Original Article

Policy Sciences

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 309-321

First online:

What work makes policy?

  • Hal K. ColebatchAffiliated withPublic Policy, Robert Gordon UniversitySocial Science and Policy, University of New South Wales Email author 

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The mainstream policy literature identifies a number of activities as part of ‘policy-making’: ‘policy analysis’, ‘policy advice’, ‘decision-making’, and perhaps also ‘implementation’ and ‘evaluation’. Describing policy in these terms is compatible with the Western cultural account, and these terms tend to be applied to positions, organisational segments and official procedures. But policy practitioners tend to find that on the one hand, their experience of their work bears little resemblance to the assumptions in this policy-making model, and on the other, that policy outcomes seem to reflect much broader processes than the work of specialist functionaries. On closer examination, we find that our thinking about policy activity draws on several distinct and potentially conflicting perspectives, and that what is seen as ‘policy work’ depends on the conceptualisation of the policy process. Framing the question in this way helps to understand the apparent differences between mainstream (American) accounts of policy activity and policy practice in other political systems.


Policy analysis Policy practice Policy knowledge Interaction in policy Interpretive policy analysis