Last year’s Interpretive Policy Analysis conference (Grenoble, 23-25 June 2010) included two panels on ‘Policy as Practice’…

We know little of the way policy-makers work, of what they actually do when they make policy. Our starting point in this panel is therefore ‘the work of policy’ (Colebatch, 2007). We are guided by a small set of classic ethnographic accounts of policy making (Heclo and Wildavsky, 1974), and by the standard ethnographic injunction to ‘follow the actors’. But more than that we are interested not just in what policy makers do, but what they think they are doing, that is how they understand, explain and account for their everyday activity (Bevir and Rhodes, 2006). Seeing policy as practice, we thus invite papers that address two broad areas of investigation.

Firstly, how do practitioners describe what they do, both to themselves and others? Practices are available for investigation only to the extent that we have and make accounts of them. How is practice depicted, both formally for the public record and informally, among practitioners? How do these accounts advocate, legitimate, defend and promote different ideas of practice? What tensions exist between policy makers’ public and private accounts (Cornwell, 1984) of what they do?

Secondly, how might we study practice? Here we investigate the challenges and opportunities posed by ethnographic studies of the practice of policy-making. Panel participants will be invited to discuss the contribution of ethnography to the study of public policy and review and critique some of the key concepts of interpretive, practice-oriented analysis, including those of performance, narrative, text, translation, interpretation, discourse and governance. The challenge is to develop a vocabulary which is meaningful to both researchers and practitioners.