The papers in this special issue began life as contributions to an ESRC-funded seminar series Policy as Practice: Understanding theWork of Policy Makers. The series promoted and facilitated exchange and debate of ideas about the practice of policy making. Seeing policy as practice, it was guided by a set of fundamental questions about policy making and policy research,including: What is policy? What do policy makers do when they go to work? What kinds of activity does policy making entail? How is what policy makers do represented in the accounts that researchers and practitioners themselves respectively give of it? In addressing such neglected questions, the series set out to challenge the taken-for-granted assumptions of both researchers and practitioners in the field.
Readers of Evidence and Policy, meanwhile, understand very well the problematic nature of evidence, the uncertain status of policy and the difficulty of establishing any coherent and consistent relationship between the two. What should count as evidence, and how should it inform policy? Who makes policy, and on what authority? Part of the problem of this relationship between evidence and policy, it is argued here, is their implicit relationship to practice.
For both evidence and policy – separately and together – derive meaning from an implied other, third term: that of ‘practice’. Evidence may be derived from practice or may be designed to inform it; it is often most significant when it contradicts it. The purpose of policy, similarly, is to shape and order practice, and evidence is one of the ways it finds of doing so. In this way, each term makes sense only in relation to a shared antonym, that of practice. And even when evidence and policy converge and coincide, there remains a residual order of practice, the unruly and elusive world in which things really happen, ordered but only partly so by evidence and policy.
Contents: Richard Freeman, Steven Griggs and Annette Boaz, ‘The practice of policy making‘; Tanja Pritzlaff and Frank Nullmeier, ‘Capturing practice‘; Richard Freeman and Jo Maybin, ‘Documents, practices and policy‘; Christian Bueger, ‘The clash of practice: political controversy and the United Nations Peacebuilding commission‘; Hendrik Wagenaar and S.D. Noam Cook, ‘The push and pull of the world: how experience animates practice‘; Steven Griggs and David Howarth, ‘Discourse and practice: using the power of well being‘