Source – 1

© Sanchayan Nath 2013

Since 1999, Sabatier has been editing a book titled “Theories of the Policy Process”. The first edition of this book was published in 1999, and the second book was published in 2007. A summary of the second edition of the book is available here.

The primary motivation behind this initiative is to identify “scientific” frameworks of the policy process based on the assumptions that scientific research should follow “scientific norms of clarity, hypothesis testing, acknowledgement of uncertainty etc.” (Sabatier 2007; pp. 11).

Similarly, Smith and Larimer have written a widely-read book on the policy sciences titled “The Public Policy Theory Primer”. They classify theories based on whether they are descriptive and/or predictive, and they find most work in the policy sciences lacking in their ability to be predictive “enough”.  The google books version can be found here.

In 2013 Shanahan et al. published a new paper on the Narrative Policy Framework titled “An Angel on the Wind: How Heroic Policy Narratives Shape Policy Realities” in the Policy Studies Journal.  A copy of the paper is available here.

The question of “what is scientific enough” is disputed. Sabatier and a lot of other scholars are reluctant to consider post-positivist literature in the “scientific” category. Theorists of social constructivism and policy narratives have therefore often been sidelined in policy curriculums.  Shanahan et al. observe “the politics of constructing policy reality appeared to be underspecified or missing from mainstream policy process theories”.  One of the primary motivation behind writing their 2013 paper therefore appears to be to produce research that achieves ‘Sabatier’s (2000, p. 135) declaration of “clear enough to be proven wrong”’ (Shanahan et al. 2013; pp. 3). The Sabatier paper being referred to here is “Sabatier, Paul. 2000. “Clear Enough to Be Wrong.”Journal of European Public Policy7 (1): 135–40”.

Studies on framing and policy narratives appear to be particularly important in the context of the media jostling currently taking place in India (read a related post available here). For instance, consider the following articles –


– available here


– or the one available here.

Economists generally seek to develop theories which are predictive in nature; whereas a lot of scholars from other disciplinary backgrounds, assume that because of the chaotic nature of reality, social science theories cannot be predictive in nature.

The Narrative Policy Framework thus appears to be a very interesting development in understanding the role that narratives play in the policy process within the “we don’t really care if our theories are predictive enough” schools of thought.

Therefore, as we continued our discussion on the policy process during our Public Policy class last week, our discussion began to take very interesting shape. One student raised a very interesting question – “What is the difference between frames and narratives?”  A few of us appeared to take the view that a series of frames could lead to the creation of a narrative, and that a narrative could be an attempt in capturing the bigger picture created by a series of frames.

In this seminar, we are blessed to have two students who have backgrounds which are very different from the boring ‘policy scholar’ types (read my post here) who flock to such courses – one has a background in Informatics and the other has a background in Communications. It appears that scholars in these disciplines too appear to be interested in issues on framing.  For instance, consider the article available here or the book quoted here.

No wonder then that our discussion began to veer towards dangerously un-predictive directions.

As we continued our discussion on the Narrative Policy framework, the scholar from the Informatics department observed that the kind of research we can do or want to do is also influenced by the kind of methodological tools  available to us.

For instance, consider somebody who wants to study data over a long period of time – say, somebody would like to compare the policy processes during the times of Ram (assuming that Ram is indeed a historical character), the Maurya kings (some of whom were followers of Buddhism) and the Gupta kings (some of whom were followers of Lord Shiva) with the policy processes available during Akbar’s times and during the times of Nehru, Vajpayee and Singh – not only would he or she be constrained by the lack of relevant data, his or her research would also be constrained by the nature of tools available, which may not be suited to carry out such a study.

Now consider, the tenure track system prevalent in the US. The publish or perish culture is symptomatic of this system; and, a lot of researchers believe that the existence of this culture is one of the factors responsible for the high quality of research that US universities keep producing with regular frequency.

One of the consequences of the publish or perish culture is that newly minted researchers need to churn out publication-worthy-research in quick succession.

Thus, unwittingly these researchers are constrained in the kind of the research they can do in the initial years of their research life – they cannot afford to spend a lot of time collecting data – forget about looking for Ram (movies like Ram-Leela provide good recreation though), they cannot probably spend enough time collecting enough data in order to carry out a yearly comparison from the times of Lord Dalhousie in 1856 to the times of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956 – I wonder though if we can predict what is going to happen in 2056 ( Al Gore thinks that the next 100 years may decide the future of humanity; but that is another matter; in case you are interested, you can read more here).


Source –

I love the lyrics of this song – “Mohe rang laga de re; Main toh teri joganiya, Tu jog laga de re; Prem ka rog laga de re!” If you find the lyrics of this song interesting, you may find this post amusing.

Anyway (getting back to more non-recreational matters), the tenure track position thus appears to be unconsciously and unwittingly encouraging research limited to the study of cross-sectional data or to time series research limited to small periods of time.

Thus, while the publish or perish culture is framed as resulting in the creation of productive early-stage scholars, the culture also appears to have the unintended consequence of discouraging certain forms of research.

Or consider, various theoretical approaches to solving public policy problems that are taught in most public policy programs.

Weimer and Vining’s “Policy Analysis: Concepts and Practice” is a classic textbook on Public Policy Analysis.  The google books version of the 2010 edition of this book is available here. This book seeks to explain how policy tools based on the principles of welfare economics can be used to formulate public policies.

The concept of ‘double market failure’ tackled in this book can be compared with the “triple failures theory” critiqued by Steinberg (2006; available here). A few days back, I had composed a post (available here) critiquing Steinberg. Rathgeb and Gronjberg (2006; available here) take the debate further.

I wonder how many young policy students are exposed to such texts on the role of the third sector in the governance process.

Policy solutions in most policy schools are framed as limited to solving market failures through various ‘government’ interventions and to solving ‘government’ failures through the market process.

Reminds me of the nursery rhyme

“Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
So early in the morning.”


Source –

I wonder what will prompt more schools to look beyond this vicious circle of market-hierarchies! Most students in our policy class found this article very interesting though!

Source of image 1-