appear incompetent, impractical or illegitimate. To support and illustrate this claim I reconstruct the theoretical literature about policy analysis in rhetorical terms, then review events that occurred at Love Canal, New York, in the late 1970s. I conclude by suggesting that policy analysts need to ‘actively mediate’ the policy discourse between scientists, politicians, and advocates.