Frame-critical policy analysis and frame-reflective policy practice


Our primary purpose in this article is to explore some of the issues, practical and conceptual, that arise in the attempt to study and cope with public policy controversies. We have organized the article into four sections. The first considers what problems a frame-critical approach seeks to address and explores, in particular, why social science methods seem unable to contribute to the resolution of public controversies. The second section asks what “frames” are and why they are critical to the study of controversy. Section three gives an overview of the elements in a frame-critical policy analysis and of the relationships between it and frame-reflective policy practice. In conclusion, section four examines the main issues that need to be addressed in analyzing and coping with policy controversies.

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Additional information

Martin Rein is Professor of Social Policy at MIT in the Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning. His most recent books areSocial Benefits after Communism: The Role of Enterprise (Cambridge University Press), andEnterprise and the Welfare State (Edward Elgar Press). Both books will appear at the end of 1996. He has also published, with Donald Schön,Frame-Reflection: Exploring New Approaches to the Resolution of Policy Controversies (Basic Books).

Donald Schön is a Ford Professor Emeritus and Senior Lecturer at MIT in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. An educator and industrial consultant, a former government administrator and a former president of a non-profit social research consulting organization, Dr. Schön has worked as a researcher and practitioner on problems of technological innovation, organizational learning and professional effectiveness and education. His most recent books includeEducating the Reflective Practitioner (1987);The Reflective Turn (ed.) (1991);Frame Reflection: Exploring New Approaches to the Resolution of Policy Controversies (with Martin Rein);Essays Provoked by the Work of Albert O. Hirschman (ed), (Brookings Institution Press, 1994); andOrganizational Learning II: Practice, Theory, Method (with Chris Argyris, Addison-Wesley Press, 1996).

This article constitutes a response from Donald Schön and Martin Rein to the contributions contained inKnowledge and Policy, Special Issue, “Policy Controversies in the Negotiatory State,” Vol. 8, No. 4, 1995.

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Rein, M., Schön, D. Frame-critical policy analysis and frame-reflective policy practice. Knowledge and Policy 9, 85–104 (1996).

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  • Conceptual Scheme
  • Policy Discourse
  • Policy Practice
  • Action Frame
  • Public Controversy