Knowledge transformation phases in the design and implementation
of a knowledge based regulation instrument

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The case under consideration illustrates the growing role of knowledge as an instrument of regulation in educational policy, under the on-going trend to the development of new governance strategies based on the “post-bureaucratic” mode of regulation.

Within the traditional bureaucratic mode of regulation, knowledge is mobilized to provide credible foundations for the substance of specific policies. Afterwards, these policies are to be put into practice through laws, legal norms and injunctions. Their implementation by the “street-level” actors is then controlled through inspection mechanisms and disciplinary measures.

Within the ‘pos-bureaucratic’ mode of regulation, knowledge is mainly used to produce and circulate instruments, such as guidelines for action, examples of best practices, comparative data, benchmarks and argumentation templates. The goal is to manage the way actors think about reality, namely about a public problem within a specific policy sphere. Therefore, the intended regulatory outcome presupposes autonomous and reflexive actors using, reproducing and transforming the instruments’ knowledge, inscribed in texts and (or) enacted by mediators. This way, these actors are expected to embody, re-inscribe and re-enact that knowledge, within their social interactions and work processes, namely through the production of documents and the performance of roles.

The empirical data is taken from a research on the design and implementation of a public school evaluation policy in Portugal. The study was conducted within a European Union funded project (KNOWandPOL).

In 2005, a new government was appointed following a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections. The Education Minister, an outspoken sociology professor, stressed the need to define and adopt evidence-based policy measures aiming at the rationalization and modernization of the education system. A key element of her strategy was the reinforcement and refinement of the system’s evaluation structures and mechanisms, in order to produce data to support policy decisions. Within this strategy, a new model for the evaluation of public schools was announced. It was commissioned to a team of experts (academics and senior civil servants) who produced and tested an evaluation framework that included indicators, criteria, data collection guidelines, reporting templates, scripts to conduct meetings, as well as theoretical and institutional references within the scientific literature and the professional know-how of inspectors and evaluators. Starting in 2006, the Ministry’s Inspectorate was given the responsibility to put the new policy into practice. From then until the 2010-2011 school year, every public school was subjected to the process. It required the production of a school self-evaluation report, including the collection and analysis of specific data demanded by the Inspectorate, the organization of the school visit by the evaluators’ team, including meetings and interviews with specific audiences and stakeholders, and the elaboration of the final school evaluation report to be published in the Inspectorate’s website.

The framework characterizing the knowledge transformation phases (embodied, inscribed, enacted) in the policy process provide the heuristic tool to understand the micro-transactions going on throughout the design and implementation of the school evaluation policy. It is used to describe how the knowledge based regulation tools making up the policy (such as indicators, guidelines, templates for discourse and action, meetings, interviews) mould the way the actors involved (policy designers, field inspectors, principals, teachers) think about education and schooling and perform their assigned roles in the school system. This way they achieve their regulatory function within the policy under consideration. On the other hand the same heuristic tool provides the means to understand how the school evaluation policy itself changes throughout its implementation, as a result of the changes occurring during the knowledge transformation cycles, as the actors (policy designers, inspectors, principals, teachers) go through their work of embodying, re-inscribing and re-enacting knowledge.

AFONSO Natércio & COSTA Estela (2011), Knowledge transformation in the policy process; the design and implementation of a knowledge based regulation instrument, unpublished paper.

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