How Does Context Come into the Picture?

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This is an excerpt of the integrative report of 12 national case studies carried out in the Orientation 2/1 phase of the project.

In some cases and at certain phases of the policy-making process, the local and national context influences how public actions develop and how certain policy solutions and certain forms of knowledge in governance gain priority. Knowledge-policy regimes (Delvaux & Mangez, 2008) function under the terms of certain types of political discourse framed by a specific symbolic universe that defines the set of conceivable concepts and the knowledge-types that can guide political actions.

However, we should also keep in mind that what counts as context also depends on what we choose to explain. We attempted to structure the contextual variables that, according to the case studies, played an influential role in shaping the policies studied, i.e. the factors that cannot be inherently explained based on the knowledge-policy process. We found that the most important factors that determine the forms and preferences of knowledge are: 1) the characteristics of the political environment (e.g. national institutional arrangements, distribution of authorities within state governance scales); 2) the availability of policy-instruments; 3) the dominant discourse types (communicative/coordinative political discourse); 4) the individuals, as generators of change; and 5) the symbolic aspects that frame political actions.

It seemed methodologically fruitful to explain local contextual influences in relation to their interplay with international policy trends, in particular the spreading idea of evidence-based policy-making and the efforts made to adapt to this model. It is also important to note that the different traditions of performing empirical research in countries with different traditions of state-public policy discourse practices seem to have a great impact on how researchers approach the issue of contextual effects. Researchers coming from different fields and epistemological traditions have their own understanding of the research question.

BAJOMI & al. (2010), Knowledge and Policy: an inseparable couple, KNOWandPOL report, 13-20.

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  • DELVAUX Bernard & MANGEZ Eric (2008), Towards a sociology of the knowledge-policy relation, KnowandPol, Literature synthesis, www.knowandpol.eu.

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